BY NICOLE JAVORSKY | “I need some emotion here.”
Marni Halasa, figure skating coach for the Sky Rink All Stars, called out words of advice for Catherine Mayer as she practiced her solo.
Team captain Mayer, 17, got up before daylight had even begun to boil the street. As she glided around the perimeter of the rink, her energy did not suggest an alarm had gone off at 5 a.m.
Halasa turned toward me and exclaimed, “She’s so on it!” The skating team practices at Chelsea Piers, but on Aug. 8 they’re headed to California for the US Figure Skating National Showcase.
“The Nationals? It’s probably one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love watching the other skaters,” Mayer said. “We meet people from different areas. I have some friends from Texas that I see every year.”
Over the past several years, the team has placed in the top three at the Nationals competition. Their location in the Empire City, however, has posed some unique challenges. For one, using an ice skating rink is more expensive here. Also, as Halasa put it, living in New York City can mean “the kids get pulled in so many directions.”
Mayer said, “It’s not built into our lives and we make room for it.”
Team member Alida Monaco, 18, mentioned it’s difficult getting everyone to Chelsea Piers at the same time, and emphasized Halasa’s role in making sure the team comes together.
“Marni has always been there to get you to the rink. She’s going to hound you to come back,” Monaco added. “That’s a good thing.”
Before it was time to practice, team members Jennie Berlin, Mayer, Monaco, and Emma Wender traded jokes and laughter around a bright red table in the Chelsea Piers Sky Rink lobby. Once the girls left the lobby for the locker room to lace up their skates, Halasa spoke about how great the girls are. As she said their names, Halasa added compliments about each of them. She remarked, “I can retire if I want to!”
The team members entered the West Rink and picked up their prop guns for this year’s group routine set to “My Shot” from the Broadway smash “Hamilton.” Halasa started the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice filled the rink.
“I am not throwing away my shot!”
Berlin and Mayer had worked together to choreograph the routine and solicited feedback from the rest of the team.
“It’s a democratic process and everyone really learns how to do this, so maybe one day, they can coach,” Halasa wrote in an email before our visit to Chelsea Piers.
Berlin, 16, became interested in choreography because her brother is a ballet dancer and choreography has “always been something fun” they do.
Since the skaters are often busy during the academic year, Berlin said competing at the summertime Nationals every year has allowed her to further bond with teammates. The upcoming week of skating and living together in California for the Nationals is especially meaningful since Monaco and Wender start college in the fall, at Harvard and Kenyon respectively.
“It’s a community,” Mayer said. “I have something I can really dedicate and commit myself to.”
Wender, 18, started learning how to figure skate with Halasa as her instructor after attending a birthday party at a rink. “I think I fell a lot and had the motivation to fall a lot less,” she recalled.
After discussing times she didn’t succeed at competitions, Wender noted a transferrable skill for other pursuits: perseverance. “You just have to come back stronger,” she noted, “kind of like falling.”
Although Wender also plans on joining a skating club in college, she’s looking forward to exploring new interests where she can apply what she learned in figure skating.
“It really pushes you and teaches you a great work ethic,” Berlin said. “You go home and you’re already in this mindset.”
Like other team members, Monaco started figure skating at a young age (in her case, six).
“I was trying a lot of sports. I like skating the best,” she said. “I keep going back for the people.”
The ambition of the skaters is as evident as their rapport.
“My favorite part would be the first time we do the program and do it well,” Monaco said. “We look at each other and say, ‘That was good.’ ”