Fairfax Station-area teens Emily Dillard and Margaret Covas don’t bat an eyelash at having to be on the ice for practice at 5 a.m. on Saturdays.
“I do it because it’s fun and when I see older teams skating, it makes me think I can do that one day,” Dillard, 13, said. “It’s a motivator for me.”
Dillard and Covas both skate for the Capitol Steps Synchronized Skating league based in Arlington. Synchronized skating is a team sport with 8 to 20 skaters performing a program together, according to U.S. Figure Skating, the national governing body of the sport of figure skating. Synchronized skaters use the same judging system as singles and pairs skating.
The Capitol Steps group has several teams for various age groups and competes on a local and national level. The group that Dillard and Covas belong to has their first official competition on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 at the Terry Conners Open in Stamford, Conn.
On Nov. 12, the group had an exhibition called the “Capitol Critique.”
“We performed and the judges gave critiques,” Dillard, a Rocky Run Middle School student, said. “It’s for the judges to see what types of teams they have to work with this year.”
The team skated to “Walking on Sunshine” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” as stylized by the hit Fox television show, Glee, Covas said. Team members vote on the music for each competition (though coaches have the final say), and coaches choreograph routines.
“Competing is really fun so is traveling for the competitions,” Covas, 12, said. “It’s just fun to see what you got.”
The team practices at the Kettler Capital IcePlex, where the Washington Capitals practice. Team practices are from 5 a.m. until 10 a.m., and skaters are expected to skate on their own time for additional conditioning.
“On the weekends I get up at 3.30 a.m. to get ready,” said Deborah Dillard, Emily Dillard’s mother. “Somebody [asked] whether this was a ‘sacrifice’ kind of thing and it doesn’t feel like that. I love synchronized skating, I think it’s an incredible sport. You are mom, and you do what you do.”
Indeed, Covas’ mother, Wendy Covas, of Fairfax Station, agrees that the hard work is worth the payoff. Her daughter began figure skating in the third grade and attends Nativity Catholic School in Burke.
“We felt [figure skating] it was a solitary activity for her,” Wendy Covas said. “We were concerned and wanted her to be involved in a team … We went to Kettler and we watched them and the rest is history. “
Competing as a team also takes at least some of the edge off of individual figure skating.
“My daughter was ice skating, she loved it, but yet she didn’t want to compete as an individual. The first time she went out as a group, she wasn’t nervous at all…. She is happy and holds her head up higher. It’s brought a lot of joy to our family.”
Skating as a team also brings its own unique set of challenges, however.
“The thing with the team is if you forget something in a singles team competition, you can make up for it but with a team you can’t do that,” Emily Dillard said. “And you can’t rush because that may cause a fall.”
In the days leading up to the Terry Conners Open, they will have practice sessions on Sundays as well as Saturdays.
"My for me my practice always comes first," Emily Dillard said. "I’ll get home, I’ll go over my steps and I’ll practice while I’m doing my homework, humming the beat."