January 17, 2008
By David Driver
For the Laurel Leader
Used with permission
Lauren Ely and Travis Mager skated side-by- side, as their four blades came within inches of each other during a practice session at The Gardens Ice House in West Laurel.
"Better. That was much better," their coach, Greg Maddalone, said at the Jan. 14 practice session as the Howard County residents prepared for the biggest performance of their 17-year-old lives.
Ely and Mager have lived across the street from each other in Fulton for nearly 10 years. They each pursued individual careers as skaters for several years, but about three years ago joined forces in novice ice dancing.
"We each kind of reached a point in our freestyle (singles) career where we didn't like (freestyle) anymore," said Mager, a senior at Sandy Spring Friends. "I didn't want to give up skating. We had both invested so much time in skating. Freestyle was not for us."
Mager and Ely, who have trained several years at The Gardens, are slated to leave Jan. 18 for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minn., after Mager takes a school exam earlier in the day. They are scheduled to compete Jan. 20 and 21 at nationals in novice ice dancing, which is just two steps below the highest level of skating competition in this country.
"Our realistic goal is to place on the podium" in the top four, said Ely, a senior at Reservoir High. "That would be the best thing ever. That is what we are shooting for."
Ely was interrupted by Mager. "Travis said gold would not be bad," said Ely, with a laugh.
Another skater who trains at The Gardens and slated to compete in U.S. nationals is Kristine Musademba in junior ladies. She won silver last year in junior ladies at nationals. Musademba, 15, attends Georgetown Day School and lives in Silver Spring. She has been training at The Gardens for about three years. She was fourth in the world at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Poland last year and second at the Junior Grand Prix in Austria, also in 2007.
"She could be in the top five easily, maybe higher," coach Nina Stark-Slapnik said of Musademba's chances in Minnesota. Musademba trains three to four hours a day on the ice for six days a week.
Mager continued freestyle for about a year after he started ice dancing with Ely. The transition is not easy, and Ely made the move without another partner and with little time between the two disciplines. "Freestyle is a little more athletic. Dance is a little more polished," Mager explained. Jumps are allowed in freestyle but not in ice dancing. Lifts are drastically limited in ice dancing, which draws from ballroom dancing.
The idea for Ely and Mager to team up came from Denise Cahill, a coach at The Gardens who had worked with both skaters in freestyle. Cahill is the former coach of U.S. Olympian Nancy Kerrigan.
Maddalone, the coach for Mager and Ely, also has high goals for the U.S. nationals. Maddalone was the U.S. junior dance silver medalist in 1994.
Many skaters at such a high level have time for little else off the ice. But Mager and Ely are both full-time students. Ely plays tennis in high school and was in the marching band last fall. Mager is on the student newspaper staff and is involved in modern dance at Sandy Spring Friends in Montgomery County.
"They are kind of an anomaly. That is kind of refreshing. They have proven you can have other interests and still be competitive," Maddalone said.
"We are well-rounded kids, in general," Ely said.
Ely hopes to attend the University of Virginia while Mager's top college choice is Haverford, near Philadelphia. They both said the upcoming national championships could dictate their future in the sport Š and as a team. "This is such a big year for us," Mager said. "You always remember your first nationals."
Mager said he learned a lot by watching U.S. national champion Michael Weiss, a three-time U.S. champion who grew up in Northern Virginia and used to train at The Gardens. Weiss had other interests off the ice; he graduated from Prince George's Community College and is a big fan of the Redskins.
"Watching him was pretty cool," Mager said. "He would work really hard but he would do (his work) and move on."
Mager and Ely can only hope they join Weiss as U.S. champions who have trained in Laurel.
"Honestly, we are both shooting for gold. (But) the top four would be amazing," Mager said.