Emily Slaven, a 12-year-old strawberry blonde from Poland, glides around on her skates at the Ice Zone in Boardman. "I want to be like Tara Lipinski," she says with a big smile.
Every day this summer, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Emily can be found skating at the Ice Zone. She has conquered axels and lutzes and is working on her double salchow.
"I want to get higher and do bigger jumps," she explains. Her long-term goal is to go to the Olympics. Recently, however, she has had a more immediate goal on her mind.
Emily is a member of the Ice Zone Figure Skating Competition Team. From July 30 to Aug. 4, 68 members of the Ice Zone team will compete in the Ice Skating Institute's World Team Championships, referred to as "Champs" by the participants.
International flavor: Champs will be in Columbus this year, so the Ice Zone team won't leave the state; however, they will still have an international experience as they skate against fellow competitors from around the globe.
"Champs is a family adventure, a festival of the world," says Patti Feeney, ISI managing director. "We've had competitors from Mexico, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates."
This is the first year the Ice Zone has competed in this event.
Coach Maria Koman is the visionary behind the team.
After a standout ice-skating career, Maria turned to coaching. Two years ago, she skated into the Ice Zone. "It took us a while to build up a skill level," Maria explains. Now, she said, she feels her team is ready to compete.
A diverse bunch: As I watch the skaters dance across the ice, I am struck by the ages of the competitors.
There is little Brienne Seekford, 6, of Austintown. She skates up in her snow-white skirt and fuzzy sweater, her nose bright red.
"Why did you decide to become a skater?" I ask.
"I was watching a Christmas show and decided I wanted to skate," she says simply. Santa surprised her with skates under the tree.
"Do you want to go to the Olympics?" I ask, echoing the dream of many of the skaters.
Brienne shrugs her shoulders. "I just like to skate," she says, smiling shyly.
On the other end of the age spectrum are Bob and Lorna Hodgson of Jamestown, Pa. At 76 and 72 years of age, these two lovebirds are poetry in motion.
They will perform a one-and-a-half minute ice dancing routine called "Fiesta Mariachi." Bob will sport a sombrero, and Lorna's outfit features a yellow skirt with ruffles and roses. Spending life together has been a fiesta for these two for 53 years.
Olympic hopes: Then, there is Sara Lyons, a poised, dignified 17-year-old who travels from Meadville, Pa., four days a week to practice at the Ice Zone. Her dreams are very direct and planned. "I will try out for Disney On Ice next year," she explains. "Then, I plan to go to college on a precision team and hope to compete in the 2006 Olympics in synchronized skating."
Synchronized skating involves a dozen or more skaters, dancing in synchronization, and will debut as an exhibition sport in the 2002 Winter Olympics. This form of competition will open up the figure-skating arena to a wider age group of competitors.
Before I leave the Ice Zone, I watch a group of 24 skaters practicing for the Kaleidoskate competition. Grouped in pairs, each partner holds the end of a colored banner. In synchronization, the skaters create various shapes and movements with the banners to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Watching from above in the warm mezzanine area, I am filled with joy at the sheer beauty of the performance and filled with pride that these talented, dedicated people will represent our area to the world.
X The Ice Zone Figure Skating Competition Team will perform their Champs routines this evening from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Ice Zone. Admission is free to viewers.