Eliana Gropman’s parents first signed her up for skating lessons at a local ice rink when she was 4, so she’d feel more comfortable if she were invited to ice skating birthday parties.
“At first I didn’t like it, so I only took one session,” Gropman wrote in an email to Washington Jewish Week. “Then when I was 5 I tried again and this time I really loved it. I enjoyed the feeling of freedom on the ice.”
A couple years later, coaches at Wheaton Ice Skating Academy invited her to try out for its ice dance academy. When fellow figure skater Ian Somerville showed up, the two tried out together and the rest is history.
Gropman, a seventh-grader at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, and Somerville recently earned gold medals at the Novice level at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Sectional Championships in Ashburn, Va., last month. The duo also won golds at the Juvenile level at 2012 Eastern sectionals and the Juvenile Ice Dance National Championship, and at the Intermediate level at the 2013 Eastern Sectionals and Intermediate Dance National Championship. Their win last month qualified them for the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston.
WJW recently spoke to Gropman about her achievements.
What was your very first competition like compared to your most recent at sectionals?
There was a lot less pressure in the first competition. At that level [pre-juvenile], there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on presentation and executing technical elements. Now, my goal is to nail my technical elements and show good presentation and better my season’s best score each time. I skate to win.
Tell me about the experience of winning gold with your skating partner.
It was a great experience. My partner and I were thrilled, because we worked really hard. I knew all my friends and family would celebrate the win with me, so that made it special.
What does it take to be a successful figure skater?
It definitely takes a lot of focus, hard work and being able to juggle practice, school and other aspects of my life. It takes a lot of money for ice time, lessons from coaches, specialty coaches, off-ice ballroom, costumes, skates and blade maintenance. You have to love it and look forward to skating each day, because if your heart isn’t in it, you won’t succeed. You have to learn to push through adversity, treat each practice as a mini competition and keep a positive attitude, even when a practice isn’t going well.
You’ve accomplished some great achievements in your figure skating career, and you’re only in seventh grade. What goals are you looking to achieve or hope to have achieved in terms of figure skating?
My short-term goal is to medal at Nationals in January. Then, in two years, my goal is to be selected to compete in the Youth Olympic Games in Norway in 2016. My long-term goal is to make the Olympic team. I would also like to use what I have learned in skating to give back to the sport in some way, maybe working with kids with disabilities.
You must have a demanding practice schedule. How do you balance practice and school work?
I have to spend most of my Sundays doing homework and I bring work with me to competitions. I have to multitask like an adult. I have a few study halls a week in school and I make good use of them and try to get a lot of my homework done, but I mostly end up staying late to do homework after practice.
What do you enjoy to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
I like to read, write, draw and do artistic projects. I like to design costumes, and get my ideas from window shopping. When I have time, I like to see my other friends (who aren’t skaters) and I Skype with a friend who lives in London. I might also watch a little TV or play on my computer.
What has been your most memorable figure skating experience so far?
It was winning the Junior National Figure Skating championship at the Juvenile level. It was the first year competing in a qualifying competition and our first national championship. At the medal ceremony they have the skaters skate around in a victory lap. That was a great feeling to know we worked really, really hard that season and to have everyone cheering us on. The podium looked like an Olympic podium, we got flowers, medals and trophies and all the important officials from U.S. figure skating were smiling, shaking our hands and congratulating us. It was an amazing experience.