Suburban figure skaters headed to U.S. nationals
A rare group of skaters took the ice Saturday for an exhibition show at Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove. All six are headed to next week's U.S. Figure Skating Association's national championships in Detroit.
"It's pretty exciting," said 14-year old Hannah Lofton of Palatine, who will compete against intermediate ladies, "but I'm a little nervous."
A seventh skater was supposed to join them: Bradie Tennell of Carpentersville, the reigning senior ladies champion and bronze medalist in last year's team competition at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. At the last minute, she was sick and had to bow out.
"I hope to be an inspiration for the younger kids going to nationals," Tennell said later. "I think it is super exciting to be going --- and I wish them nothing but the best. Most importantly, I hope they have fun, because that's what it's about, having fun."
One year after Tennell seemingly came out of nowhere to stand atop of the podium, she is no secret this year and all of the skaters in the field will be out to succeed her. Not to worry, says her longtime coach, Denise Myers.
"She's prepared, mentally and physically," Myers said. "She'll just go out there and do what she does every day."
Myers added that she and Tennell have ramped up the difficulty level of her programs, including her artistry, especially in her free skate set to a mash-up of three different versions of "Romeo and Juliet."
"It's a storyline that she's passionate about," Myers says.
All of the six skaters heading to Detroit with Tennell are well aware of her passion -- and music selection -- since they often share ice time with her.
"It's a bit scary if you get in her way," said Matthew Soifer, 12, of Riverwoods, the lone boy headed to nationals to skate in the juvenile division. "She's powerful."
Elsa Cheng, 13, of Vernon Hills says Tennell has definitely motivated her. Elsa will be competing against intermediate ladies, and just to earn her way to nationals she had to complete five triple jumps in her program, including two in combinations.
Watching Tennell and her natural jumping ability helped, Elsa said.
"I think I skate better when I'm on the ice with her," Elsa said. "She just motivates me."
Elsa took first place at regionals in October in Peoria and again at sectionals in November in Fort Wayne. She works with the same choreographer as Tennell, Benoit Richaud, who has designed an intricate program to the music of "Don Quixote."
"The choreography is really hard, but it's different," Elsa says. "I love it."
Laura Kaplan, skating director at Twin Rinks, says this is a record year for the rink in terms of its national qualifiers.
"It's the most we've ever had," Kaplan says. "And these are kids who truly train here. These are our kids."
Of the seven, Calista Choi, 14, comes from West Dundee, while Ava Neuhaus commutes from South suburban Frankfort and Isabelle Inthisone comes from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
All of these skaters train more than three hours per day, five to six days a week at the Buffalo Grove rink. They are a tight community, and before Saturday's exhibition, which was designed as a run-through before nationals, they all gave each other a group hug.
They are drawn to Twin Rinks, Kaplan says, because of the access to high-level coaching. Not only has the rink helped to produce such famous skaters as Gracie Gold and Jason Brown, but skaters like Tennell are staying to train there, even after reaching the sport's highest level.
"We've established a premier training facility for figure skating, with some of the top coaches and outstanding trainers," Kaplan says. "There's no reason to go anywhere else."