MARGARET SZYMANSKI - Figure Skater
USFSA - Adult Gold Moves, Figures & Free - USFSA - Gold Figure Skating Test Judge
Those of you who know me, know that in my other life I am known as Margaret Szymanski, figure skater. This sport became my passion shortly after witnessing Brian Boitano's programs at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. At first I was consumed with watching, then, coinciding with my marriage in 1990, I began taking lessons myself. I began as a way to get in shape and my goal was just to look as if I had been on skates all my life. I never really thought about jumps and spins, just flow. But, from the first lesson it became a passion. And from the first jump I became addicted to the feeling of flight. I worked diligently to achieve the technical aspects of the sport so that I could then enjoy the freedom of flight across the ice. My coach until 2005 was Gloria Howley Swanson, a pupil of Gus Lussi and an exponent of the "old" school of figure skating, who grew up and trained with Dick Button. She had me on the straight and narrow with my training from the beginning. My current coach is Edward Van Campen with whom I began working on moves and who has been my freestyle coach also for the past few years. I was trained in school figures (now becoming a lost art) in addition to the free style levels and Moves in the Field. I joined the USFSA late in 1990. Since then I have passed all the tests through the 3rd figure test, the Novice Moves test and the Juvenile Free Skating test on the regular USFSA testing track. I have also passed the Adult Bronze, Silver and Gold Free Skating and Figures tests and the Adult Gold Moves In The Field test. I was thrilled in 2008 when I passed my Novice Moves at the Standard Level!! This was a big accomplishment for me and I am very proud of it. YAY!!
US Figure Skating includes separate Adult levels for us "old folks". I competed at and won many local competitions and I won the North Atlantic Regional Championships in the Adult Junior and Adult Senior divisions, prior to the current competition structure. I landed my very first axel in the competition at North Atlantics in 1994. As an Adult competitor in those early years, the biggest frustration for me was being forced to compete against skaters who had been skating all their lives and just happened to be over the age of 25. There is a HUGE difference between re-learning a jump you knew 10 years ago and learning that same jump when you're over 30!
In 1994, the USFSA recognized the Adult Skating community by creating new competition levels determined by prior skating tests. (This has helped a great deal, but there are still some of those "child" skaters who never took certain tests when they were kids and who can still get away with competing at a level lower than they actually should - in the Adult Skating community we call this "sandbagging".) With these new levels, came the first-ever Adult National Championships, held in Wilmington, Delaware in April 1995.
The biggest moment in my skating career was winning the 1995 Adult National Silver Class I title that year. In a field of 43 competitors I came in first! I was a National Champion! It was a wonderful night!!
Determined not to be a "sandbagger" I went ahead and passed the 3rd figure test in June of that year. (With the rules in place at that time passing that test meant I was automatically bumped into the Adult Gold category.) The following year I didn't compete because I was on tour with PHANTOM OF THE OPERA - and then later that year I broke my hands!! Yes I was skating, but it happened in a power stroking class with a bunch of 10-year-old kids, an activity I have not done since then. This slowed me up a little, but I was back at work playing the flute within 6 weeks of the accident (I'm a fast healer), back on the ice after 9 weeks and back out tour with PHANTOM again in the fall.
I did my first competition as an Adult Gold skater in March of 1997. (I hadn't passed the free skate test yet, but passing the 3rd Figure test automatically bumped me up to Gold.) I was disappointed to find myself at the bottom of the heap. I kept thinking that all I needed were the double jumps. So I kept trying to put them into my programs even though I couldn't land them. Although I won a Bronze medal in the Adult Gold Figures, at the 1997 Adult Nationals I only placed 8th out 12 skaters in the Adult Gold Free Skating. This was disheartening and forced me to rethink my goals in skating. I refocused on the figures, and began taking the Moves in the Field tests. (These tests were designed in 1994 to take the place of school figures and are very helpful in developing strong edges, footwork and correct posture at full skating speed.) I find that the best combination of training for me includes both the school figures and the Moves. That summer the jump requirements were reduced for the Adult Gold Free Skating test and I was able to pass it with my single axel as the hardest element. I planned to compete that fall in the Adult Gold Championship round at the 1998 Sectionals (a qualifying competition held at Adult Nationals in addition to the open round). Unfortunately, I had a back injury that October, which then resulted in a stress fracture in my right foot. I competed anyway - but ended up 7th out of 9 skaters. I spent quite a bit of time off the ice that year, just trying to heal. I did compete in the 1998 Adult Nationals and won another Bronze medal in the Adult Gold Figures division.
