Pittsfield's O'Connor Represents U.S. at Sychronized Skating Worlds
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield's Alice O'Connor won her silver medal in Portland, Ore., instead of PyeongChang, South Korea.
But even though her sport of choice is not yet on the Winter Olympics program, O'Connor will have a chance to represent her country at the World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, next month.
O'Connor, a veteran figure skater with the Pittsfield Figure Skating Club, competes these days with the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team, where she joins 15 other competitors on the ice to perform interpretive pieces that utilize lifts, circles and intersections to elevate the sport of figure skating to new heights. "It is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences," according to a news release from the Skyliners, one of 600 synchronized teams nationwide.
At last month's U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships, the Skyliners senior unit placed second and earned the right to represent U.S. Figure Skating at the World Championships, scheduled for April 6-7.
It was the highest finish ever for the club's seniors, who will make their first ever appearance at the world meet. The Skyliners' junior squad, which won its fourth-ever gold at Portland, has been to eight world championships.
"To have both our Junior and Senior lines named to represent the United States at Worlds is an incredible achievement and honor for our organization," Skyliners coach Josh Babb said. "The skaters have taken command of the ice at every competition this season, and their confident performances paid off."
O'Connor took some time this week to tell iBerkshires.com about her experience in the sport.
What years did you participate in the Pittsfield Figure Skating Club?
A: I am still a home club member of the Pittsfield Figure Skating Club. I started skating there when I was 5 years old in 1999. I skated there almost every day until 2013 when I graduated from St. Joseph Central High School. I then went to Lasell College, in the greater Boston area and held an associate membership with the Skating Club of Boston and skated for a synchronized skating team called Team Excel for their collegiate, senior, and adult levels. Now, I hold an associate membership with the Skating Club of New York and skate on the synchronized skating team Skyliners, Senior line.
And when did you get involved with the Skyliners? Are you living down in Connecticut or NYC or do you commute to practice with them?
A: This was my first year with the Skyliners organization. I am currently living at home here in Pittsfield but have an apartment in Stamford, Conn., with some teammates for practices. We practice Friday-Sunday.
Are you still in school or are you working full-time? ... Either way, what kind of demands does the Skyliners training put on your time and how are you able to make it work?
A: I graduated from Lasell College in May 2017 with a bachelor's degree in exercise science and a minor in coaching. I applied to physical therapy programs for this year in case skating wasn't what I was meant to be doing at this time, but thankfully it was. So I have deferred my start into Northeastern University's physical therapy program until spring 2019. Currently, I work a few different jobs: coaching figure skating, personal training at a local gym, and retail locally as well.
Skylines is by far the most intense team I have ever skated for. When at practice you must be 110 percent focused for the safety of the team, as well as the productivity of practice. On top of practices Friday to Sunday, we are expected to work out and skate on our own. I usually do these things in the evening since I work during the mornings, and days. I pride myself on my time management skills and organization, for without these I would not have been a successful student-athlete my whole life, and now as a postgraduate.
Tell me a little about the Oregon competition. I gather from the club's news release that it's the first time the Senior team has won the silver medal. What were your expectations going into the event?
A: This season has been immensely successful for our team this year. Every goal we and our coaches had, we accomplished. Going into the National Championship, our goal was to be named to the World Team. We have been named Team USA 2 for the 2018 World Synchronized Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden. Each year, two U.S. teams are named Team USA 1 and 2, and represent the country at the World Championships that year. U.S. Figure Skating takes into account placement at Nationals; progress throughout the season; and placement at domestic and international competitions throughout the season.
We competed at: the Synchronized Fall Classic in Anaheim, Calif., (first place), the Dr. Richard Porter Synchronized Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., (first), the Cup of Berlin in Berlin, Germany, (first), the Mozart Cup in Salzberg, Austria, (second) and the U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in Portland, Ore., (second).
What do you think helped to push the team over the top this year?
A: This being my first season on Skyliners, I can only imagine what the teams were like before from stories of teammates. However, I think from day one our coaches chose extremely talented athletes to roster on this team.
Synchronized senior teams are comprised of 20 rostered skaters, skating 16 on the ice at one time. The drive, determination, talent, hard work, motivation, and supportiveness of my teammates is what has helped push this team over the top this season. We are all in it for the same goal.
We may have come quite literally from all over the country to be on this team, but together we have sacrificed so much of our selves for this sport we would not want to be there with any other group of girls, and boy. The bond that this team has created over the season is unlike any that I have ever been a part of or even heard of before. We truly have something special here.
Have you competed in many international competitions with the Skyliners before? ... If so, how does that experience differ from something like the National Championships?
A: This season we were honored to be chosen to represent the U.S. at the Cup of Berlin in Berlin, Germany; as well as at the Mozart Cup, in Salzburg, Austria.
Competing internationally and being able to represent your country is any athletes dream. Hearing the crowd chant "U.S.A.!" makes your heart stop. For me, it brought a sense of pride and confidence to my skating. It has been a truly amazing experience that I will never forget.
Overseas there is such a larger draw for the discipline of synchronized skating compared to singles, pairs, or dance; so being able to compete for a crowd who truly understands the intricacies of what you are performing is unlike any other. Also being able to experience different cultures: language, foods, and customs is an amazing experience.
And what do you like about synchro skating as opposed to competing/performing as an individual? Do you still have a chance to do the latter or are you strictly focused on the synchronized skating at this point in your career?
A: Skating synchro allows you to skate faster, and do things that you can't as an individual; such as group lifts — my favorite — pair elements and creating shapes (lines, blocks, circles, wheels, intersections).
Also being able to not only skate for yourself but also for your coaches and for your team is something unique to synchronized skating vs singles. I love being a part of something bigger than just yourself. The support in the synchronized skating community is amazing. If you or someone else is having a bad day or struggling with something on or off the ice, there are 19 other people on the ice who have the same goal and are willing to sacrifice themselves to lift you up and help you out.
When competing there is such a different energy in a synchronized skating competition vs. a singles event. The cheering not only comes from your supporters in the crowd; but other teams in the crowd that you or your teammates have skated for previously, your coaches, as well as your teammates. The energy, in my opinion, is more positive and encouraging of excellent performances from all. Also while performing it is always an amazing feeling to look across the ice at your team and watch them expressing the joy of skating as much as you are in that moment, and the team hugs and crying after an unforgettable performance is a feeling that no score can take away from you.
I no longer compete as an individual, but as a kid, I competed both on a synchro team as well as an individual and did so until I was a senior in high school. Once I went to college I made the decision that it would take too much away from school to keep jumps consistent as well as focusing on synchro. I loved the camaraderie and sense of family that synchronized skating brought me.
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