Go figure

Before beginning the routine at the Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship in 2014, each skater was asked to introduce themselves with the beginning pose.

Photo Credit: Carol Stigum

Before beginning the routine at the Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship in 2014, each skater was asked to introduce themselves with the beginning pose.

by Mia Ramdayal, Staff Writer

It is 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning in December.

A large parking lot in Orange County, NJ is almost entirely empty despite a few cars clustered near Dunkin Donuts, where caffeine awaits to wake skaters from their exhaustion.

As they walk towards the rink, the Codey Arena sign begins to dim. When the doors open, there is complete silence. The only noise is the grumble of a vending machine dispensing a water bottle. The exhausted skaters walk down a long narrow hallway and enter the locker room.

A young skater casually sips her coffee as she approaches the locker room. When she gets there, she takes out her skates and starts to polish the blades and puts her curly ginger hair into a ponytail.

Her large, brown eyes center on the other girls who are brushing their hair and also tying it into high ponytails.  They place their bags and other belongings into the team lockers on the wall.

When the bell dings, the young redhead finishes polishing her skates, drinks the remainder of her coffee, places her synchronized skating bag into the locker, grabs her personalized Synchroettes jacket, and goes out to the rink.

Her embroidered jacket reads Anna Stigum.

Anna at her first synchronized competition in 2014 in Amherst,Massachusetts. She is wearing her red Synchroettes jacket with a matching red scarf.
Photo Credit: Carol Stigum
Anna at her first synchronized competition in 2014 in Amherst,Massachusetts. She is wearing her red Synchroettes jacket with a matching red scarf.

When she opens the door, everything is white, as thought she is staring into a light bulb. The ice is thick and coated with powder, which looks like confectioners sugars. Near the entrance to the rink, synchronized skating moms are huddled with blankets over them.

The team slowly skates onto the rink. Along with the Synchroettes, the junior skating team emerges. Both teams do a few stretches then the teams divide.  The Synchroettes skate to west side of the rink and the junior team skates to the east side.

Classical music fills the rink and the Synchroettes glide slowly towards the east side. They pick up the pace as they get closer. They reach the other side, they go back and repeat the process three more times. Once they feel warmed up, Randi, Stigum’s coach, begins going over the moves for their routine. 

Anna and the rest of the Stigum family are no strangers to the chilled temperature. Stigum began skating when she was ten years old at Dix Hills rink in Long Island, NY. She lived there in a large colonial house for 13 years before moving to Glen Rock in June, 2014. Since her move, Stigum started skating at Codey Arena in West Orange County, NJ as well as doing private lessons at the Ice Vault in Wayne, NJ.

“Before skating I played softball, which I didn’t really have a strong interest in. But, when I went skating for the first time, I thought it was really fun and I wanted to learn more,” Stigum said.

Stigum’s interest in skating began when her father, Erik Stigum, took her skating at the Dix Hills rink. Although at the time she was not very good, she found it to be enjoyable and fun and wanted to continue learning more about it.

Soon afterward, Erik and Stigum’s mother, Carol Stigum, enrolled her in a beginners skating class at Dix Hills rink. On Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday,  she woke up at 6:30 and drove to her 7:15 lessons.  She met with her skating coach, Neil Rubin, at the Ice Vault. For over two hours, he and Stigum worked on basic balance control while skating.

After 6 months of perfecting substratal gliding and spinning on the ice, Stigum was ready to take her passion for skating to the next level. In 2011, she made the spontaneous decision to begin individual competitive skating. Stigum participated in several competitions in New York and New Jersey. In total, she performed in over 15 competitions. Her family attended all of her competitions.

We just offer her encouragement before and tell her after if she does bad that she will do better next time. Like if the team does not get a placement, then we tell her she will do better next time,” Erik Stigum said.

While four years of her life were filled with great memories of skating competitively, Stigum began to feel that the sport she once gave her excitement and joy had become more time-consuming and less fun.

