Figure skating takes physical strength, overall grace and mental toughness

Breanna Egeland, 17, may look graceful gliding in-sync with her teammates across the rink, but the sound of her skates cutting through the ice reveals her strength.

Breanna Egeland
Breanna Egeland shares a laugh with teammates during a recent practice. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Breanna Egeland, 17, may look graceful gliding in-sync with her teammates across the rink, but the sound of her skates cutting through the ice reveals her strength.

The senior at Sacred Heart High School is just one of 16 figure skaters on the Metallites synchronized skating team, a part of the Northern Lights Figure Skating Club in East Grand Forks. Egeland competes with the team and individually in skating competitions across the region.

She started skating when she was in third grade.

"I was in dance at the time," she said. "I ended up liking this a lot better, so ... I stayed with figure skating, and I've been doing it ever since."

The performance aspect of figure skating came easily for Egeland, who began dance at age 3. "But, the physical aspect was a lot harder," she said.


Mallory Olson, skating director of the club and coach of the Metallites, elaborated on the physical element of the sport.

"You're always doing a squat, not a full squat but a partial squat, and you're pushing with your ankles and using all these muscles that you don't necessarily really use for other things," she said.

Jenna Goecke, a skating coach and member of Team North Dakota -- the state's only collegiate synchronized skating team -- agreed that skating takes a lot of strength, but she said it's not all in the legs like many people assume.

"A lot of people underestimate how much core strength you need for balance," she said. "You need to have a really strong upper body."

Skaters also need to be graceful.

"It's a fine combination of athleticism with grace and posture," Olson said. "You have to be strong if you want to have power to do the tight rotations for the spins, but then at the same time you have to be really graceful and pretty."

Mental toughness

The sport encompasses speed, balance, strength and grace, but there's more to it than the physical components. Egeland said mental toughness is very important for several reasons.


"It doesn't matter how in-shape you are; a lot of the elements take a lot of thought," she said.

Mental toughness is needed for the after-performance criticism and disappointment as well.

"You have to be very optimistic because no judge is the same," Egeland said. "One could give you first place and another could give you last ... you can't be a sore loser because each time you skate could be different."

Egeland said she has experienced this disappointment on several accounts throughout her skating life. Many times, it comes at the beginning of a season when she's starting at a new level.

She said she's gone from getting a perfect score at the end of one season to last place at the beginning of the next. "Because it's a new level, and it's harder," she explained.

But, the challenge pushes Egeland to work harder.

"I would rather challenge myself than hold myself back from what I'm actually capable of," she said. When she first lands a new move, she's ecstatic.

"The first feeling, you're kind of in disbelief," she said. "You don't really realize that you landed it, but then once you do, you just get this burst of confidence."


That confidence may stay with her, but when she fails to land the same move in the future, her mental toughness needs to kick in.

"Once you land a jump, you can't expect to keep landing it," she said. "You wish you could, but you're going to have days when you're off, and those are probably the toughest days."

Time commitment

Egeland is at the rink practicing her routines and coaching younger skaters six to seven days a week. Some days she's there for more than four hours at a time.

On Mondays, she does it all. She begins at 5 p.m. with coaching. Then, she does power stroking with the Metallites, which is meant to increase power and strengthen the core. Afterward, she works individually with her coach. She finally leaves the rink at about 10 p.m.

She's back on the ice Tuesday and Wednesday for more individual lessons. And she joins the team for practice Thursdays. The rink clears at about 6 p.m. Thursday, but Egeland is on the ice just 12 hours later for her 6 a.m. Friday lessons.

Egeland may not enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn, but if she wants the space to herself that's her only option. Withmore than 80 skaters in the club and limited hours of rink time available, the ice can get pretty crowded.

Organized chaos


On a Wednesday or Thursday afternoon, Egeland skates in and out of young skaters and their coaches. Dodging little ones, she makes her way across the rink, performing all the spins and jumps in her routine, and stirs clear of other club members on the ice.

While many coaches lead their young skaters, Egeland's coach stands at the side of the rink, critiquing her performance and posture. Sometimes, she'll pull out her iPhone and record a video, so Egeland can see exactly what she's doing wrong.

