Fifteen sets of skates for 15 pairs of stockinged skaters' feet make a 50-mile journey three to five times a week. This is the story of prospective ice-skaters' introduction into the high-stakes world of US Figure Skating. It's also a story of not taking such things too seriously.
Under the tutelage of Team Ice Twin, this group of girls is ferried from Rio Rancho to Santa Fe for the quality facilities and accommodating hours of the Genoveva Chavez Community Center's rink. Among the talented youngsters is star pupil Paige Mascarenas.
Paige began skating when she was 4. She began competing when she was 5. And now, at 12, she looks back at her impressive beginning with the sageness that comes with the onset of adolescence: "I just liked it."
Sure she's been competing since the time most were learning to tie their shoes and ride bikes, and sure she just competed for her second time in the US Figure Skating Southwestern Regional Championships, but Paige just doesn't look at things competitively. It's simple: After school and on some weekends, she rides in a caravan—helmed in part by her mother, Darcy Mascarenas, who teaches at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Rio Rancho—to Santa Fe. Paige attends St. Thomas Aquinas and has friends at school, but her skating compadres are "her close friends," Darcy says.
After skating, she does her homework—history and art are her favorite subjects—and goes to bed.
Another mainstay in Paige's skating life is her instructors, twins Megan and Mandy Edwards.
The Edwards also have spent their lives on the ice. At the urging of their parents who "got tired of us sitting," Megan says, the twins took up ice-skating and, from that point, their destinies were set.
"After we skated, we looked at each other and we knew. We said, 'This is what we're gonna do.'"
For the approximately 15 years they competed, their lives consisted of the constant practice and travel their students now experience. Megan made it to the senior level at regionals, while Mandy moved on to the senior level at sectionals. Now they're both full-time coaches (Megan also is a part-time substitute teacher).
As instructors, the twins divide the work.
"In the beginning, I would do everything and [Megan] would do everything, and we were overlapping too much on our skaters, so we split up everything," Mandy says.
While Mandy instructs the students on their jumps, Megan captains their spins and choreography.
This year, Paige performed to music from Chocolat, with choreography tailored to her skill set.
"Page is a very powerful skater, so we play off of that," Megan says.
They also play off of expectations.
"At the beginning of the year, we plan where she's gonna be at the end of the year and work our way from there. She may not have a double yet, but we may know that, by the end of the season, she'll probably have that jump, so we put a single in place, and if the double comes, we'll put a double in," Megan says.
A double, for the ice-skating illiterate, refers to the number of rotations in the air—except for axels, which are actually a rotation and a half.
This year Paige was practicing for a double-double combination.
Despite the sisters' separate expertise, they look for balance in all areas: "We like our skaters to be well-rounded and not just be skaters. I think that's [the hardest part] for us, trying to find a balance, especially during the school year," Mandy says.
The US Figure Skating Southwestern Regional Championship was held in October this year in Grapevine, Texas. It's part of a competitive feeding system that leads to fame.
There are nine regionals, four sectionals and one national. The top four or five skaters from each level of regionals move on to sectionals, and the winners of those then compete at nationals, according to US Figure Skating Communications Coordinator Becca Staed Bishop. The nationals are what is shown on television.
Bishop says it's not uncommon to see young skaters compete at the highest levels.
Indeed: In 2008, Mirai Nagasu won the US National Championship at the ripe old age of 14. This year (which is actually the 2010 competition), a 13-year-old is competing at the senior level.
Back in Grapevine, Paige skated among her group, pre-juveniles. The group is determined by tests in front of judges; to move to a higher group, one must "test" into it.
Bedecked in a yellow dress with lots of "bling," Paige placed 13 out of approximately 15 skaters in her group. According to Megan, "She was happy. She would have preferred that she placed better and maybe skated faster, but she was happy and she's ready to start attacking next season." In November, Paige will test into the juvenile group.
"Paige is very lax. It's never about 'I wanna get first, I wanna do this.' She's very relaxed. She's more about the training and the process than necessarily the placement," Megan says.
For Team Ice Twin and for Paige, it was more important that she reached her personal goals than arbitrary competitive ones.
"She landed her double-double jump where she rotates two and then does another two, that was one of her goals. She did her combination spin for the correct number of rotations, which was another goal," Megan says. "And to breathe and end on time was her last goal, she did that."
Team Ice Twin
20 minute lesson
Genoveva Chavez Community Center
3221 Rodeo Road
Genoveva Chavez Community Center
Admission, skate rental and 30 minutes of instruction
3221 Rodeo Road