Jan 12, 2011

Competing as an adult: ISI

I sat down with my old friend and skating buddy Teresa G last week to talk about skating and competing as an adult. Teresa is a Freestyle 3 skater and a skating mom (our kids grew up together); she skated recreationally as a child, and has been skating seriously for about 12 years. She first competed as a soloist 3 years ago, but had done competitions with an adult ensemble and many show performances, both group and solo, before taking the plunge.

Teresa competes at ISI; I'll also be talking to a former Adult Nationals competitor in a future post.

Xanboni: what inspired you to get back into skating as an adult?
Teresa: oh, my daughter. She started skating, so I did too.
Xanboni: haha! That's exactly how I started!
Teresa: Actually, my daughter was in the Nutcracker on Ice, so I came to see the show. There's an adult number, of course, and I thought, well, I think I could do that. (NB: Nutcracker is an annual show at our home rink. Teresa has had many solos in the Nutcracker on Ice, including the Mrs. Stahlbahm, Mama G, and the Overture, as well as solos in the Spring Show.)
Xanboni: So, why compete?
Teresa: Well, a few years ago I joined this adult ensemble and they decided to compete. We just like to travel together, the competition is almost secondary, although that's fun too. What I learned from competing with adults, and at ISI, is that it's really different than the USFS competitions, either kids or adults. The skaters just take themselves way less seriously, even though they're good skaters. It's about meeting people and having fun. There's lots of camaraderie, especially if you keep going back to the same competition year after year. People praise you, and everyone is happy that you performed; it's fun to win, but that's not the emphasis.
Xanboni: what was the hardest thing when you started.
Teresa: Oh, I was nearly catatonic the first time I competed solo. The initial anticipation wasn't so bad, I mean I was nervous, but just short of debilitating. And then I got there and it was so scary. But you go out and skate and it was really fun. It kind of goes by in a blur. You finish, and think, "gee, did I leave something out? That seemed awfully quick."
Xanboni: how did you get over that?
Teresa: ISI competitions are so skater friendly, and having a really clear goal helps. I also have a great coach who really understands adults. He helped me understand how to be well prepared, he knows how to encourage you without coddling or kidding you and an experienced coach really knows the ins and outs of how to make the competition process work.
Xanboni: like what?
Teresa: I always skate the Spotlight and Light Entertainment events, rather than the skill-based solos, and we learned that you really have to pay attention to what ISI wants out of these performances. We kept thinking that it was about the skating, even thought the description of the event really deemphasizes that, and talks about character and props and costume. So we finally said: you have to skate well, but let's really amp up the concept.
Xanboni: So did you win?
Teresa: Well, I had this really cute program to Bjork...
Xanboni: Right, with the glasses and props; it was adorable
Teresa: Except that another skater in the flight had the identical music. So I don't know, maybe she did have the better skating, or maybe the judges liked her props better. But I came in second!
Xanboni: so good, experienced coach, good prep, what else?
Teresa: always always practice with your music, right from the start. This makes a huge difference. Learn lessons as you go; you'll get better just at competing as well as at skating. Keep at it. People go once, and then think well, that was okay and they don't go back. Go back, it'll be better the second and third and fourth time. I also think it really helped that I had done the shows here where everyone knows me, and with the team. Also, watch the winners, and figure out what they're doing right. Then copy them.
Xanboni: What do you think keeps people from competing?
Teresa: People think, oh I'll lose, or I'll look foolish, but really, it's not about that in ISI at all. Like I said, it's fun to win, but it's also fun just being there.

Have you competed as an adult? Share your experiences!


  1. The Same AnonymousJanuary 12, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    I'm a lower-level (about Basic 3) teenage skater. My coach wants me to go in this competition, but I'm worried I'll either be competing against 5 year olds or the only person my age competing at one-foot-glide level. :(

  2. don't worry. They also divide the USFS basic skills by age. So you will compete with kids your close to your age...or maybe just yourself...and usfs doesn't do against the book, so that's a guaranteed medal!

  3. Even in ISI, if you're against the book, it's either first or second. So medals no matter what! Also, your coach would not ask you to do a competition that she didn't think you could do well in.

  4. Oh! I love posts about adult skating. I like your question about what keeps people from competing. For this rookie adult, things like jobs, kids, money would inhibit my ability to compete, not to mention that I'm just an awful skater! :-) But another hurdle is knowing how to get started. I put on skates for the first time when I was 37 years old. I had no idea grown ups could compete. And testing? What's that? I tried to learn more about it on my own, but I pretty quickly found myself in a rabbit's hole full of figure skating jargon and I gave up.

    I think it's great that The Same Anonymous' coach brought it up to her/him. Watching me skate, I don't appear to be someone who would be interested in competing or testing, but if my coach suggested it, I just might bite. Perhaps I'd be progressing more quickly if I were working toward something more tangible.

    Maybe more coaches can initiate the competing/testing conversation with their grown up skaters. Some of us may just be too shy to ask.

  5. MER makes a great point about having a tangible goal to work towards. (And I did tell you to come skate in our summer competition!) A lot of adults just want to "learn to skate" or "learn to jump" and if I know anything about skating coaches it's that nothing a skater does, from MER right up through Michelle Kwan, is ever good enough for them.

  6. Check out my blog post about adults competing: http://turniponice.blogspot.com/2011/01/i-did-that.html

    I'm preparing for my first competition in six weeks time and I'm nervous and excited, but buying a pretty dress made me feel better ;)

  7. Yes, Xan, you did suggest the summer competition. And because you mentioned it, I started thinking maybe I was interested in more than just learning to skate. Thank you! Sadly, a road trip wasn't in my figure skating budget at the time. All this talk about adults competing has me feeling a bit...competitive. Uh oh! :-)