An injury and surgery in 1998 kept her off the ice for several months.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. -- Westminster College has never had a figure skating team -- until now.
Jacqueline Pusztay, 17, a sophomore political science major, skates in collegiate competitions as the only member of Westminster's Figure Skating Team.
"In the eyes of the USFSA, if I'm going to compete in collegiate competition, I have to represent a school," she said. " Well, here, I'm it. I'm the team for Westminster College."
Figure skating is such an individualized sport that few colleges have formal figure skating teams, she said.
Most collegiate figure skaters, like Pusztay, a native of Greenford in Green Township, Mahoning County, represent the schools they attend by getting permission from the school's athletic director to compete and providing proof to the U.S. Figure Skating Association that they are full-time college students.
The 2000 Salem High School graduate spends three or four days a week practicing in ice arenas in Lawrence and Beaver counties and occasionally in Cleveland. She competes about four times each year in national competitions.
Pusztay said she has been skating in one form or another since she was 18 months old.
"I began to roller skate when I was very young, but I didn't begin to ice skate until I was about 8 years old," she said. "I already had beginning level jumping and spinning abilities from roller skating, so I was able to move up quickly."
Serious problem: Her competitive skating progress was good until an injury kept her off the ice for several months.
Doctors initially thought Pusztay suffered a stress fracture. They ordered her to stay off the ice, but the pain always returned when she went back to skating.
After about 18 months, doctors determined she had a tumor called osteoid osteoma, a benign bone-forming tumor that needed to be removed. Successful surgery was performed at the Cleveland Clinic in August 1998, and by December, she was back on the ice.
Getting back to the competitive level before her injury wasn't easy.
"There was so much that I had lost. I had no stamina. The little things I took for granted just weren't there anymore, like balance. I got dizzy after my spins," she said.
Only now, Pusztay said, is she back to the level of competition that she was before her injury.
How she's doing: She skates in junior ladies competitions -- one step away from the division that qualifies for Olympic competition. In August, she finished fourth overall at the collegiate nationals in Colorado, and last week she finished eighth overall at the North Atlantic Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Skating takes up a great deal of time, but Pusztay said it hasn't hampered her studies or ability to make friends on campus.
"When I was in high school, I was going to Cleveland five nights a week right after school, and I did pretty well in school," she said.
At Westminster she is a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority and a member of Lambda Sigma, an honor society that requires a quality point average of at least 3.0 and previous leadership experience.
Pusztay said her education is important because she doesn't expect to make figure skating a career.
"I'm a political science major because I want to be a lawyer someday, maybe a medical malpractice or sports team lawyer," she said.
But ice skating will likely always be in her future. She now coaches children and sees opportunities to judge figure skating competitions down the road.
"I love competing and I love the artistry that's involved. I can express myself in many different ways," she said.