Occasionally, Egeland will have to stop her routine because another skater interrupts the flow.

"I try not to get frustrated because the girls are young," she said. "Some girls don't stop, but I find that really dangerous. If I see a small skater, who doesn't realize I'm behind them, I will say 'excuse me' and just go around."

Goeckeadded, "It is a bit challenging because you want to stay out of everybody's way and still do what you need to do."

To control the chaos, the skaters use different colored belts to show who has priority over others. An orange belt means a skater is in a paid lesson with a coach, and a yellow belt indicates the skater whose music is playing.

"Everyone has to watch out for them," Egeland said, adding that the system isn't perfect.

But, Egeland and Goecke both agreed that they're used to it, and they're pretty aware of their surroundings while on the ice. To an outsider, it all may look like a chaotic mess, but to the skaters it's nothing but normal.


The risk of injury

Little bruises, aches and pains are also normal for the skaters, who are used to falling while attempting to master new moves. And, while the majority of those little falls are harmless, the frequency of slight pain sometimes causes skaters to overlook serious injuries.

"We're used to falling on the ice and hitting our tail bones or falling on our wrists and it hurts for a week or so," Egeland said. "But, we don't really think we're injured when we are."

Last year, Egeland's knees started hurting but she neglected to tell her parents and coaches right away. She said she didn't want to stop skating. When she finally broke down and said something, she ended up being out for just over a week. Although she wasn't away from the rink for long, she said she regrets not getting her knees checked out sooner.

Her injury was from the high arches in her feet not being supported. The solution was to get new skates with better arch support.

"My skates are actually different from most because I actually have a cushion pad on the ball of my foot," she said. "It helps absorb a lot of the shock when I'm jumping."

Now if Egeland's knees ever bother her, she just wears a brace, but she said she tries to avoid that because it's really ugly.

A second family


Even though she spends all of her free time skating, Egeland said the sport doesn't take away from her social life.

She says that because she's with her friends all the time.

"The nice thing about synchro(nized skating) is that our whole team really gets along," she said. "We call each other our second family just because we are together so much of the time."

Egeland said she considers many of her team members her best friends.

"We see each other at school, and we try to do team get-togethers before competition," she said. "Leaving my team is probably going to be the hardest thing about senior year."

After graduation, Egeland plans to attend UND. She wants to try out for Team North Dakota, where Goecke currently skates.After college, Egeland said she has her eye on The Haydenettes synchronized skating team in Boston.

"They're actually the team that represented the U.S. in (the World Figure Skating Championships)," Egeland said. "I've watched them skate, and I would love to be on that team."

Olson said it is very, very difficult to make the team, but it's definitely a possibility for Egeland.

Figure skating by the numbers

Figure skating doesn't just require a lot of time and commitment. It's very expensive. Although the skaters don't have very much equipment, there are a number of other expenses.

• Figure skates: New skates and blades cost an average of $1,200. The skates last for several years, but those who start young go through several pairs as their feet grow.

• Costumes: Skaters can perform in up to four different routines a year, which means they need four dresses, which can cost anywhere from $250 to $1,000. To save money, the skaters hold dress swaps and reuse dresses as much as they can.

• Club fees: Each figure skater pays an annual $25 club fee in order to join the Northern Lights Figure Skating Club East Grand Forks, which allows them to skate during the club's open ice time. They also pay additional U.S. figure skating fees to compete, which costs $53 per year.

• Private lessons: While skaters don't have to pay a separate fee to reserve ice for their lessons, they do have to pay their coaches. Prices can range from $5 an hour to more than $30 an hour.

• Travel: Whether it's for an individual competition or team competition, figure skaters and their families pay all travel expenses. To help with the costs, sometimes the club will hold fundraisers.

• Blade sharpening: The skaters take their skates to Fargo about once a month to get the blades sharpened, which costs $22.

Maki covers arts and entertainment and life and style. Call her at (701) 780-1122, (800)477-6572 ext. 1122 or send e-mail to , follow her on Twitter at @jasminemaki23 or see her blog at

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