Figure Skater for Life

Fitness, News and Advice
on February 4, 2010
Madeleine Tilin

As South Korea's Kim Yu-Na is poised, with her challenging triple jump combinations, to dominate the women's Olympic figure skating competition in Vancouver, Ann Orselini-Hugger will be watching closely, thinking about her own version of the Games: the 2010 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, where she hopes to compete in April. Although Ann, 48, has never even attempted a triple jump, she's intimately familiar with the work ethic, technical precision and early hours that competing in figure skating demands.

Ann began figure skating at age five, but as a teenager, boys and other pursuits led her to stash her blades in the back of a closet. "The sport never left my mind, though," says the Fremont, Calif., resident. So at age 31, she dusted off a pair of her childhood skates (they still fit) and took them for a spin. "I thought, maybe I could skate once a week as an alternative to going to the gym," she remembers.

The ice rink, though, soon became her gym. Upgrading her vintage skates for a pair of custom ones, Ann started hitting the ice for five hours weekly, including one lesson from a coach, whom she hired "to help me get back to the level I was at as a kid," she says. These days, she's usually at the rink at about 5:30 a.m., which sounds more painful than it feels to Ann. "There's something so exhilarating about smelling the ice, lacing up and getting your blood circulating," says Ann, who runs a heating and air conditioning business. "Yes, it takes discipline to get up that early, but I'm always so glad I did."

Her practice time usually focuses on polishing her programs for competitions. Ann took home a bronze medal at the first Adult Nationals in 1995, and she, along with 600 or so other athletes, will take to the ice again in Bloomington, Minn., in April. She competes in the artistic category, where judges concentrate on how a skater interprets, with their footwork and presentation, the music they've chosen; athletes are only allowed to do single-revolution jumps and spins, which is just fine with Ann. She had to stop doing double loops and other challenging jumps a few years ago. "The torque on my knees was too much," she says, "But I can still pull out a great axel and Flying Camel spin."

Her passion for skating ricochets into other areas of her life. Her skater friends, with whom she keeps up on Facebook, include an ice dancer who took up the sport at age 38 and a former nun, now in her 60s, who simply loves to fly on her blades. "We go to wine tastings, have barbecues or just talk on the phone," she says. Designing routines and the accompanying costumes has sparked her creativity and imagination. "A certain color comes to mind when I hear my music," she explains. "I sketch a costume idea, and a seamstress brings it to life." In addition, the cumulative hours she has spent practicing her edges, fine-tuning a new spin and stroking around the rink has improved her posture, balance, strength and endurance—and may even counteract the aging process. "We have a running joke about spending so much time in a giant refrigerator," she says. "It preserves us, making us look much younger than we are."