Flip-flops or figure skates?

It may be summer vacation, but advanced skaters in the Portland area are hard at work training for the 2011 competition season.

“This isn’t Boston or Cleveland or Colorado Springs, but our skaters work hard,” said Lynda Hathaway, skating director at the Portland Ice Arena. “They probably train a minimum of 10 hours a week. Some go to multiple ice rinks – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – so they can train every day.”

Wearing a t-shirt despite the arctic air of the rink, Richard Scheno, 15, of Readfield casually springs into the air from bent knee, tightly spins 360 degrees and lands neatly, arms shooting sharply to the sides, his back leg gracefully extended.

It has taken Scheno five years to make his jumps look so effortless. Along the way he has made it to Junior Nationals three times. He now competes at the novice level and commutes about six days a week to Portland to skate – an hour’s drive.

“I only go to school part time now,” he said. “Before, I was missing so much for competitions.”

Advanced skaters work with a primary coach to master the required “elements” to pass exams that will allow them to compete at certain levels. They also prepare long and short programs for regional, sectional and national competitions.

“Summer is usually a hot time for training,” said Deb Coppinger, skating director of the North Atlantic Figure Skating Club in Falmouth. “Most competitive figure skaters skate four to five hours a day, but we don’t have as many skaters in that category as we used to.

“The economy has taken a hit on people spending a lot of money on skating,” she said. “Finding enough ice time is also a big challenge.”

Coppinger said some of her skaters attend summer skating camps in other states or venture to cities such as Boston, with intensive skating programs, to supplement their training.

Hathaway, who also coaches individual skaters, is sending five of her students to the New England regionals in October. “You can’t be faint of heart. It’s a tough competition,” she said.

One way to train for regionals is to compete in “open” competitions over the summer to gain experience and scope out potential rivals. “Open competitions help skaters refine, improve and develop and get noticed by the judging panels,” said Hathaway.

Many skaters from the rinks in Portland and Falmouth will compete in the Cranberry Open in Cape Cod this August.

Last week, Morgan Sewall, 14, of Scarborough and her mother, Polly, drove eight hours for the Liberty Open in Ashton, Pa.

Making it to the final round in both the long and short programs, Morgan placed seventh out of 85 girls at the novice level. She also broke her previous personal records in numerical scores, determined by the judging panel based on factors like choreography and execution.

“We were quite thrilled,” said Polly Sewall. “She was up against some of the best in the country.”

This was Morgan Sewall’s second competition of the season, which started in the spring. In June, she placed firstst in the long program and second in the short program at the Boston Open.

Despite these victories, Sewall is not immune to pre-competition jitters. Her toughest element is the double axel, which requires a forward takeoff, two-and-a-half rotations in midair and a backward landing. “I never know how it’s going to go,” she said.

The tricky jump caused her to fall during the preliminary round of the long program at the Liberty Open last week but went off without a hitch during the final round.

Polly Sewall said her daughter, who made it to Junior Nationals the past two years, handles the stress of the figure skating world with ease. “She really thrives on the pressure,” she said.


Staff Writer Sophie Gould can be contacted at 791-6354 or at: [email protected]