“I wouldn’t get home till late from competitions and it started to become difficult to manage my schoolwork and do other things besides skating,” Stigum said.

She decided to quit competitive skating just as her family was preparing to move to Glen Rock.

Although moving to a small town was a big change for Anna and the rest of the Stigum family, there had not been much change for her in terms of skating. She continued doing lessons with Rubin at the Ice Vault.

One crisp September day, Rubin mentioned synchronized skating. Synchronized skating consists of a team of girls who perform choreographed skating routines in competitions.  At first, Stigum was apprehensive about starting synchronized skating because she thought it would be time too consuming, but then realized that it wasn’t as big of a commitment.

After doing some research, the closest team Stigum could find was at the Codey Arena in West Orange County. On their website, it explained that tryouts for the team would be held on Sept. 10 at the rink.

The sunrise splashed the once dull clouds with warm hues of red, pink and orange.  The clock read 6:30 a.m.

Stigum arrived at Codey Arena with her polished skates in one hand and her application in the other.  Her stomach shifts uneasily as she begins to acknowledge her nerves. There were around 40 other girls there with the same goal; they wanted to be a part of the team.  Each girl was called up individually in front of a few instructors. The skaters were instructed to do different spins and circle around the ice a few times.  All eyes were on them.

“Synchronized skating is very competitive. It is important that the applicant has prior skating experience and have developed basic skating techniques,” Randi Paulson, Stigum’s synchro coach, said.

After the tryouts, Stigum let out a sigh of relief.  Questions raced through her head.  What if she could have done better?  Did she have a chance?  Did the instructors notice her passion?

A few days later,  she heard the phone ring.  It was the much anticipated call from Codey Arena with the verdict- she made the team. She glowed from the inside out and a smile cracked her face.  Training began in two weeks and she was more than ready.

A few months into the season, Stigum and the other Synchroettes gathered at the West side of the rink.

It was a frigid, ice-kissed November morning.  The Synchroettes had been practicing their freestyle and spinning techniques. Paulson and Janine, the assistant coach, announced that they would be working on a routine for the Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship.

Anna and the rest of her team, the Synchroettes, performing their routine at the 2016 Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship in Richmond, Virginia.
Photo Credit: Snapshot Photography
Anna and the rest of her team, the Synchroettes, performing their routine at the 2016 Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship in Richmond, Virginia.

The song chosen for the routine was a mashup of I Feel Pretty and I Want to Live in America from the musical West Side Story.  

For the next two months, Stigum and the other skaters gathered at 6:30 a.m. every week to learn the routine two days a week.  On Friday and Saturday mornings, Stigum met with her private coach, Neil, to work on her routine.

During that time, Anna spent a lot of time with her teammates to learn the routine. The girls were encouraged to help each other out in order to master the complex choreography.

“Before we started practicing the routine, I told my students that It’s not about winning even though that would be awesome.  It’s the journey and the work we do together where we gain our greatest rewards,” Paulson said.   “Also, skating is such a subjective sport so you can’t gain your worth from the judging system.”

Anna perfecting her beginning pose before the championship began.
Photo Credit: Erik Stigum
Anna perfecting her beginning pose before the championship began.

Charlotte Jackson, one of Stigum’s teammates, recalls spending a lot of time with her teammates outside of practice. Throughout the season, Stigum and Jackson worked alongside each other to help improve each other’s weaknesses.

“We both helped each other with the double spinning technique, which we have to do several times in the routine and measure the counts of the song,” Jackson said.

Stigum, Jackson and the rest of the team are not just good teammates, but they are also good friends. Stigum and the others have organized several team dinners and bake sales to raise money for new skating rinks in urban areas.

Stigum also spent a lot of time with her individual coach Neil Rubin.

“When the Synchroettes first started the routine, I asked Erik, Anna’s father, to record Anna performing the full routine,” Rubin said.  “During my lessons with her, we would watch the parts she felt she had the most trouble with and go over them step by step.”

