Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Skating on firm ice – a synchronised effort

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Coach Amber Harries and team manager Sam Snoad. Photo Wayne Martin
  • By Helen Perry

As New Zealand readies itself for winter, east Auckland’s synchronised ice-skating team, Black Ice, has put on its training skates ahead of mid-year competitions then nationals in October.

What’s more, after its remarkable, and somewhat unforeseen success, at two international competitions last February, the team can feel confident it will trouble others vying for victory.

Team manager Sam Snoad, from Howick, says that after gaining a bronze medal at the Trophy d’Ecosse in Scotland and another bronze in the Hevelius Cup in Poland the team came home elated that months of hard work had paid off.

“While we hoped to do well, the two bronze medals, especially the Polish achievement, went beyond expectations.

“Our skaters, aged between 15 and 24, competed in the mixed age section where the competition was exceptional. Achieving bronze was amazing.”

Local skater Vanessa Preston, from Botany, says because the trip was the team’s first big competition after several adversities, including Covid-19 setbacks, the two medals were almost unbelievable.

“We had only one week after the Scottish competition to improve on our performance ahead of Poland so when we heard our score of more than 60, we were all extremely emotional.

“And, that was before we knew we had made the podium! It just shows what can be achieved with determination and faith.”

Fellow skater Neske Groenewegen, from Howick, adds that travelling with the team to Europe was the highlight of her 12 years in synchronised skating.

“Being immersed in the international synchro community and watching top level teams was an experience I will never forget.

“It has inspired me to think about my next steps in the sport, including heading overseas once I have finished my Auckland University studies.”

Dream come true

The sole male skater with the group, Jordan Etches, adds that skating alongside some of the best teams in the world was a surreal experience.

“Heading to Europe we knew competition would be fierce, so we had to put up our best performance yet.

“Of course, we dreamt of making the podium but to have the dream come true – twice over – was just wonderful. It really re-ignited my passion for the sport and to see it elevated in New Zealand.”

Sam reiterates Jordan’s desire for more ice-skating exposure.

“It has a low profile here compared to other codes – we would love more publicity. Funding is difficult to come by and the cost of hiring rink time is high.

“Subsequently, we practice only twice a week; overseas teams do way more.

“While we are restricted, those who embrace any of the ice sports, form lasting friendships and they love the exhilaration of moving on ice.

“Some become coaches or go on to perform in ice shows, including on cruise ships; others join teams overseas. It’s a beautiful sport to watch.”

Sam adds her daughter Sabrina is presently skating with the Great British team which has just competed at the World Synchronised Ice-Skating Champs in Zagreb, Croatia.

“Sabrina started when she was seven and took to both figure skating and synchro. She joined the Great British team mid 2023 but before leaving she coached Black Ice.

“When she left, we were without a coach but, fortunately, former competitive skater, Amber Harries, took on the job. She pitched in willingly and helped us gain a fantastic result.”

Taking on the coaching role was a big step, says Amber.

“I had retired from skating and coaching 10 years earlier so being asked to coach Black Ice was a real surprise. I had about 10 months to ready the team but my getting back into the rink was also a learning curve.

“Fortuitously, I had just bought new skates with the intention of returning to social skating.

“Now, after achieving our goal of scoring in the 60s – the team’s best performance to date – and the elation of a podium finish, I’m keen to continue coaching and see the sport grow through these talented and committed skaters.

Both Amber and Sam have been involved with ice skating for many years. Amber started as a seven-year-old, later competing in both solo and synchronised, including competing [in synchro] at the Worlds when she was 15.

Sam’s contribution has been as manager, treasurer and a wholly committed ‘skate mum’.

“With Sabrina devoted to skating and my son, Zac involved with ice hockey, like most parents supporting their activities was a given.

“Gradually, my role grew. Now, I plan the budget, pay the bills, organise training times, book the rink and purchase costumes as well as seeing to itineraries, flights, accommodation when we travel.

“Fortunately, Synchro Co-ordinator, Debbie Groenewegen is also a dab hand on the sewing machine and we often turn to her for costume repair, alterations and some added bling!”

Organisation at home is one thing but Sam says overseas travel is a big hurdle – “for this last trip, we hosted a huge quiz night which raised nearly $13,000. Of course, parents pitched in, too.”

Although her daughter is skating overseas and her son is now playing ice hockey only socially, Sam says she loves working with Black Ice.

“I’ve seen many of these skaters start as six- or seven-year-olds; I’ve watched them struggle, seen them fall, then get up again.

“It’s been amazing following their progress, seeing them develop firm team friendships and become fine adult skaters. I wouldn’t want to give up now.”

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