Three years ago, a 14-year-old freshman from St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, captured a gold medal as part of a synchronized ice-skating team.
As is always the case with freshmen, they do eventually become seniors. Though Emma Estrada’s grade level has changed, her penchant for winning gold medals has remained the same.
Estrada, now 17 and a senior at St. Francis Prep, was a member of the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Novice Team that won a national title in late February at the 2019 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships held in Plymouth, Mich. The win marks her second gold medal, having competed on the Skyliners Intermediate Team back in 2016.
A parishioner at St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, Estrada began skating at age 3, following in the footsteps of her mother, Celeste, who was a figure skater. By age 6, she transitioned to synchronized skating, a unique sport that consists of 12-20 athletes performing a musical program on ice and moving as one flowing unit at high speeds. Currently, there are approximately 5,000 synchronized skaters competing with 600 clubs in the U.S. alone, and elite competitions take place at both the national and international level.
The Skyliners program was established in 2001 by a group of parents focused on creating a competitive synchronized skating club in the tri-state area. In its first year, the team had three lines but has now grown into one of the top synchronized skating programs in the country with 16 lines and 270 skaters ranging in age from 5 to 26.
After winning the national title as a freshman, Estrada decided to take a step back from the Skyliners team for her sophomore and junior years to focus on improving as an individual skater. There seems to be a theme here however: Whenever Estrada has been a member of a Skyliners team, they win a gold medal.
The championship title was that exact payoff Estrada sought after a long season of hard work. Tryouts were held in March and April of 2018, followed by intense individual skating practice throughout the summer before Skyliners practice kicked into full gear in August right before school started. During the week, she skated individually after school and then practiced with her teammates both days on the weekend. Weekend workouts included fitness and choreography classes in addition to a few hours on the ice.
Training ramped up in the weeks leading up to the national championship, all while Estrada rehearsed for another huge performance: the St. Francis Prep Alvernian Drama Society’s rendition of “The Little Mermaid.” It’s safe to say that free time has been hard to come by lately for this dedicated senior.
‘Great Showing’ at Nationals
To be one of 14 teams across the country to qualify for nationals, the Skyliners had to first compete in the Eastern Synchronized Sectional Championships in Massachusetts in early February. This year’s routine was entitled “The Greatest Showman,” a 3.5-minute-long program based on the recent film starring Hugh Jackman.
“We all just wanted to have our best performance since it was the last competition of the season and everyone wants to end on a high note,” Estrada said. “Of course we wanted to win, but it wasn’t expected. We really just wanted to be proud of what we put out there and whatever happens happens.”
The Novice Team was made up of girls ages 13 through 17 – making Estrada the only senior and oldest member on the team. So for her, nationals signified the last time she would be competing with the Skyliners.
“I really wanted it to be a good one,” she said. “It was almost a weird feeling because the season went by so fast, but I really just wanted to skate one last time and have a great time on the ice and do the best I can.”
Talk about going out with a bang! Estrada and her team were the second-to-last squad to perform. The judges award a team’s score right after the program, so everyone knows the newest rankings as each new team performs.
When the Skyliners finished, they held sole possession of first place after posting a season-high score of 76.13 pts. After the final team performed, they were crowned national champs, capturing one of a history-making five national medals won by the Skyliners program and marking the Novice Team’s third consecutive first-place title.
“We all felt amazing,” Estrada said. “It couldn’t have been any better. We were all crying after it. We all just looked at each other and were so happy with what we did.
“We had such an amazing skate. It was unreal. We just didn’t know what to expect going into it.”
With another gold medal around her neck, Estrada is eager to take on the next phase of her life and skating career. She will be attending the University of Tampa, Fla., this fall and plans to major in marine biology with a minor in performing arts and theater.
While Florida may not exactly be known for its ice-skating rinks, Estrada was sure to do her research before enrolling, as she found a rink 25 minutes from campus in Clearwater, Fla. She will continue to skate individually as she attempts to become a U.S. Figure Skating gold medalist. She already has a gold in synchronized skating, so she will now be working toward golds in freestyle and ice dancing. A panel of judges will determine whether she passes the tests.
As she looks back on her time with the Skyliners, Estrada knows that her freshman and senior seasons will be memories she’ll never forget.
“Both of those years have meant so much to me, and I’ve learned so many things that I will take with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “I have made my best friends through the teams, and I’m planning to be best friends with them forever.”
Look out Tampa: There’s an ice storm coming your way!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.