'It's a sport, but it's also an art'

Spending an early morning with the figure skating team

Emily Young and Gwendolyn Eadie practice their pairs routine.
Emily Young and Gwendolyn Eadie practice their pairs routine.
Teal MacKintosh pulls off a spin.
Teal MacKintosh pulls off a spin.

There weren’t many fans at the Memorial Centre at 6 a.m. on Wednesday — but the Queen’s figure skating team wasn’t expecting much of a turnout.

“We know a boyfriend of the girl on the team is very serious if he ever comes to a practice,” co-captain Charlotte MacDonald said. “That’s a very good sign.”

On Wednesday morning, the team was preparing for today’s Queen’s Invitational at the Cataraqui Community Centre. The skaters took turns playing their music and practicing their individual routines. The same section of Paul Anka’s cover of “Wonderwall” played at least 10 times.

The team practiced for two hours, working on solos, pairs, fours and synchronized group performances. Unlike in the competitive youth figure skating environment, most of the routines on display Wednesday morning were choreographed by the skaters themselves.

“You’re often working with a choreographer throughout your competitive program,” MacDonald said. “[But] the university program is much more collaborative and self-driven. We get more of a say in our choreography.”

Because of the artistic element, figure skating is the only sport at Queen’s that offers such a creative outlet.

“It’s a sport, but it’s also an art,” co-captain Emily Young said. “Figure skating is athletic and beautiful.”

Although the skaters are given control of their routines, Queen’s Athletics chooses the outfits. The skaters wear short, blue dresses.

“I find it actually kind of fun because it isn’t really an out-there kind of dress, it’s a uniform,” Young said. “So I feel more varsity athlete than figure skater.”

In the past four seasons, the figure skating team has earned one silver and two bronze medals at the OUA Championship but hasn’t received much attention for it. MacDonald said it’s hard for friends to remember she’s on the figure skating team because her training occurs before they wake up.

“People remember that you’re on the team eventually,” she said. “But they never register how much time you’re putting into it because it’s time that they don’t even count in their life because they’re not awake.”

MacDonald and Young said each of the skaters has their own way of preparing for morning practices.

“I [have] like a four-minute getting ready process,” MacDonald said. “The alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and I’m out the door by 5:36 a.m., I have it timed to the minute.”

Young said her alarm is set for 5:15 a.m. but that she “hits snooze a couple times.”

Both captains are in the Queen’s School of Business and often have night-time group meetings — meaning they can’t get to bed before midnight.

“I’ve just become a master napper,” MacDonald said, recalling how she’s used to taking 20-minute naps in between classes.

Only two of 20 skaters are male and they both compete in the male singles event. All pairs and fours routines are performed by the female skaters. MacDonald said a pairs routine with two females looks different from what the average fan would expect.

“There are no lifts or throws that would make us look like a man and women,” she said. “[It] adds a different element that no one with a competitive figure skating background has ever done before.”

The skaters still have to meet regulations set by Skate Canada in terms of required moves, music and rhythms. Aaron Springford, one of the team’s head coaches, said his job is to be an advisor. He often stepped in on Wednesday to correct a skater’s movement or to advise a pair on whether their routine looked awkward.

“We’re facilitators ... the skaters know what they need to do,” Springford said. “We’re just there to be a second set of eyes, lend some expertise when we can.”

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