Tags: Feature Sports Story
April 25, 2012 | 08:41 AMFONTANA — You've probably heard of Nancy Kerrigan, a former Olympic figure skater, or even Dan Jansen, a former Olympic speed skater.
You've probably even heard of synchronized swimming, where a group of swimmers execute the same movements at the same time.
But have you heard of synchronized skating? It's similar to figure skating but involves a group of skaters executing turns, lifts, spins and configurations in unison in an organized routine.
Although not a household sport in the area, one local synchronized skater is flooring the competition with her U.S. Figure Skating Starlights team.
Fontana's Libby Brooks, a 15-year-old freshman at Big Foot High School, has been to Italy and Boston all in the last year thanks to her club team's accomplishments. Libby is so dedicated to the sport, she drives an hour and 10 minutes down to her club team's home rink in Buffalo Grove, Ill., four or five times a week and on weekends during competition season, which runs from November to February. On weekends, the grueling schedule is 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a three-hour break.
For Libby, who's been skating since she was 2 and competing since age 5, it's all worth it.
"The adrenaline rush at a competition is amazing," she said. "You are overwhelmed with emotions after you compete. Sometimes you cry when you think about how hard you practiced. The sport has built so much character for me. Without it, I wouldn't know what teamwork is."
Libby is on the Starlights senior team, which includes girls ranging from freshmen in high school to seniors in college. This was her first season with the seniors, and it was a special one.
After a second-place finish at the Midwestern competition, the Starlights advanced to the international competition in Italy Feb. 15 to 20. After internationals, the team took seventh at nationals in Boston at the end of February.
While synchronized skating is only around 40 years old and isn't widely known in the area, Libby and her teammates were treated like rock stars in Italy.
"We had people who didn't speak English coming up to us asking for autographs," Libby said. "It was so awesome to be there and represent Team U.S.A. We were the only American team there. It was really intimidating to see the top teams like Sweden and Germany. It was such a cool experience."
The Starlights placed fifth out of 16 teams with 120 points, a combined total from a short and long program. The short program was two and a half minutes long. The team had to execute 20 different moves in the five-minute long program. Team Surprise from Sweden won with 300 points.
"We normally score in the 98-point range," Libby said. "We really shot up. Fifth is amazing. It was great to be in the top level. The critics thought we weren't going to place well. I even got cut during competition, but I didn't care. Everything paid off when we found out we were fifth."
The competition also featured teams from Great Britain and Germany.
Libby, her sister Penny and her parents enjoyed the week-long trip. While the rest of her family was able to visit different sights in Italy, Libby had one day of relaxation. The rest was focused on preparing for the two-day competition.
"It was eat breakfast, practice, eat lunch, practice, eat dinner, practice, then sleep," Libby said. "We were extremely focused. Next year, we have the potential to be up there with the top teams."
It wasn't all work and no play. Libby and her teammates saw the sights in Milan including the fashion district and posed for a team lift in front of the Duomo, a historic cathedral. Libby said various onlookers even took photos of her team's interesting configuration and jokingly shouted, "Crazy Americans."
"You see how international the sport is," Tammy said about Italy. "The stands were full for the competitions. There are kids asking for autographs. It's an amazing experience. It's different, some of these international athletes are older and don't necessarily balance skating and school."
Skating is king
Skating has been a lifelong passion for Libby. She worked her way up the U.S. figure skating ranks, competing in all levels before senior, including preliminary, juvenile and novice.
The Brooks moved from Illinois to Fontana six years ago, and the drive can be cumbersome at times, especially considering Libby isn't old enough to drive yet.
"When we moved, people thought there would be more ice rinks in Wisconsin," Tammy said. "There aren't any. Libby's very dedicated. Thankfully, her dad and sister and supportive, too. This is her love. She has always been so focused and dedicated."
A costly sport, club dues are more than $5,000 per year, and skates alone are a little more than $1,000.
"It adds up, but it's worth it," Tammy said.
Libby isn't only active on the ice. She runs cross country in the fall and is currently on the Big Foot/Williams Bay girls soccer team. Libby nearly advanced to state in cross country last fall. Also, she volunteers at the Lakeland Animal Shelter and works at Gordy's. A dedicated athlete, Libby has some pretty lofty goals for the future.
"My favorite sports are soccer and skating," she said. "I hope to get into Madison or Marquette and play college soccer. I want to stay in Wisconsin and commute to Illinois and skate on the Starlights through college."
Currently, some of Libby's teammates drive from as far as Minnesota to join the team in Illinois each weekend. Several are in college in Wisconsin and drive down on weekends.
A time management pro, Libby is an honor student in the classroom.
"I do my homework in the car during competition season," Libby said. "In Italy, any time I wasn't on the ice or eating, I was in my hotel room doing my homework. My teachers understand and they're pretty reasonable."
A busy body, she makes time for friends in the summer, enjoying wakeboarding on Geneva Lake. But her friends know the routine when competition season resumes in November.
"When the season comes, I tell them I will not be able to see you," Libby joked. "I say, 'Don't ask me to hang out, I can't hang until March.' My friends are really supportive. Even when I'm at school, I'm thinking of skating practice and how I can get better."
"She's the only one at her school that does the sport," Tammy said. "Her friends may be hanging at the beach, and I'm very proud Libby can leave her friends and go to practice."
Libby's ultimate goal is to advance to Worlds, which is the highest level of competition in synchronized skating. She believes the Starlights are poised to be one of the sport's top international teams.
Libby said synchronized skating is the ultimate team sport, and she has some advice for prospective athletes.
"It's a good sport if you're looking for a team who will support you in everything you do," she said. "Your coaches know what you're capable of, and they will push you because they ultimately know what's best for you. It's really motivational."