Rubin teaches juvenile and advanced levels. He does not teach any synchronized teams. Prior to becoming a skating coach, he was a psychotherapist.

The next three months passed.  

The Synchroettes had perfected their routine for 2016 Eastern Synchronized Skating Championship in Richmond, VA. Stigum felt butterflies floating in her stomach, just as she had when she first tried out for the team.  

Two nights before the championship. Stigum and the team gathered for their last team dinner. It was a time of relaxation. For almost two hours, she felt at ease and enjoyed spending time with the rest of the team. The skaters did not see each other much off season, so the time they spent together at that moment was valuable. After everyone left, Stigum continued to pack her suitcase, gently laying each article of clothing on top of the previous one.

The Synchroettes last practice before the Eastern Skating Championship.
Photo Credit: Erik Stigum
The Synchroettes last practice before the Eastern Skating Championship.

The sun filtered through the darkness, signaling the arrival of the new day.  Stigum grabbed her small suitcase filled with her skating costume, makeup, and her semi-polished skates. Their family Subaru was packed and they were ready to journey to Virginia.

The car ride was smooth and long.  Stretches of endless sky led the way.  For most of the time, Anna caught up on the sleep she had missed in the previous weeks due to skating. The practices were longer and more intense. Paulson made the girls go over the routine at least three times so that after each time it would be more clean cut.

The February weather was cold. Stigum and her family checked into the hotel and afterwards decided to go and explore Virginia. Since the competition was being held in Richmond, there were several historical and fine arts museums to visit.

“I really enjoyed visiting Richmond. We visited the Edgar Allen Poe museum and the Virginia Fine Arts museum,” Stigum said.

After a fun night of dining and exploring in the city,  Stigum was extremely tired. She was determined to get some rest in preparation for tomorrow.

In the morning, Anna was greeted by a bundle of dark clouds and a white sky. The window was open and she could hear a faint breeze rush into the room toward her. It was hot and humid and smelled like acid rain. Nevertheless, she got up and began to get ready for the competition.

It took a while to get ready. Her costume was very sparky and the inside was made of silk. Anna was careful not to ruin the sparkles while she ironed. She also ironed her red tights with caution.  Afterward, she applied minimal blush and mascara to her eyes. Lastly, she polished her skates until she could see her reflection when she looked into them and put on her synchro jacket.

Together, the Stigum family drove a few minutes down the road to the rink. The parking lot was large and looked much like the lot at Codey Arena. The time was 8:00 and the competition began at 10:00 sharp.

Back in the dressing room, several of the girls were putting finishing touches on their makeup,  costume, and polishing their skates. The rest of the girls were in another room with Paulson, who was stretching and going over the routine.  There were 15 teams competing. The locations of the teams ranged from New York to Florida.

When it was 9:30, the teams began to emerge from the dressing rooms and and approached the rink. When it was the Synchroettes turn, each teammate was required to present a beginning pose. After Stigum did hers, she got into the beginning position of the routine.

The lights dimmed, and there was a bright spotlight on the skaters. This was it. The moment they had been preparing for the last couple of months was finally here.

Stigum let the music rush to her ears. She performed each movement with as much grace and elegance as she knew how to. She smiled brightly and glided to the music peacefully. When she was finished, she took a bow and skated off to the sidelines.

Anna jumping and performing a double spin, which is an advanced skating technique.
Photo Credit: Carol Stigum
Anna performing an advanced skating technique.

“All of the skaters were allowed to choose their pose and Randi had to approve it. I wanted to do something that was simple and elegant,” Stigum said.

“They skated beautifully.  They placed in the middle of their flight. I was very proud of them all season,” Paulsoni said.

Overall, the team was praised for its artistic music choice. The point system for open juvenile is scored on a 6.0 system and the national level teams are judged under the IJS system. The team was one point away from placing second place.  Stigum didn’t care though, she was just glad that she was able to display her passion of skating to an audience as well as her parents.