“I want to be an Olympian,” junior Emma Boersma said with a laugh.
Even though Boersma was joking, she has spent the last year of her life learning one of the most watched sports in the winter Olympics: figure skating.
Unlike most professional figure skaters, Boersma has not been on the ice since she was 3.
“It can be intimidating sometimes when you see these really cute, tiny 3-year-olds that are better than you,” Boersma said.
“But I learned that in figure skating, everyone just does their own thing.”
Boersma started figure skating last fall when she saw a post about it on Instagram.
“I had always enjoyed ice skating just for fun,” Boersma said. “But when I saw this post on Instagram, I was like, ‘Wow, I totally forgot figure skating existed! That would be really fun to do.’”
And it all started with that one Instagram like. That very night, Boersma said, she went online to find the nearest ice skating rinks, so she could start taking classes.
Boersma began learning how to figure skate in October of 2017 in group classes at Skatetown (1009 Orlando Ave.), located in Roseville. These classes contained only five to 10 people due to the variety of skill levels in figure skating, according to Boersma.
“When I started, all I could do was go forward,” Boersma said.
“I didn’t know how to go backward or even stop.”
Starting in Pre-Alpha, the beginner level, Boersma improved her form quickly, allowing her to skip the next level (Alpha) and go straight to Beta after only two weeks, a leap that would take most students 10 weeks.
“In Beta, we started to learn actual moves, not just how to go forward and backward and stop,” Boersma said.
And over the past year, Boersma has advanced eight levels, all the way up to Freestyle 2.
At that point, Boersma said, she felt confident to start entering competitions.
“Once I felt I was good enough and had tricks to show people, I hired a private coach to start training for competitions,” she said.
“We meet once a week for half an hour to go over new moves and for (my coach) to help improve my form and balance.”
Now that she’s not taking group classes, practicing is all up to Boersma. And finding time to practice during the school week, according to Boersma, is “very tough.”
“I usually wake up at 5:30 a.m., drive to the rink, practice for half an hour and then drive to school,” she said.
“I do that almost every other morning.”
An added struggle for Boersma is chamber music rehearsal at 7:30 a.m., which forces her to practice less often than she would like. Boersma doesn’t have time after school to skate, as she is on the varsity volleyball team, which has practices or games every day.
Despite all the work and time figure skating takes, Boersma said she enjoys it.
“Take this morning, for example,” Boersma said.
“It was 5:30 a.m. It was super dark outside and freezing cold. I was in my bed and all comfy, and I was sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, God. I don’t want to get out out of bed.’
“But then I thought, ‘I really want to go ice skating.’ It sucks sometimes, but it’s worth it.”
Boersma said what gets her out of bed each morning is the joy of “not walking.”
“I have done so many sports in my life, and they always involve running,” Boersma said.
“I’ve done soccer for a long time, and it’s like 90 percent running. I hate it.”
And even though ice skating doesn’t involve running, it still has the competitive aspects of sports that Boersma said she loves.
“I like winning, and I like beating people, which I can do on the ice the same as on the field,” she said.
The individuality of ice skating is also something that attracts Boersma.
“It’s always all up to me,” she said. “I can beat people, but I can also be creative and elegant.
“It’s a different medium to express myself.”
Having done ballet for three years when she was in lower school, Boersma said the performance and grace of ballet is similar to the skills needed for ice skating.
“But in the end, figure skating is just an entirely different animal,” she said.
“And I love how new it is.”
Before Boersma could compete, she had to earn badges in each figure skating level from the International Skating Institute (ISI).
“Badge testing is essentially the official figure skating way of knowing what level you are at to compete in,” she said.
“Someone certified by the ISI reads off certain moves for you to do, and if you do them all correctly, you can get your badge for the level.”
Boersma currently holds badges in pre-Alpha, Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
“I was also supposed to get a badge in Delta, but I was late to my test, so I didn’t get to test for it,” Boersma said.
“So I’m currently competing at the Gamma level.”
After Delta, a skater can advance through Freestyle 1 to 10 and then obtain Open Freestyle Badges in Bronze through Platinum. Couple and Pair Freestyle Badges are also obtainable.
In addition to earning badges, Boersma had to come up with an original routine to perform during the competition.
“There are three categories you can compete in: dramatic, character and energetic,” Boersma said.
“I chose dramatic, and my coach picked music to go along with my routine.”
While Boersma’s routine lasted only 1 minute and 6 seconds, she noted that higher levels compete with full songs.
With the music and category picked, the next step for Boersma was learning the choreography from her instructor.
“One of the moves I competed with was a waltz jump, where you jump with one foot and spin and land backwards on your other foot,” she said.
Boersma also performed a spiral, which involves gliding on one foot while simultaneously lifting your other foot up in the shape of a wine glass.
“I also did a bunny hop, which is the same idea as the waltz jump, (but) you don’t land backwards,” she said.
