Houghtaling, other adults jump into competition on ice
BRECKENRIDGE – Out of 150 adults competing at this weekend’s Ice Skating Institute Adult Skating Championships, Nikki Houghtaling is the only one competing at the most basic level.While most adults wouldn’t consider stepping onto an empty ice rink and showing off beginning-level skills, the 54-year-old Houghtaling put passion before ego and can’t wait to show off her forward strokes, crossovers and pivot.The Breckenridge resident learned to skate about five years ago on hockey skates. She originally intended to join an adult hockey league but said she was too scared. Yet as her husband went to the rink to play hockey and her daughter, now 16, took figure skating lessons, she felt left out.So a year and a half ago she slipped her feet into figure skates and began taking lessons.”I had never skated as a kid, and I kept falling,” Houghtaling said. “But the teachers here are so good; they start you right at the very basics. They know exactly what you can do so you’re not going to fall.”
Houghtaling practices at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena – which is across from her workplace – four days a week. She loves the social aspect and her progress at learning new skills. She wants to learn a waltz jump – a half rotation jump that begins forward and lands backward – but she has no desire to learn single-rotation jumps because she doesn’t want to fall.This weekend, she’ll skate a one-minute routine to classical music in her first competition. She takes private lessons with former national figure skating champion Tom Cierniak, who is now the skating coordinator at the Steve. They’ve been working on her routine for three weeks.”I’m a little nervous, but once I get on the ice, I’m fine, and once I get to talking and meeting people, it’s really a lot of fun,” she said.Sizing up the competitionThe ISI Adult Championships, a national competition, offers adult recreational skaters an opportunity to compete for a national title, much like NASTAR ski racing.
Jenise Jensen, ice arena manager, bid for the championship and won, making it the first time Breckenridge has hosted a figure skating event of such magnitude.Competitors represent 16 states and compete in such events as freestyle, judged on technical aspects related to jumps and spins at specific levels; artistic, judged on music interpretation; spotlight events, which involve solo or groups from eight to 34 skaters judged on props, costume and artistic merit; figure eights; and synchronized skating.The youngest competitor is a 24-year-old male, and the oldest is a 76-year-old male. About 75 percent of the skaters are women, and many of them are in their 60s, Cierniak said.”They try to make categories that can fit anyone out there,” Cierniak said. “ISI tries to open it to everybody, so if you want to go out and have a ball, you can. These are just diehard skaters that want to go out there and skate.”The majority of the competitors will skate at a freestyle level three and below, which translates to some spins and single-rotation jumps but no axels (one-and-a-half rotations) or doubles.Jensen and Cierniak admit the elevation may slow some skaters down, so they encouraged competitors to come to Breckenridge early to adjust. Today the rink offers clinics and practice sessions led by past Professional Skaters Association president Gerry Lane, international coach Debbie Lane and Cierniak.
Medical staff will be available during the competition to administer oxygen or attend to other needs.”We’re not nervous, but we’re taking precautions,” Cierniak said. “I’ve talked to 100 personally and told them to stay hydrated, take in less salt, avoid alcohol and caffeine. I think they’re just going to end up skating a little slower.””With the number of skiers we get here (who do OK), it should be just fine,” Jensen said.Spectators are welcome to attend the free event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 8-11:15 a.m. Sunday. For more information, call (970) 547-9974.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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