Pierson's Selyukova is an all-around talent
There is an accomplished pianist on the Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team. A former gymnast, too. And a ballerina, a basketball player, a poet and a descendant of Russian nobility.
Her name is Erica Selyukova.
Still wearing a practice pinnie and with her field hockey stick resting nearby, Selyukova sat at a baby grand piano and, passing time, casually began playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" -- seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly.
Just a typical late afternoon for an atypical 14-year-old. Selyukova is a renaissance girl of sorts, with interests that span the spectrum and experiences unlike most high school sophomores.
She often shares with friends tales of "walking five miles to school" in the Ukraine. But more on that later.
Gymnastics and ballet began at age 5, Selyukova said, "because I was too energetic and my parents wanted to get me into different activities."
That's not unusual. The piano playing, though, comes with a backstory.
Erica, who was born in Southampton and lives in Sag Harbor, is the great granddaughter of Tihan Zahar Khmelnitski, a nobleman in the Romanov monarchy in Russia, her mother, Irina Khmelnitski Selyukova said. Irina's family lost its wealth after the Russian Revolution of the early 1900s and she grew up on a farm in the Ukraine, she said. Still, the family adhered to its customs, one of which dictates that "all girls of noble blood" are required to learn the piano.
Erica, who began playing at 4, said she gradually grew to love it. She has performed concerts and was graded at the highest level by the New York State School Music Association.
Irina and Erica's father, Alex Selyukov, moved to the United States in the early 1990s but still hold firm to their Russian culture. So much so that when Erica was 8 and her sister Emily was 10, the parents sent them to live in the Ukraine for a year.
"Just putting them on a plane and having them fly by themselves, there was a lot of worry," Irina said. "They lived with my sister and I would call there constantly."
But the goal, she said, was to have her daughters experience "life as a Russian," connect with their heritage and become fluent in the language.
For the girls, though, going from Long Island to Simferopol came with a bit of culture shock.
"It's a totally different mind-set there," said Erica, now a sophomore at Pierson High School. "The first thing you notice is how self-reliant kids are. They're almost robotically obedient and have so many more responsibilities . . . Girls our age shop for groceries and cook for the family."
And walk to school, in any condition, along highways and across bridges, she said. While there, the gymnastics and piano lessons intensified -- with more rigid instructors.
"I think my parents wanted us to develop a sense of having to earn everything we have," Erica said.
When her daughters returned to the United States -- by then able to speak, read and write in Russian -- Irina said they were more focused and composed.
The girls later found their own avenues of interest. Emily, 17, took on acting and singing. She has performed in several school productions and at the Southampton Cultural Center and, in 2011, won a Teeny Award for best actress in a play.
Erica plays piano, but her passion became athletics. In addition to field hockey, she also is a standout on the Pierson basketball team and, last spring, joined the softball squad. She continued gymnastics until last year, when she grew to 5-10.
"Even when she was little, she was very bright and could always learn things quickly," said Marina Laous, a family friend and Erica's first piano instructor. "She has become an excellent piano player, but she's so athletic and energetic, sports appealed to her more."
Few were surprised when Erica took up field hockey as a freshman last year -- after some cajoling from coach Shannon Judge -- and immediately became a starting midfielder. Selyukova excels defensively, with range and quickness, and is a facilitator on offense. She has helped guide the Whalers to an 8-4 start this season.
"She's intense, tough, humble and a natural leader," Judge said. "Every cliche comes to mind, but it's true."
The discipline she learned from playing the piano and the agility developed in gymnastics, Erica said, has translated well to field hockey.
And practice, too, when she and All-Long Islander Kasey Gilbride, another former gymnast, put on shows for their teammates with backflips and handstand competitions.
"She's such a well-rounded and interesting person, it adds a special flair to our team," senior Katherine Matthers said of Selyukova. "Although she's younger than me, she's someone I look up to. And I know that sounds unusual."
No more unusual than a pianist, gymnast, ballerina, basketball player and poet on the field hockey team.