The art and sport of synchronized skating

Synchronized skater Sarah Kelly, 17, of Ohio Township, performs with the Steel City Blades in a Great Gatsby-themed number that has earned the team top honors at the Eastern Regional championships.

If the Olympics host synchronized swimming as a summer event, why not host synchronized skating as a winter event?

No answer to that, although many organizations and individuals are working to make it happen in South Korea in 2018.

And even though (for now) she has no real aspirations of being on the first U. S. team, Avonworth senior Sarah Kelly, 17, believes, "It should be a sport just as other synchronized sports are. Synchro takes a lot of dedication, work, and effort, and it is very entertaining to watch."

For those not familiar with "synchro," it is a sport in which a team of skaters move together as one flowing unit in different formations at high speeds.

Sarah, the daughter of Bernie and Paula Kelly of Ohio Township, knows how demanding and rewarding the sport can be.

"I began taking learn to skate classes at age 12, just so I would know how to ice skate. After doing classes for a while, I realized that I really enjoyed it and wanted to continue with the sport, so I gradually got more involved with it," Sarah said.

That involvement developed into individual skating, ice dance, and synchronized skating, which she practices about seven hours each week at the Robert Morris University Sports Center on Neville Island.

Sarah's team is called the Steel City Blades. This year’s program is “Great Gatsby” themed. The music starts with “The Charleston” and fades into “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody." The dresses resemble those of flappers.

Sarah said that she does not compete individually very much anymore, as she travels with her team to about five different competitions each year.

"We have competed three times so far this year, and still have two more to go. One is in Hershey and the last one is in Mentor, OH. In the past, we have traveled to Boston, Richmond, and Lake Placid to compete."

The hard work and dedication have produced winning results. At her most recent competition, the Eastern Sectional Championships held in Hershey, PA, there were 28 teams in the Blades' level of competition. Initial rounds were broken into three groups, and then the top four teams from each group moved on, leaving 12 teams in the final rounds. Sarah's team took first place, overall.

Asked who she and her fellow skaters look to for inspiration, Sarah said, "As a team, we look up to the Haydenettes, a senior level synchronized skating team based in Boston. They are very fast and fluid with their skating. We also look up to Gracie Gold."

Gold, the 2014 U.S. national champion, will skate for the American figure skating team in Sochi.

"Our coach always uses her (Gold's) saying, 'This is my moment' when we are getting ready to compete," Sarah said.

In her five years of skating, Sarah has been fortunate not to have sustained any serious injuries.

"I sprained my MCL [a ligament located on the inner part of the knee joint] earlier in the season, which put me out for a few weeks, but that is the only injury I have received from synchro."

The skating has been fun and it also has been time-consuming, but Sarah has managed to follow a schedule that has made room for everything, and that includes schoolwork.

"My mom made it really clear when I decided to join synchro that school would come first, so I always make sure to get my work and let my teachers know when I will be missing school. Sometimes it's hard to balance school and skating, especially since I'm at the rink six days a week, but I really make an effort to stay organized in everything I have to do so that I don't fall behind."

As to the future, Sarah said that she intends to go college next year, "…but I have not committed anywhere yet and am still waiting to hear back from a few schools. All of my top choices have skating teams though, so I will definitely continue with skating next year."

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