If Monserrat Hernandez, 16, of Hauppauge, and Chelsea Reilly, 17, of Medford, grab for each other’s hands while ice skating, it’s not because they’re afraid of falling.
It’s because the teens are part of a competitive synchronized ice-skating team at The Rinx in Hauppauge, and they move in tandem during different segments of their 16-member team’s choreographed routine.
Synchro, as it’s called for short, challenges figure skaters in matching costumes to perform like synchronized swimmers or a halftime marching band, weaving in and out of formations in a musical performance to entertain fans in the stands. “It’s like the Rockettes,” says Rinx skating school director Yesenia Gilroy. “It’s like a dance troupe on ice.”
Several ice rinks that are open to the public on Long Island sponsor competitive teams for kids as young as 6 through high school, including four teams from The Rinx, two at the Dix Hills Ice Rink, and one at Great Neck’s Andrew Stergiopoulos Ice Rink. Some private sports or country clubs also offer competition teams. The teams, like other travel sports teams, compete regionally.
Two teams from The Rinx recently returned from Worcester, Massachusetts, where they competed in the 2019 Eastern Sectional Synchronized Skating Championships. Two Dix Hills teams and one from Great Neck recently returned from Lake Placid’s 2019 Empire State Winter Games.
“The fact that we all work together, and how everyone supports each other makes it a lot of fun,” says Victoria Rolih, 15, of Cold Spring Harbor, a member of the Dix Hills Ice Chips.
Sharing the limelight
Gilroy, who lives in Miller Place, is one of two coaches of The Rinx’s synchronized skating teams. Her daughter, Sydney, 13, is on the Hurricanes, the rink’s highest-level team. Three years ago, The Rinx only had two teams. Now they have four. “Little by little, we’ve expanded,” Gilroy says. The teams are currently exclusively girls; it’s rare to see a boy on a synchronized skating team, she says.
Many synchro team members also compete individually as figure skaters. Synchronized skating gives them a chance to share the pressure and limelight and to use different skating techniques, the girls say. “With solo, I’m jumping and spinning, but this is more footwork and skating skills,” says Riley Griffith, 13, of Huntington, a member of the Dix Hills Ice Chips. Adds The Rinx’s Hernandez: “We have to be aware of our surroundings, and make sure we don’t crash into each other.”
The girls love the camaraderie, they say, and so do their parents. “Having a friend group outside of school is great,” says Cynthia Reilly, mother of Chelsea and of Jessica, 15, also a member of the Rinx Hurricanes team.
“They spend so much time with each other, they’re like family,” says Laura Micalizzi, of East Islip, whose daughter Ella, 14, is in her fifth year competing with a Rinx team. “They go to each other’s birthdays, Sweet 16s. They’re just like sisters.”
Discipline carries over
Skaters have to try out for the competitive synchro teams, and teams encompass varying grades and skill levels. Arianna Yang, 7, of Miller Place, for instance, is a member of the Rinx beginner team, where members learn basic hand positions and formations. She can move up as her age and skills advance.
Coaches are looking for skaters committed to team building. “You have to skate as one. You want to be all on the same timing. That’s really difficult when you have a lot of different personalities,” says Joelle Forte, skate school director at the Great Neck rink.
The cost to be part of a competitive synchro team, like many travel teams, can run into the thousands of dollars per year between ice time, costumes, hotel stays and more, parents say. “Once you start talking ice time, it’s a big commitment,” Reilly says.
But the discipline carries over into other parts of the girls’ lives, as they balance training, school work and other obligations, Micalizzi says. The Rinx Hurricanes, for instance, practice twice a week, and one of the practices is at 5:30 a.m. Saturdays. “There’s no going out Friday nights,” coach Gilroy says. They also have Pilates training to strengthen their cores, and they must commit to two hours of private lessons per week as well.
But all that effort is worth it, the team members say. Says Sydney Gilroy of the Hurricanes: “When it’s something you love, it’s not hard.”