Last week, synchronized skating teams from all over the United States convened in Colorado Springs, Colorado to compete at the 2007 U.S. Synchronized Team Skating Championships. Among the participants was Ice Force One, an adult masters team made up of skaters ages 25 to 67 from Northern Virginia (including Sarah Schmidt from Falls Church), Maryland and Washington, D.C. The team, which represents the Washington Figure Skating Club, finished third.
Ice Force One came together in 1999 when skaters from several teams decided to join forces. “All of us kind of struggled for 12 to 14 skaters in a year,” says Stacey Sickels Heckel, who both skates on the team and co-coaches with fellow team member Emily Mayer. “In synchronized skating, most teams strive for 18 to 20 members. To be really competitive in the division you need that many skaters. When you’re talking about adults with adult lives, it’s not easy.”
“Masters” denotes a team where all the skaters are 25 or older. Adult figure skating is quite popular in the U.S., and there is a separate national championship just for adults where they compete in singles, pairs, ice dance and interpretive. In synchronized skating, the discipline in skating where the emphasis is on team precision and synchronization, the adult divisions compete at the same U.S. Championships as senior teams who earned berths at the upcoming World Championships in London, Ontario, Canada. There were eight divisions total: senior, junior, novice, intermediate, juvenile, collegiate, adult and masters. Teams can be coed, and Ice Force One has had male skaters in the past.
Ice Force One headed into the U.S. Championships with a sense of excitement, after having won the Eastern Championship in Providence, Rhode Island, last month. “The team has qualified for Nationals every year they’ve been in existence. We have slowly worked our way up in placement,” says Heckel. “This is the first year we won the Eastern division, which was huge.
“This year has been so much fun and so positive,” she adds. “The Eastern championship is incredibly meaningful for the history of the team and also for every one of the skaters.”
As real life calls, the team has had approximately one-third turnover each year, but 16 members of the current team have been with Ice Force One for at least two years. Heckel, who has another full-time job, calls coaching the team “the best management experience.” “Getting 18 to 20 people who have a lot of different agendas and a lot of different competence levels to produce something magical and animated isn’t easy,” she says. Heckel and Mayer choreographed this year’s competitive program, which is a medley of 1960s-inspired spy music, such as “Secret Agent Man” and “Soul Bosso Nova.”
For Heckel, the trip to Colorado Springs was a bit of a return, as that is where she last competed as a teenager. “I never made it to Nationals as a child,” she says. Her highest placement was fourth at the Midwestern Championships. “It is a kick that in my adult life I’m able to complete that childhood goal.”
Other NoVa skaters on Ice Force One include Regina Pace from Alexandria, Margo Pinc from Annandale and Melissa Thornhill from Arlington. Numerous family and friends, affectionately referred to as the “Sherpa core,” also made the trip to cheer them on. You can get the results and see photographs at www.usfigureskating.org. The event was telecast online at www.icenetwork.com, and can still be viewed.