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Oceanside's Samantha Cesario competes for Olympic spot in U.S. skating championships

Samantha Cesario poses for a photo in Oceanside.

Samantha Cesario poses for a photo in Oceanside. (Jan. 4, 2013) Credit: Mike Stobe

Samantha Cesario will take the ice Thursday in Boston, a possible trip to the Winter Olympics hanging in the balance.

A large contingent of family and friends will be on hand at TD Garden as the 20-year-old from Oceanside competes in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a tournament that serves as a showcase for a potential addition to Team USA.

For Cesario, who finished eighth in the nationals last year, just being there is a tribute to her determination.

The skater tore the lateral collateral ligament in her left knee three days before she was to compete in the 2012 U.S. Championships. It was a routine jump during a routine practice -- a triple loop she had successfully performed hundreds of times. But the takeoff this time was a bit "weird," Cesario recalled, and the landing awkward and painful.

That injury came almost exactly a year after fractured vertebrae forced her to withdraw from the same competition in January 2011.

Cesario had enjoyed four consecutive top-three finishes leading up to nationals in 2012, including winning the North Atlantic Regional.

"Giving up figure skating definitely crossed my mind," she said. "To work so hard and have success, then have another injury, the frustration is indescribable. After the [knee], I wondered, 'Maybe my body can't handle this and it's not meant to be; maybe I should do something else.' "

Or maybe not.

"I had come too far in my career to throw it away," she said. "Skating is what I do and I knew I had more to offer, more to accomplish. I wanted to prove that to everyone."

Proof: Third-place in the Junior Grand Prix in Austria in September 2012, her first major competition after the knee injury.
She went on to win the Eastern Sectional two months later, which was a springboard to the 2013 U.S. Championships. Her program there "was errorless," her mother, Joanne Cesario, said. And eighth place - in a field of big-name elites - not only announced Cesario's return, but her ascension.

Since then, she has finished top five in four straight tournaments and, most recently, took fourth in the Trophee Bompard in Paris in November.

"Sam has always been a fighter," said her father, Mike Cesario.

She came all the way back after rigorous rehab, and with the Olympic figure skating just 29 days away, a strong showing could be her ticket to Sochi, Russia. Three spots are available on the Team USA roster, but even a first-place finish would not guarantee inclusion on the Olympic team, as the final decisions are made by the U.S. Olympic Committee

"It's going to be great and I'm excited," Cesario said of the nationals.

The senior bracket also includes Merrick's Joelle Forte, 27, who qualified with a third-place finish in November's Eastern Sectionals. The ladies short program begins today, with the free skate on Saturday.

Cesario graduated from Oceanside High School in 2011 and was accepted to Fashion Institute of Technology, but she deferred college enrollment to focus on skating. She maintains a hectic schedule, driving 50 miles upstate to Monsey four times a week to work with her coach, Mary Lynn Gelderman, and choreographer Inese Bucevica. She visits her physical therapist David Lipetz in Jericho "two to three times a week," and Friday mornings are still spent at the Iceland rink in New Hyde Park.

Cesario's downtime usually comes on the weekends, she said, when she is able to read and play with her dog, Buddy, and cat, Rusty. She's also close to her sister, Cassie.

"I've always looked up to her and admired what she does," said Cassie 15, who is a star on the Oceanside lacrosse team. "Then seeing her overcome everything, as a sister and an athlete, makes me appreciate it even more."

She now seeks to perfect the "triple-triple" -- a dazzling but dangerous move that involves three aerial revolutions, a split-second landing and takeoff, into three more midair twirls.

"I'm confident and I feel like I'm back on track," Cesario said. "I grew up watching Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan on TV, and now I have an opportunity to show I can compete at that level."

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