Money and injuries kept me from being competitive for couple of years, but I went again to the 2000 Adult Nationals, held in Lake Placid, NY. I competed in Class II Adult Gold Free Skating - a huge group of women - 18 in all - and I skated in the first group of six. This is a disadvantage because as the event goes on it becones harder and harder for the judges to remember the earlier skaters. My goal was to place 9th - at least I'd be in the top half. I really skated my best, landed a good axel and even made a solid attempt at the double salchow. I used two cuts from my new CD for my music, and it was a very emotional performance for me. I ended in 7th overall, 2 places better than I'd hoped for! I felt very satisfied with that result because even though many of the women had solid doubles in their programs, the judges liked me enough to keep me up there in the standings even without those harder elements. I was nervous for the Adult Gold Figure event and only placed 4th. That was the last year for Figures at Adult Nationals. I feel their loss deeply and wish that the event could be reinstated.
In the fall of 2000 I finally became pregnant (after trying for years!) and how! I was blessed with twin girls in May of 2001 and my skating career went on hold.
After I had my girls I continued to skated throughout the next few years. I even passed my Adult Gold Moves in May of 2004, but coming back from having twins took a long time. I attempted to compete again in 2004 but it was not a successful outing for me. I still skated as much as I could for the next year or so just to maintain what skills I had and then - finally! 2006 - The kids were in full-day kindergarten. I was able to skate 4 - 5 days a week - I dropped over 20 pounds and I felt as though I have a new lease on life. The axel was still not really there but I felt confident that it would come back sometime. I worked on Novice Moves with Edward Van Campen, and freestyle with Sylvia Fontana. My goal was to get my axel back to a place where it's comfortable.
I came back to competition in the spring of 2008 - I placed first at the Adult Sectionals in March (run by North Jersey FSC) at the Ice Vault in Wayne, NJ and then went to Adult Nationals which was back again in Lake Placid - a magical place for me. I placed 4th (missing 3rd by less than a point!) and was delighted to be back! There are some pictures from my program in the gallery below - the music was "Histoire du Tango" by Piazzola from a performance I did with Harpist Emily Mitchell. If you have a membership to IceNewtork - the video can be seen in their archives - AN 2008 - Adult Gold Ladies - Class IV. (You can also see my 2014 return there - Adult Gold Ladies - Class IV.)
In 2010 I began working on Junior Moves with Edward Van Campen and hope that getting older won't keep me from testing them - if I can ever get over the fear of those darn diagonals!!
In 2014 I finally returned to Adult Nationals - a learning experience - for the first time leaving with no medals. :-( Into each life a bit of rain must fall. I was extremely proud of myself for getting there at all and glad I didn't fall in my programs. I had the misfortune to skate first in my group (traditionally the kiss of death) and also lost 3 full points because I did not hold the position at the beginning of my two combination spins. If I hadn't I would have come in at least 5th!! I felt heartened that my component scores were on the same level as all the women in the top 5. (BTW - With the rule change put in place for the 2014-15 season I wouldn't have lost all those points for the spins!) .... oh well... I will work toward next time!
2015 UPDATE: Still working on Junior Moves! Still terrified of the diagonal passes! ;-) I couldn't afford to return to nationals this year but hope it will be on the East Coast next year so I can try again!
HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS OF MY SKATING CAREER
Within the skating world I have also followed another track. In order to become an official USFSA judge, one must spend their own time and money, stand with the official judges at test sessions and have their marks compared with the official results. It is a very time consuming and lengthy process. From the beginning I had no inclination to become a full-fledged Competition Judge. The time required to train and the commitments of giving up entire weekends were just not possible with my music career. So I decided that I would best serve the sport by becoming a Test Judge. As a Test Judge I can judge local, non-qualifying events in addition to the test sessions that are run by the local clubs. In 1996 I was appointed a USFSA judge at the Low-test level (now called Bronze level). I received my Silver Judging appointment in 2000. My goal of acheiving Gold Test Judge status was realized in June 2007 and with it the feeling that I am able to give back to the sport in the best way possible for me.
I will always love skating, I can't imagine my life without it - no matter what injuries occur I will still be a skater for the rest of my life. My goal in skating is to be able to express music fully - I often skate to my own music and for me that is taking that expression to the fullest. It is truly like flying to music!!