Submitted by Shane Mauldin, McKinney ISD
It is 7:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning and Erin Abshire has been at figure skating practice for the last two hours. Her hair is pulled back in a long ash blond braid that hangs down her back. She is circling the ice rink with two other skaters this morning, both young girls like Erin. One of her coaches, Michelle Perna, is offering pointers, corrections and encouragement as she skates alongside Erin and the others.
Erin, 12, quickly corrects her footing. It’s cold in here. It’s too early in the morning. And yet Erin has not left the ice for more than a few moments. She is dressed in nothing more than black leggings, a t-shirt, and a thin, black workout jacket. Erin cuts through the ice on her pristine white skates hardly noticing the chill.
Erin’s cheeks are bright red from exercise while the few spectators—mostly tired moms—are sitting on blankets on metal bleachers that line one side of the rink. The bleachers might as well be ice trays. Holly Abshire, Erin’s mom, is bundled in a thick coat and cradles her coffee cup. “We’re cold,” she said. “We keep a lot of coats.”
Like most figure skating moms, Abshire, a stay-at-home mom, has learned to accept early morning skate practice. Abshire has also learned to do competition hairdos and rhinestone dresses. Erin’s dad, Donovan Abshire, has also learned to ice skate and he and Erin did a father-daughter skate in December.
Erin is a 6th grader at Ruth Dowell Middle School but gets up every morning to practice at the Allen Community Ice Rink Monday – Friday from 5:45 – 8:15 a.m., she participates in a group workshop on Thursdays from 6 – 7:15 p.m., and skates Saturday from 7:45 – 9 a.m., with off-ice class until 10:45 a.m.. Erin receives off-campus PE credit for her time at the rink; the program allows some students to spend their PE period off-campus to train for a specific sport.
If it sounds exhausting, it is for Abshire who must drive Erin back and forth to the Allen Events Center where Erin’s two coaches, Perna and Alyssa Boyles work with her to improve her routine.
It is not too exhausting for Erin though, “It’s fun and challenging,” she said.
The figure skating student’s life is not without restrictions. Erin must pass to play said Abshire. She must maintain good grades, which Erin does. She also has some social limitations. Erin cannot stay for sleepovers on Friday nights because of Saturday morning skate practice. If friends want to go to a movie together, she must go to an early showing. When Erin tells classmates what she does in her off time their response is usually the same, “They say, ‘Oh that’s cool.’ ”
Abshire does not complain about her daughter’s new found passion. She is the one who bought Erin ice skating lessons two years ago as a birthday present. “I thought it would be a fun way to occupy her more,” said Abshire.
Erin was skeptical at first. “I thought it was skate boarding lessons. I couldn’t [ice] skate at all. I was horrible.” She soon changed her mind and towards the end of the weekly ice skating lessons, “She was begging for twice a week,” said Abshire whose older daughter, Kaitlin Abshire, is a sophomore at McKinney Boyd High School.
Abshire has seen Erin blossom in the rink. “She’s probably more comfortable on ice than she is walking across the ground.”
While Erin avoids talking with adults and her peers in public, on the ice, she is the center of attention. “I do see that as personal growth for her. She will skate out by herself and compete with confidence and grace,” said Abshire.
And for Erin, the ice rink is where she shines. “I used to hunch my shoulders,” she said, when other skaters would pass by. Not anymore. The more Erin has worked, the more practice she has put in, the better she has become. “I became a little bit more social and confident as well,” said Erin who is a member of the Dallas Figure Skating Club.
And this morning as the music plays in the ice rink Erin—who shrugs and nods and whispers if she speaks—is transformed into an elegant skater, athletic and clearly in love with the sport. She does a quick flying camel spin and skates back and forth practicing her compulsory routine. No falls but a few missed steps. Erin knows it, her mom knows it and her coaches know it. They also know Erin will not settle for mediocre.
“Erin’s really good to work with,” said Perna. “She’s made huge, huge progress.” Coach Boyles agreed. Erin is an, “eager to learn skater,” said Boyles. Erin just learned the axle jump and her goal is to make it to the regional level. The regionals are the biggest competition of the season and figure skaters from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas compete. Figure skating levels are complicated and based on a series of skills tests, or moves in the field tests, each skater must pass. Erin is at the pre-preliminary level. Senior level national skaters are the ones you see on TV.
Already Erin has competed in multiple local competitions including the Bunny Hop Open at Stonebriar Centre Mall in Frisco last November where she earned second place in the pre-preliminary spins, second in the limited pre-preliminary compulsory moves and first in the no-test free skate. Erin is currently training for an upcoming competition in April. She hopes to improve her new routine and compete in the regional competition in October. Erin is “realistic in her goals,” said Boyles. She wants to go as far as she can. “She sets them so she can actually reach them.”
Some days are more challenging, “There are days when I can’t do anything correctly,” said Erin. But she takes the setbacks and successes in stride. I want to, “just keep competing and going up the levels,” said Erin who loves jumping on the ice. “It’s easier than spinning. It’s easier and funner,” she said with a smile.
Written by Joanna Cattanach