Skating To Success

Looking into the life of a figure skater, featuring three Paly skaters — Briar Dorogusker, Haley Oba, and Emma Zhang.


Sofia Leva and JJ Stoen

When most people think of figure skating, they think of dancing on ice— not a complex sport with many technical components. Emma Zhang, a longtime skater, knows the sport is much more than sliding across a rink. 

She is a sophomore at Paly who first picked up a pair of skates when she was eight years old. She has been officially training for five years now at Winter Lodge, a popular ice skating rink in Palo Alto. There are many components that go into ice skating, and it requires lots of skill.

“Ice skating is many skills all combined into one,” Zhang said. “You need to have the grace of a dancer and lots of strength [all while] you’re balancing on two blades.”

She is a two sport athlete — balancing dance practice and schoolwork on top of skating. But even this busy schedule never stopped her from continuing to skate.

“There were times where I considered giving up, but then the more I skate, the more I really love the sport,” Zhang said.

She recently reached the top level of figure skating in her club, which ranges from beginner to eight levels of freestyle. Getting to the highest level is a big achievement, especially considering the difficult screening process that goes into leveling up, including a performance in front of three judges. 

Within the eighth level, Zhang has been able to land a double loop jump. Unlike most jumps, this is one where the skater begins the jump and lands it on the same foot.

“It is easy to lose control of the jump and unless you get the right position before jumping, and it’s very easy to get injured,” Zhang said.

Along with the excitement and challenge of routines, another component that keeps Zhang tied to the figure skating life is the welcoming environment that the sport provides.

“The winter lodge community is my favorite part about skating,” Zhang said. “We are a very tight knit group so it is great to skate there together. It’s like skating with your friends.”

Briar Dorogusker, a freshman at Paly, is also involved in the Winter Lodge community. She has been taking skating classes there for nine years and skates five to seven times a week. Similar to Zhang, Dorogusker loves the environment that is created within her community of skaters. 

“We try to make [the community] really tight and do team building activities like Secret Santa and cupcake decorating challenges,” Dorogusker said.

Building close relationships within a team is crucial to help each other grow and become more successful in any sport. It is what has allowed Dorogusker to reach her goal of skating for over ten years and landing a one and half rotation axel jump. Many struggle with this jump, as it is leaping forwards instead of backwards and it is the first jump learned that is more than one rotation.

“With figure skating I really worked hard, even through all the ups and downs, I never gave up,” Dorogusker said.

Of course, like any other sport, figure skating comes with its obstacles. A big struggle for Dorogusker is experiencing mental blocks when going for more difficult jumps and skills.

“When I was jumping I would always stop in mid air rotation and land safely because I was too scared to fall,” she said. “That was always really hard for me.”

However, Dorogusker is not facing this struggle alone. In fact many figure skaters have to deal with mental blocks, including Zhang. For her, however, it’s more about after the jump.

“It never happens for me before the jump because I like to go for things, but after doing it many times, I get the fear that I might fall,” Zhang said.

The risk of ice skating is often overlooked due to the elegance of the skaters, but there is much room for error. Their sport takes place on a slippery, solid ice floor and they are wearing blades on their feet at all times. The true source of fear that goes into mental blocks is the chance of them getting injured.

“I was doing a big jump, and after landing it I tripped over myself and hurt my tailbone which caused my whole thigh to be pulled,” Zhang said. “That hurt for two years and I couldn’t do many moves because of it.”

Haley Oba is another experienced skater with nine years under her belt. To Oba, figure skating is as much a leisure activity as it is a sport.

“My favorite part about skating is the jumps because you just feel so free when you’re in the air,” Oba said.

Like Dorogusker and Zhang, Oba has her own stories about the physical challenges of ice skating. A few years ago, she was trying to perform a layback spin, a spin in which you must bend backwards. 

“I leaned a little too far back and hit my forehead on the ice and I got a huge concussion and ended up in the E.R.,” Oba said.


For any sport, popularity varies by region. For figure skating, California hasn’t traditionally been the mecca of the sport. This leads to it being more of an underground sport.

“I feel like on the West Coast the sport is relatively underrepresented because it doesn’t snow here so there’s not a lot of interest in winter sports,” Oba said.

Because of the lack of popularity in figure skating in this area, some have even said they don’t consider it as a sport.

To Zhang, repeatedly hearing that the sport she has dedicated so much of her life to not be considered a sport by some has been upsetting.

“I hear people who don’t consider ice skating as a sport, and that really triggers me because in my opinion, as long as you are exercising, it counts as a sport,” Zhang said. 

Even though figure skating is the most watched winter Olympic sport, it is often perceived as an art rather than a sport. But those who dedicate their lives to the sport know that it is much more than that. Ice skating brings a diverse, tight-knit community, and is the most watched Winter Olympic sport ever. The sport is still center-stage (rink).