Their 5:30 a.m. alarm starts their days much earlier than their peers.
Miami University first-years Sammie Levine and Faith Tanis leave their shared dorm room and walk to morning practice at Goggin Ice Center
Both girls have been skating since a very young age: Levine started at 4-years-old and Tanis at 6-years-old. When Levine’s family moved to the suburbs of Chicago, their new home was located right behind an ice rink, prompting her to start lessons in freestyle skating.
“When I was little, I tried every sport ever like every normal kid: soccer, baseball, all that good stuff, but skating always stuck,” she said.
Tanis also lived in Chicago as a kid, and was ultimately influenced to start skating because her sister had tried it out. She had tried many other sports but ultimately fell in love with the feeling of being free on the ice.
The pair began as solo freestyle skaters, but soon realized they enjoyed the team aspect of synchronized skating. For Tanis, being on a team of multiple girls gave her the opportunity to develop friendships outside of school and bond with others that have the same passion as her.
“I don’t love the attention all on me, so when I found out about synchronized [skating], I thought it was a lot more fun to do because you could go and do it with your friends,” she said.
Levine and Tanis eventually ended up on the same competitive team, training and competing for Team USA throughout high school. They would practice for an hour before school, three to four hours after school and all day on Saturday and Sunday. The pair even had the opportunity to compete internationally in Sweden and England.
Upon their high school graduation, Levine and Tanis didn’t have plans to continue competitively skating in college.
Levine wanted a normal college experience. She wanted to go to class and hang out with her friends without the looming stress of skating. That was, until an injury caused by crashing into the boards at practice that made her realize how she couldn’t imagine her life without skating.
“When I broke my leg, suddenly what I loved the most was taken away from me, and it wasn’t until I was at that rock-bottom that I realized skating gave me so much more than I thought it did,” she said.
As for Tanis, she thought checking-off the box of being on Team USA was satisfying enough, so she decided not to continue in college. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made her recognize the enormous hole in her life without skating.
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“[When] COVID hit, I realized that I wasn’t ready to let go of skating yet, and I felt empty without it,” she said. “I wasn't ready to let go of the thing that made me the happiest.”
Going into their first year on the team, the pair expected their season to be as intensive as it had been in the past. But when freshman move-in got pushed back to September, so did their season.
Usually, the first-years would move in early and have older members of the team show them around campus. They would all rush into the locker room together, maskless, before practice and spend the whole day with one another. They would bond and goof off on buses and planes on their way to competitions and get an adrenaline rush from a crowd cheering them on as they perform their program. This year, however, was an exception.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on sports seasons around the country, and Miami university's synchronized skating team was no exception. With the cancellation of competitions for U.S. Figure Skating synchronized skating season, something that had never happened before, team members were left wondering if they would practice or have any season salvaged at all.
Levine said missing out on a normal competition season made her wonder what she was working toward.
“The pandemic has definitely challenged my team to rethink why we skate. Normally, we would be looking forward to competing, performing and traveling together which is what makes it easier to put so much time and energy into our training. But without a competitive season, we had to find a new why. For me, I realized that training for a sport just because you love it is simply enough.”
Fortunately for the team, they were given the opportunity to start training again in October with some restrictions. Masks were required at all times for on-ice and off-ice practice, only 10 people were allowed in the locker room at one time and practices had to be staggered.
“I can’t even leave my skates in the locker room, I have to take them home with me which is so bizarre,” Levine said.
While the team isn’t competing, the skaters were given the opportunity to train, get stronger and prepare their program for next season, an opportunity not every college team was given. Miami’s Synchronized Skating Head Coach, Carla DeGirolamo, thinks the extra training will serve the team well in the long run.
“Even though we didn’t end up competing this year, something we did was prepare for the upcoming season, so we got a lot more skill training, strength and conditioning focused and flexibility training that we usually don’t have time to do,” DeGirolamo said. “ I think we’ve made some really great strides in kind of the fundamentals of synchronized skating which, you know, obviously getting to this level everyone has done most things before, but sometimes really going back and breaking them down kind of gives that more evolved level of execution.”
Despite the circumstances, the team has made the best out of the season. While it was hard for the team not to compete and have the normalcy they all wanted, Tanis knew they were not alone when it came to cancellations.
“The whole world was going through this, it wasn’t just us and we had to keep reminding ourselves of that, that it’s not just us in this situation,” she said.
With the end of the pandemic in sight, DeGirolamo is hopeful for a safe return to competition in the fall.
“I’m sure there’s maybe still some modifications as far as crowd size and masking,” DeGirolamo said, “but I’m hopeful and confident that we will have much more of a competition season coming up than we did this year.”