For 11-year-old Skyla Swain, it’s all about spinning, jumping and gliding her way across the ice, and someday, to the Olympics.
With an Olympic dream ever-present in her mind, Skyla Swain takes off across the back rink of the Crystal Ice House in Crystal Lake, her second practice that day.
“My goal is to go to nationals someday and maybe the Olympics,’’ said the slight Skyla, wearing her Riedell boots and Paramount Blades, the blades with a more accurate radius.
Working on landing her double axel, Skyla is moving up the U.S. Figure Skating testing system at a fast pace, her mom Toni said. For Skyla, it just comes naturally. “I’ve always just really liked it,’’ the outgoing 11-year-old said. “It’s my thing.’’
Practicing her jumps — a double flip jump being her favorite — her long ponytail sways back and forth. “It took me a long time to get that down,’’ Skyla said. “I mean you can only practice seven days a week.’’
On this particular day, Skyla came straight from a rink in Hoffman Estates to the Ice House. She splits her training between the two. “Here I just do my regular skating,’’ said Skyla, from Lakewood. “I practice my spins and my jumps and my moves and sometimes I work on my program.’’
Skyla learned basic skills when she lived in Minnesota. Her initial training as a young girl gave her “a very strong background,’’ Toni said. “When I was little I started in group lessons,’’ Skyla said.
That’s where she entered her first competition and when her parents first realized their daughter’s skating ability. After placing first, Toni knew Skyla had real talent. “She just stood out,’’ Toni recalled.
Born to Skate
On skates since age 5, Skyla quickly made up her mind to give up dance classes to focus on the ice, Toni said. “Once she started getting involved with skating she didn’t want to do ballet anymore,’’ Toni said. “It was too slow for her.’’
Although she’s always been confident on skates, she looks to her coaches, family and friends for reassurance, Skyla said. “Sometimes I feel not as comfortable as I should, but my coaches always help me and my friends, too,’’ Skyla said. “I just like skating and being with my friends.’’
Getting in practice time on the rink — coaches on the sidelines watching — Skyla slows down her pace to chat with a friend, Toni notices. “I know when she’s just skating around like that she’s just socializing,’’ Toni said as she watched her daughter talking to other skaters.
Despite the difference in age and ability among the skaters, “she just fits right in,’’ Toni said. “With Skyla what you see is what you get.’’
What renowned technical jumps coach Alex Ouriashev of Russia saw as he watched Skyla on the ice, he liked. Agreeing to work with Skyla after observing her, Ouriashev is one of her three coaches. “We decided this year that we needed to find a competitive coach for her,’’ Toni said. “Alex doesn’t take anyone who’s not at a certain level.’’
Coach Jennifer Dooley also agreed to work with Skyla. “Jennifer and Alex have her working on her double axel,’’ Toni said, adding that her daughter’s competition music this year is from “The Mummy” soundtrack.
Skyla is used to working with well-known names in the field of figure skating. Last year, figure skater Susie Wynne choreographed Skyla’s competition program.
Ice House: A Second Home
In addition to Skyla’s natural talent, she has to put in hours of hard work, said Kim Johnson, Skyla’s “moves in the field’’ coach and the skating director at the Ice House. “A lot of them come for just recreation,’’ Johnson said of the stream of young skaters that glide into the Ice House each day. “You can tell who’s got more natural talent.’’
The Ice House has groomed its share of champion skaters, Johnson said. Olympic skaters Rockne Brubaker and Ben Agosto both skated there.
An Eye on Regionals
The endless hours of practice and coaching are all preparing Skyla for her next U.S. Figure Skating test and the upcoming 2010-1011 regional competition, which will kick off in Green Bay, Wis., in October. If Skyla places in the top four at the regional level, she will enter the junior nationals competition in December.
Aside from daily practice for competitions, Skyla also practices once a week with the Chicagoland Ice Theatre Team, which is based at the Ice House. Coached by Zane Shropshire — Skyla’s freestyle coach for two years — and Renee Brainard, the ice theater is like a play on ice with girls and boys of all ability levels participating with full costume and makeup. With three ice show teams — Skyla on the senior team — skaters prepare for a national and international competition and perform exhibitions.
Her part in the annual Crystal Ice House Ice Show, scheduled for May 21-23 this year, also requires additional ice time, with Skyla being given a three-night solo. This year’s show, which includes hundreds of local skaters, is themed “School’s Out for Summer.”