Young skaters: schooled at home when not on the ice
Skating sisters Chloe and Valerie Cheung are homeschooled and train for Olympic gold at the Winter Garden Ice Arena.
Photos by Shuan Fynn
Girls are on edge on Prospect Ridge Road. They are spinning, falling, soaring, and practicing crossovers on their edges. For the past year, four young figure skaters have been training at the Winter Garden Ice Arena. Coached by Russian former Olympians and homeschooled, these girls are pursuing their ice-skating dreams.
Seventeen-year-old Sydni Frisch of Redding is the oldest of the four. Sydni has been skating for ten years and exclusively homeschooled for the past three. She graduated from the Abeka Christian focused homeschooling program, and started Western Connecticut State University this fall to pursue a degree in video production. Sydni is in some ways a typical teenager. Friendly and extroverted, she follows the pop band R5, enjoys time with her siblings, and binge watches her favorite shows. At the same time, she shows a special maturity—acting as a mentor for the younger girls by sharing her favorite authors and films, religious faith, and passion for skating with them.
Sydni’s skating goal is to pass all the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) tests to become a certified coach. Her career goal is to make films like Narnia, in the footsteps of her hero director Andrew Adamson. “He did such an amazing job bringing the story to life. He is my inspiration,” she says.
The three younger girls—Anya Roman of Danbury and sisters Chloe and Valerie Cheung of Brookfield—skate twice as much as Sydni because they have different skating goals. The younger girls train on ice for four and a half hours a day, six days a week, and strength train off-ice as well. Sydni notes that it is harder on her body now that she is older.
Anya is a vivacious seven-year old, who reads and draws for fun. Her parents are Russian and have never skated. Anya discovered skating at a birthday party. She admits that her social life is limited; “I don’t have any friends who aren’t skaters.”
Her father Ivan appreciates the close skating network and the academic rigor of homeschooling. He says, “We hear all the time, ‘you’re so lucky you don’t have homework.’ But it’s all homework. Summer isn’t much different than the rest of the school year.” They have chosen the more secular Time4Learning program and will consider homeschooling their four year old son, who Anya jokingly calls her “little bother.” The family does not own a television.
Valerie Cheung, a 12 year old from Brookfield, has her sights on Olympic competition. With the grace of a ballerina and the toughness of a hockey player, she repeats the same jump sequence over and over, seemingly inured to the pain of hitting the ice. More reserved than the others, Valerie is also less of a passionate reader but Sydni says, “she’s so smart; I’m going to give her some of my books.”
In addition to skating, Chloe Cheung is a model, featured on an H+M billboard on Times Square as well as other advertising campaigns.
In fact, all four are natural beauties who almost sparkle as they float across the ice. While they make the difficult spins and sequences look easy, they are clearly hard at work under the watchful eye of their coaches, who speak to the girls in English and Russian. The girls like their coaches, describing them as tough but nice. “They definitely push us,” says Sydni.
“It’s hard to get enough ice anywhere else,” Ivan says of the Winter Garden. “They’ll just give us half the ice sheet.” Melissa Webdale, owner of the Winter Garden, enjoys having the girls practicing there. “They are so cute,” says Webdale. “They are also very serious and sophisticated. I love watching them and having them skate here.”
While these girls are not experiencing the typical Ridgefield childhood and adolescence, they are pursuing their art, sport, and education with dedication that is at once admirable and exciting.