Synchronized skating is a sport that not many are familiar with, but given the recent success of local teams and its increasing popularity, things may not stay that way for long.
The Starlights Synchronized Skating Junior team — which includes three New Trier High School students among its 16 skaters — recently wrapped its season after representing Team USA in international competitions and with an eighth place finish at nationals. The team is out of Buffalo Grove and comprises of 16 high-schoolers, including New Trier seniors Kiana Eickbush and Mia Jackson and sophomore Mia Eickbush.
In synchronized skating, teams of 16-20 skaters execute jumps, spins and choreography in unison for a performance that Starlights Assistant Director of Skating Jenny Cherry compares to the famously precise Radio City Rockettes.
“It’s the power and speed that gives excitement to the sport,” all while staying in pristine synchronization with teammates, Cherry said.
In season, the team practices four days a week for two to three hours at a time, in addition to their individual skating practice. While rehearsing, the skaters work on everything from their technical skating skills to the finer details needed for complete synchronization: the angle their feet point, the positions of their fingers, where their gazes fall, and other subtle nuances.
All of this preparation culminates in a long and short program that the skaters perform in competition throughout the world. The Starlights Junior skaters representing Team USA traveled to England and Poland, earning respective bronze and fifth-place finishes, and completed their season at U.S. Figure Skating Nationals in Peoria in early March.
Cherry said she is proud of her skaters for their talent and how hard they worked this season. The sport can be dangerous as the skaters execute high-level choreography while physically connected to multiple other skaters, all with sharpened blades on their feet. But according to Cherry, that danger also creates a sense of teamwork and sportsmanship unrivaled by any other sport.
“These skaters really learn the important adult skills of how to work with others, and how to be patient with others,” Cherry said.
Skater Mia Jackson echoed her coach’s remarks.
“I think the camaraderie of the sport is just something that is unlike any other,” she said. “I have two friends that I have known since the beginning of my synchro career. It’s just so beautiful to get to move up together in a sport like this.”
Synchro skaters can begin the sport as young as 5 years old, after having learned the fundamentals of ice skating. There are multiple levels to the sport, with skaters advancing as they age up and pass field tests, just as they do in figure skating, with teams continuing through college and adulthood.
“It is a hard sport,” Jackson said. “You are absolutely exhausted, but you still have to look pretty. That can be really difficult. It’s hard to smile through the pain when your legs are burning, but you really get a strong and beautiful sense of fulfillment.”
As the sport continues to grow in popularity, Cherry said many in the community have come to think of synchronized skating as the “other” team sport.
“It’s this unique opportunity to provide the artistic outlet with a team sport. It’s a perfect combination for kids who aren’t interested in other team sports,” she said.
And while now synchronized skating’s ultimate competition is its world championships, both Cherry and Jackson are hopeful that one day, these athletes can picture themselves on Olympic ice, too.
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Christine Hinkel Adams has been covering events and news on the North Shore since 2018. A former high school English teacher, Adams grew up in Wilmette and now lives in the area with her husband and two children.