You could say that Griffin Schwab and Darbie Burke were born to ice skate.
Schwab said that when he completed his first jump years ago, it felt like flying. When her mom would take her to the rink, Burke would cry in her stroller until someone strapped skates on her.
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Together, the two make a near perfect pair. Even U.S. Figure Skating thought so.
Schawb, 16, of South Setauket, and Burke, 12, of Ronkonkoma, came in second in the intermediate pairs division in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb., last month. Their free skate earned them a 59.69, trailing only Alicia Bertsch and Austin Hale's 67.83. Not too shabby for a tag-team that was doubting its ability to make the jump from the juvenile division as late as this past July.
"We went from not knowing lifts, and not knowing some moves, until luckily enough, we got them," Burke said. "It took a lot of preparation . . . [to place second] was amazing. It felt so good."
The greatest challenge was learning those overhead lifts in time to qualify for the sectional championships on Nov. 8-12, their coach, Cathryn Schwab, said.
"It came together," Cathryn said. "They worked really hard and they came together and they excelled at it in the end."
Together with Cathryn, who is Griffin's mother, and coach Kaela Pflumm, the duo was able to make the progression and win the event. Between sectionals and the national championship -- a span of about two months -- they stuck a star lift and a split double twist, Griffin said. In that time, they were on the ice six days a week, along with off-ice conditioning and strength training.
"It was definitely a thrill to have a good skate and just be the top of your country at your skill level," Griffin Schwab said last week at The Rinx in Hauppauge. "For the lifts, it's a little bit of conditioning and strength, and also, what a lot of people don't realize is that it's also a lot of work for the girl because she has to keep her body strong and stay balanced."
Burke, who has been skating since she was about 3, was up to the challenge -- enough so that the pair hopes to qualify for the novice division this year. The work is tireless, and Schwab, who is home- schooled and has a part-time job, often travels with his mother in her capacity as coach and skating director for The Rinx. Burke, a student at Ronkonkoma Middle School, writes a daily schedule to help balance life, school and skating.
The two maintain a playful, sibling-like relationship, and spend more time with each other than their actual siblings, they said. Having Schwab by her side "makes me more confident and comfortable," Burke said. They've been skating together since they were small children, back when Schwab, then 8, took it up because his mother was spending long hours at the rink.
As for Burke: "I used to love watching it. I used to love having skates on my feet and I just started skating."
She laughed when reminded of how her mother, Dawn, used to let her wobble around in skates in an attempt to soothe her.
"She would put skates on her and let her walk around" off the ice, Cathryn said.
"And then," Burke said, "I would stop crying."