Synchro presents opportunity to pursue passion and stay active

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When thinking of figure skating, the first images that come to mind may be frilly dresses and ponytails flying around the ice, paired with agility and youth.

But at 39, Denise Hetherington still participates and competes in the world of figure skating as a synchronized skater.

This allows older skaters to pursue their passion in a sport often associated with young athletes.

Originally called precision skating and later renamed synchronized skating, the discipline involves skaters working as a team and moving in unison.

Teams perform routines to a selected piece of music, incorporating many of the elements seen in traditional figure skating.

Hetherington has been figure skating since she was five years old. Before being introduced to synchronized skating when she was 14, she obtained her gold status in both the free skate and dance categories, the highest accomplishment in the sport.

These days, Hetherington is a member of the Calgary Synchronized Skating Club as part of the Black Gold Women’s 2 team. The team consists of 16 adult skaters, ranging in age from 23 to 43. They practice together once a week at the West Hillhurst Community Association arena.

synchro largeMembers of the Black Gold Women’s 2 team, part of the Calgary Synchronized Skating Club, practice their routine at the West Hillhurst Community Association arena prior to heading to competition in Abbortsford, B.C. earlier this year.

Photo by Donella Swan

Apart from synchro, Hetherington works full-time as a piping designer in the oil and gas industry and raises her six-and-a-half-year-old son on her own. Between running him to hockey, soccer and swimming practice, she manages to squeeze in time for her own skating.

These women work towards synchronized skating competitions to take part in throughout the year. The routines are scored by a panel of judges, using the International Judging System. Each element is awarded a value of -3 or +3 for how well they are executed.

Cayley Bianco, head coach of the Black Gold Women’s 2 team, said, “Adults can skate in the singles category or synchro until any age, but typically skaters stay involved for longer periods of time when committed to a team. I have seen ladies skating synchro well into their 50s and 60s.”

Not only does the club allow older athletes to continue on in the realm of skating, the team aspect draws in many members as well.

“It is a social function because you get to go out once a week and have fun with your ladies,” said Bianco.

On Jan. 26, 2013, the Black Gold Women’s 2 team competed in Abbortsford, B.C., in the Mountain Regional Synchronized Skating Championships. They came toe-to-toe with six other teams from all over Alberta and British Columbia. The ladies came away with a second-place finish.

Hetherington said it’s because of synchronized skating that she has been able to continue her passion and stay active within the sport.

She said, “It’s something I’ve always loved and I’m glad to have the option to go to synchronized skating.”

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