By Katie Ryu
The coronavirus pandemic impacted countless lives one way or another. At its start, it brought a myriad of daily routines to a sudden halt, including those of competitive athletes. People who had grown accustomed to consistent practices, familiar training sessions, and regular competitions were forced to adapt.
This challenge was arguably even more difficult for those who engage in sports that aren’t quite fit for the home gym or local park.
Senior Leilani Zaragoza has been involved in such a sport for approximately 16 years. She is a competitive figure skater whose home rink for the past 11 years has been Iceoplex Simi Valley. Zaragoza is a member of their Open Juvenile Synchronized Figure Skating team and their production team called Pacific Edge.
She recently skated in her first competition since the pandemic began. She competed at the California State Games in San Diego, which were hosted from April 24-25.
“I competed in two events: interpretive and artistic,” Zaragoza said. “Interpretive is basically like improvising on ice. You listen to the song that the competition official chooses three times, then you have to make up a routine then and there and compete against others in the same event with the same song. And artistic is all about your musicality and moving and emoting with the music.”
She earned first place in interpretive and third place in artistic. This is a reflection of not only the hard work she has put into the sport but also a love and passion for it as well.
“I was definitely nervous as this was my first competition back in over a year,” Zaragoza said. “I was also nervous because I had some more difficult elements planned that have been a struggle in practices leading up to the competition. Even though my routines were far from perfect, I loved being able to perform and compete again.”
Zaragoza says that it feels amazing when she performs. For her, the experience is characterized by nerves and adrenaline kicking in to create an inexplicable freeing sensation. She expresses that it feels as if she is breaking out of her shell.
Notably, Zaragoza grew up figure skating. She had her first solo program at around four years old, and she skated to the “Dora the Explorer” theme song. Her mother and both of her older sisters skated, so she was simply raised into the activity. They would perform family routines together, and from there, Zaragoza began to skate on her own.
However, it was in middle school that she truly felt as though figure skating became her own passion. That passion only grew from there.
Her home rink hosts figure skating shows every December with the occasional summer show. Zaragoza has performed in a total of nine shows ranging from “The Lion King” to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” She says these shows are very similar to Disney on Ice, only with youth skaters of all levels. The shows have brought her some of her fondest, most memorable skating experiences. Another one of Zaragoza’s incredible experiences was winning a pewter medal with her Open Juvenile team at the United States Figure Skating (USFS) 2020 Pacific Coast Sectional Synchronized Figure Skating Championships in Wichita, Kansas.
She has many hopes and plans for her skating career as she moves on from GHC to attend college.
“In August right before I move into my dorm, I will be heading to Colorado to compete at the USFS National Showcase with my production team, which is basically the theater on ice team,” Zaragoza said. “Beyond that, while I am in college I hope to continue skating and find a college team to skate with either individually or synchronized.”
Zaragoza is even considering testing to become a coach in the future, driven by a desire to share her love for skating with others. Her lasting dedication, involvement, and passion for figure skating can best be described as inspiring.