Young skaters begin to figure in the national scene

Determination, hours of practice lead to U.S. Junior Championships for Wheaton Ice Skating Academy group

Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2007

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
The brother and sister team of Vu and Danvi Pham, ages 9 and 7, perform Dec. 23 at the Winter Ice Show 2006 at Wheaton Ice Arena.

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Quinn Carpenter, 10, of Wheaton and Lorraine McNamara, 7, of Germantown, who competed at the U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championship, perform at the ice show.

Parents and young athletes at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy say discipline and a tight social network make 6 a.m. practices worth every minute, especially when the youngsters recently got to take part in a national competition.

‘‘You make a lot of friends and travel around the country,” said Michael Parsons, 11, of Derwood, who paired with Kristina Rexford, 9, of Silver Spring at the U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championship in Cleveland in November and December. Four other area youngsters from the academy took part in the event.

The academy was started by three professional Russian ice skaters who wanted to bring the Asian style of group training to the United States. The group style also helps to cover costs to rent time at Wheaton Ice Arena.

‘‘Figure skating is a very expensive sport, and sometimes kids are very talented but don’t come from wealthy families,” said Elena Novak, one of the academy coaches. ‘‘But this gives them a possibility to do skating.”

More than 30 children practice with the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy and many of them work in pairs.

Quinn Carpenter, 10, of Wheaton and Lorraine McNamara, 7, of Germantown, who also attended the junior championship, have such a passion for figure skating that the young pair spend nearly 15 hours a week practicing together.

Lorraine McNamara’s mother, Anne, said the coaches do an excellent job of preparing the children mentally and emotionally.

‘‘That’s the best way to do it,” she said.

Parsons’ mother, Christine Parsons, said skating is something her son has committed himself to and she is happy to support him.

‘‘It’s a lot of hard work,” Christine Parsons said.

Novak started the academy with her husband as a hobby. The academy costs each athlete about $53 a week, not including any private lessons that parents pay for. Other than the private lessons, coaches do not get paid for the academy, and costs go toward buying skates and renting the ice.

The academy is only three years old, but Novak said she hopes to turn the program into a nonprofit, which will allow people to donate and possibly fund more students and equipment.

‘‘[The skaters] learn how to be professionals and how to work hard,” she said. ‘‘It helps them in school to become a good, strong person.”

Christine Parsons said the academy was one of few of its kind in the United States and she knew the children were getting a unique training experience.

‘‘The coaches are top notch,” she said. ‘‘They really love these kids.”

Both parents did say, however, that with so much time commitment, they worry that the children can be overworked. Christine Parsons has told her son that he didn’t have to go to practice if he wasn’t feeling up to it, but he is very determined.

‘‘If they have the commitment, we’re happy to bring them here,” she said. ‘‘We’re not pushing these kids.”

Two of Christine Parsons’ other children also skate and she said they ask to come to the rink even on Sunday, their day off.

‘‘I say, ‘I don’t want to go,’ ” she said, laughing.

Deicy Campos, 14, of Silver Spring and Luis Catacora, 14, of Kensington also competed in Cleveland. The two were once neighbors and had mothers who persuaded them to skate together. After Novak saw them skating at the Wheaton Ice Arena, she asked them if she could train them.

While Campos said she would love to reach the Olympics, Catacora said he still struggles with finding time for skating when he is interested in other things like the violin, and track and field.

Despite the commitment it takes to skate, both said they are ready for the challenge.

‘‘Sometimes I feel like leaving and not coming back, but then I realize what would happen [and] think about what else I would be later,” Campos said.