The dreams of a local girl find the national spotlight

Figure skating: On Friday, 15-year-old Megan Williams-Stewart of Ellicott City will compete in the U.S. Championships in Dallas.

Figure Skating

January 15, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Crouch, spring, twirl, land.

Time and again, the vivacious little girl with springs for legs bounced from the top step in her mother's house to the first-floor landing.

Crouch, spring, twirl, land.

Ten years later, balanced on the razor-thin edges of her ice skates, Megan Williams-Stewart is still trying to master those bursts of kinetic energy. But now the leaps have names like Axel and toe loop and her audience is much more critical than Rolly, the family Dalmatian.

On Friday afternoon, the 15-year-old from Ellicott City will skate to a tango before thousands at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Dallas.

As a junior competitor, she's up against 13 other girls, part of the undercard before the main event for senior women that features 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, bronze medallist Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen, who finished fourth. The top seniors will go to the world championships in March at MCI Center in Washington.

Williams-Stewart says she'll be watching their moves and dreaming of a day when she's in the prime-time spotlight, perhaps as early as the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

And watching will be her mother, Ellen Williams, a speed skater with her own Olympic dreams until a knee injury forced her retirement.

"Megan made a commitment to this a couple of years ago and she's stuck to it, even though it's hard and cold and she has to get up early." Williams says. "But this is what she wants to do. She wants to go to the Olympics."

At the same time, Williams made a commitment, too, putting her career as a real estate lawyer on hold to home-school her daughter and drive her every day to the skating program at the University of Delaware, a roundtrip of about 140 miles.

Last year, mother and daughter raised the stakes. Williams- Stewart moved to Wilmington to be closer to her coach and the practice ice. She shares an apartment with an older skater who is also affiliated with the university's program.

"This is hard for her, because she's a home girl." Williams says. 'She misses her dog and her grandparents who live with us." Her father does not live with the family.

Williams-Stewart calls home after practice every day and then just before she goes to bed. On weekends, her mother comes to get her for two days of tutoring and some home cooking.

"I miss my mom and having her with me." says Williams- Stewart. "She's my motivation. I want to do this for myself, because I get so much out of it. But I want to do it for her, too, because she was a skater and she's my idol."

Their home has a hers and hers trophy room.

Williams-Stewart's skating awards line one wall: second place, 2002 Lake Placid Open; fourth place, 2003 Eastern Sectional; fourth place, 2003 North Atlantic Regional; fourth place, 2001 South Atlantic Regional. Her mother's awards, including the 1971 Eastern Championship in 500 meters and a fourth in the 1972 national championship, are across the room.

"Her wall's getting bigger than mine." Williams says, laughing. "I wanted to try for the Olympics, but that wasn't to be. She's doing the skating that I stopped doing."

Williams-Stewart began tearing around local ponds and rinks on double-bladed skates at the age of 3. But soon the graceful moves of figure skaters caught her eye. Jumping from house steps was replaced by delicate dance steps.

"The jumping is fun, but I love the artistic side of skating." Williams-Stewart says.

Her coach in Delaware, 1978 U.S. Championships bronze medalist Priscilla Hill, says Williams-Stewart's physical strength and 5-foot-5 frame are a perfect match.

"Her jumps are her strongest points. When she hits her triples, they're really big ones. She's landing most of them, but not all of them are consistent yet." Hill says. "She has good lines and good spins."

Skaters at the junior level may be younger, but the competitive intensity is just as high.

For example, in December, Japan's Miki Ando, 15, became the first female skater to perform a quad at an official competition when she landed a quad Salchow at the Junior Grand Prix Final in the Netherlands.

The field at the junior nationals is strong. The top returning skater is Adriana DeSanctis, 14, who finished fourth last year. Danielle Kahle, 13, won the novice competition of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last year and has moved up a level, as has Lisa Dannemiller, 15, who finished third in the novice competition last year.

Then there's 14-year-old Emily Hughes, sister of Sarah. Emily, who won the national junior title in 1998, has slipped by Williams- Stewart each time the two have gone toe-to-toe.

"She skates well, but I'm not afraid of her." says Williams- Stewart, who will skate 11th of the 14 girls.

"I think I have the capability to win it. If I won, I'd be in shock for a long time." says Williams-Stewart. "I just have to stay relaxed, go with the flow and stay focused on the basics."

Crouch, spring, twirl, land.

NOTES: Sarah Solomon of Silver Spring and Patrick Connelly of Ellicott City placed fifth and eighth, respectively, after competing yesterday in the original dance program for juniors at the U.S. event in Dallas.

Sarah Hughes is the first American woman to win the Olympic gold medal and then skate in the subsequent national championships. But a leg injury has sidelined her nearly the entire season.

"I haven't competed in almost a year." she said. "It's almost like getting my feet under me. I'm not trying to match the Olympic experience. I know nothing is likely to ever match that."

Normally after an Olympics, many top skaters turn pro. But with the opportunities to make just as much money and maintain a higher profile by staying Olympic-eligible, few are making that move. That's led to one of the strongest post-Olympics fields at nationals.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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