With these moves, Boersma competed in her first official figure skating competition at Skatetown on Oct. 6, a home competition.
“It was nice that it was a home competition because I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” Boersma said.
Boersma said the competition was exactly like the Olympics.
“You wear a pretty dress and tons of makeup and put your hair up all nice and everything,” she said.
“It’s really like a beauty pageant. Yes, you are being judged on your moves, but there is also the visual aspect of it.
“You want your performance to look pretty, so if you look like a hot mess, it’s not gonna look good no matter how hard you try.”
While Boersma does not know exactly how the skaters are scored and rated, she said that both the difficulty and quality of moves are considered in addition to visual appearance.
“Even if you are doing a really impressive spin, your appearance really matters” Boersma said.
“That is so unlike any other sport where everyone wears the same uniform and is allowed to get sweaty and dirty. You can’t do that in ice skating.”
Boersma ended up placing third of three people in the Gamma category in the Oct. 6 competition.
“The people I was competing against had definitely been skating far longer than me,” Boersma said.
“You could just tell that they knew what they were doing. It was also my first time.
“I obviously wished I had placed higher, but now that I have some experience under my belt, I know I can do better.”
One problem in figure skating, according to Boersma, is people competing at a level lower than they should be at, a problem Boersma said she encountered at her level during the competition.
Despite the outcome of the competition, Boersma said she continues to improve every week.
“My hardest move so far to learn has been my one-foot spin, which is extremely difficult for me balance wise,” she said.
“I have also started jumping higher and higher, which increases difficulty.”
For Boersma, however, the hardest part is not the jumps but the spins.
“Ice skating is not physically taxing for me, but the hardest part is balance,” she said.
“The reason I can’t nail the one-foot spin is because my center of gravity is not exactly perfect. Even if a little thing is off, you will fall and screw up.”
Boersma said that in her first competition, she messed up one of her jumps because her body weight wasn’t where it needed to be.
“That’s such a small thing that you would never think about in any other sport other than ice skating,” she said.
“It’s been a struggle for me to get used to.”
But with the joy of ice skating also comes a big price tag.
“Every time I see my coach, I have to pay her; every time I use the rink, I have to pay them for rink time; every time I compete, I have to pay for registration and buy a new dress and makeup,” she said.
“I also had to buy professional figure skating boots, which were pretty expensive. You can’t just use the rental ones.
“Gas, too, is expensive because I live 20 miles from Skatetown.”
Looking toward the future, Boersma plans on improving her skills to a higher level before competing again in March.
“When that competition comes around, I really want to be able to compete at a higher level and have a lot more experience,” she said.
While Boersma doesn’t plan to compete for a college figure skating team, she hopes to continue the sport simply for fun over the next couple years.
“Maybe I’ll even join a synchronized ice skating team,” she said jokingly.
Boersma, however, is not the only Country Day high school student who has figure skated.
Senior Heidi Johnson figure skated for eight years, starting when she was 6 years old.
And unlike Boersma, Johnson originally became interested in figure skating because of her mom.
“My mom used to ice skate all the time and take professional lessons,” Johnson said. “During the winter she would take me out to skate, and I would watch her do crossovers (a way to gain speed by alternating feet strokes) and other fancy moves.
“I thought that was really cool, so I wanted to learn how to skate too.”
Johnson started her career at Iceland Ice Skating Rink (1430 Del Paso Blvd.), but then the rink burned down in 2011. She then began to skate at Skatetown, where Boersma skates, and at another rink in Vacaville.
However, Johnson said the distance became a hardship, leading her to begin to skate during only the winter.
“I never did any competitions,” Johnson said. “It was mostly just all for fun.”
Despite never competing, Johnson did complete the ISI badge testing all the way up to Freestyle 5.
“At that level, I had to complete a ton of hard moves, like an axel jump, where you have to spin one-and-a-half times in the air,” she said.
“I also started to complete some of the easier double jumps, like a flip (which isn’t actually a flip).
“I could do that move, too, where you’re essentially on the ground and just spinning in circles like they do at the Olympics!”
Like Boersma, Johnson said one of her favorite parts of the sport is gliding.
“It’s just such a different movement from every other type of sport,” she said.
“It’s so smooth, and you can go so fast. It’s just great.”
Because Johnson did not compete, she practiced only twice a week.
However, she still participated in two rink shows that occurred during the holiday season.
“In one show I actually played Annie from the movie ‘Annie’ during one of the Christmas shows,” Johnson said.
“I had a red wig and everything.”
Even though Johnson had to stop ice skating when she was 14 because she no longer had the time, she said she misses being on the ice.
“The moves in ice skating are already difficult, but making them look graceful is the key to a good figure skater,” Johnson said.
—By Jack Christian
Originally published in the Oct. 30 edition of the Octagon, now including online-exclusive information.