Caroline Santaguida, 14, trains at the Portland Ice Arena on Saturday during a short weekend trip home to Maine from Boston. (Hannah LaClaire/The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — It doesn’t matter where she is, how many people are watching or what she was doing before; when Caroline Santaguida steps out onto the ice, everything but the music fades away and, in that moment, there is only skating.

“It’s all I’ve really ever known,” the Brunswick native said. “It’s been my passion since I started.”

Santaguida, 14, started skating when she was 2 years old, was in her first competition at age 3, and “has never gotten off the ice,” her mother, Natalie Santaguida, said.

The Brunswick native is ranked among the top “intermediate-level” figure skaters in the country and has her sights set on Team USA and the Olympics.

In US figure skating, competitive skaters move from beginner to pre-preliminary to preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile, then to intermediate, to novice, junior and senior. On Friday, two young skaters from Maine, Briella Doherty, 10 and Hans-Erik Jerosch, 13, placed 12th at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit with a score of 26.41 points, slightly lower than their qualifying score. The two competed against just three other pairs at sectionals due to injuries. Only the top four of each of the country’s three sectional competitions advance to nationals. Santaguida placed 12th at sectionals this year with a score of 30.35 in the short program and 11th in the free skate with a score of 56.30. First place winner Linsday Thorngren, 14, of  New Jersey, scored 49.34 points and 87.20 points, respectively.

It has not been and will not be an easy road to get to nationals. Santaguida and her mother rent an apartment in Boston so she can train with the likes of coaches and champion skaters Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov and Olympic champion Ekaterina Gordeeva. She is on the ice three or four hours each day, training off-ice doing stretching, cardio, strength training, ballet and more for another hour and 45 minutes. She is a student at Maine Connections Academy, an online public school for Grades 7-12 because her training schedule makes it difficult to have a traditional school day. She spends her summers doing intensive training in Switzerland, representing the United States.

Caroline Santaguida performs a “program,” or routine, at a recent competition. Santaguida, a Brunswick native, is ranked as one of the top 12 figure skaters at her level in the country. (Courtesy of Natalie Santaguida)

Santaguida and her mother try to make it home to Brunswick to see her dad every weekend, but when competitions, traveling or shows come up, it doesn’t always happen. Her brothers are in college now, and her dad calls nightly and comes to see her skate whenever he can. 

“I don’t like not being on the ice,” Caroline Santaguida said. “When I look at my idols … it motivates me. I want to become a part of that,” she said.

Rigorous training every day, working in a competitive atmosphere, always stepping up her game a little more can be taxing. Santaguida, like many of her fellow skaters, sees a sports psychologist. She deals with anxiety, panic attacks and a tremendous amount of pressure. It can be hard to make friends who skate at the same level because the rivalries run so deep.

“My friends and I joke that we don’t have a childhood because this is all we know,” she said. Despite this, Santaguida still loves the sport and is rarely without a smile when she’s on the ice.

“Even if I was on the verge of dying I would still do it,” she said, adding “You get this rush when you step on the ice,” and a spike of adrenaline. She prefers a challenge (even thinks it’s fun) and is currently trying to master her triples.

“Some of these junior and senior skaters aren’t doing double axels and triples,” Natalie Santaguida said. “The bar has really been set by this group of 12 and 13-year-olds.”

Some of that comes down to finding the right match between skater and coach, something Natalie Santaguida said her family has been really lucky with.

Currently Russian-trained, Santaguida started her training with Ann Hanson and Lynda Hathaway in Portland, whose styles complement what Santaguida now does with Shishkova and Naumov.

“Caroline is a spectacular student, human being,” Hathaway said. The two have known each other since Santaguida was only 3 years old and now acts as a sort of adviser and mentor for some of the tougher skating related decisions.

“I have used her as a role model many times,” she said. “I can find no fault with her.”  “Whenever she (leaves competition) she would make a great coach,” she added.

For now, though, Santaguida is training for The Skating Club of Boston’s annual show “Ice Chips: Show of Champions” in April, where she will get to solo to music from her favorite movie, “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The figure skating season starts in April and goes through mid-October for regionals and into November for sectionals. This year, she hopes to place at sectionals and move on to nationals.

“It’s amazing, it’s such a graceful sport,” Caroline Santaguida said. “It takes focus more than anything.”

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