The athletic talents of 14-year-old Emma Estrada do not include a soccer ball, a basketball hoop, a lacrosse stick or a softball glove.
No, instead all Emma needs to compete are a pair of skates and a sheet of ice.
That’s because the freshman at St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, is a synchronized skater – and a gold medalist already in the sport as well.
At the recent 2016 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships held in late February in Kalamazoo, Mich., Emma’s team, the Skyliners Intermediate Synchronized Skating Team, won first place and a national crown.
Synchronized skating is a unique sport that consists of 8-20 athletes performing a program on ice together and moving as one flowing unit. It is characterized by teamwork, speed, intricate formations and challenging step sequences. Emma is one of nearly 5,000 synchronized skaters in the U.S. who compete on approximately 600 synchronized teams.
Choosing to become a synchronized skater was an easy choice for Emma, a parishioner at St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, who began skating at age 3 and synchronized skating at age 6.
“My mom (Celeste Estrada) was a figure skater, so she got me into figure skating,” Emma said. “And she coaches a synchronized skating team as well, so I decided I wanted to do it too. So that’s how it all started.”
The Skyliners team 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 teams in the country with 11 lines and 190 skaters ranging in age from 5 to 26.
Based on Emma’s rigorous training schedule, the gold medal in Kalamazoo was the perfect payoff for a year of hard work. She practices individually four days each week – working mostly on turns, jumps and spins – and then meets with her team for longer workouts on the weekends, where they focus on perfecting their routine.
This year’s routine, which the team began working on early last year, highlighted the theme of superheroes. Through their program involving of medley of superhero music, the Skyliners showed how superheroes are strong in battle and rely on working together.
The journey to the national championship gained steam in November, when Emma and her team traveled to competitions all throughout Massachusetts and Michigan, where they were able to track the progress of their routine.
From there, the squad entered the Eastern Synchronized Sectional Championships in Richmond, Va., in late January. Out of 25 teams in their age division, the Skyliners finished second overall, earning a spot along with three other teams in the national championship.
Along with four teams from the West Coast and four teams from the Midwest, the East Coast teams traveled to Kalamazoo to compete for a national crown. Of the 24 girls on the Skyliners team, Emma was one of 16 who performed in the gold-medal routine.
“When we hit that ending pose, we all knew that we could take this,” Emma said. “We had the skate of our lives, and it was a great feeling. All of the elements were perfected. The program just kept getting better and better.”
The panel of nine judges must have been impressed with the technical difficulty of the program, since the Skyliners earned their best score of the season. When the team’s head coach Josh Babb let the girls know, a wide range of emotions ensued.
“We went crazy!” Emma said. “We were jumping up and down; we were crying; we were screaming. We were all just so happy that we actually did it.”
As she continues with the sport, Emma hopes a chance to compete in world competitions – typical of the older synchronized skating divisions – is on the horizon. Although not currently an Olympic sport, there is a significant movement toward including it at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which Emma would of course have on her radar as well.
For now though, the Prep freshman is solely focused on using her individual talents for the greater good of her team, and that is what being a team player is all about.
“I get to still skate individually, but while skating, I get to be with all of my closest friends and work with the team,” Emma said. “When we go to competitions, we all go together and all hang out. I think it’s a perfect combination of doing what you love and being with your friends.”
And based on that, it certainly sounds that Emma is “in sync” with her favorite sport.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.