Ice princess in the making

Skating: A 13-year-old Bel Air resident sets her sights on international competition after earning the title of the best novice figure skater in the country.

January 26, 2003|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

When Kimberly "Kimmie" Meissner first stepped out on the rink, she was just a 6- year-old girl with dreams of learning to ice skate, of wearing sparkly outfits and spinning through the air like a ballerina.

But unlike most little girls, Kimmie was good. Very good.

By age 7, the Bel Air resident had skated her way through every group lesson in the state. By age 8, she had a private coach.

And just last week, 13-year-old Kimmie became the best novice figure skater in the country - winning a gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"It feels really good," said the pint-sized athlete. "It wasn't even the winning. It was the satisfaction that I made it there, and that I skated my best."

Competing against 12 of the top novice skaters in the country, Kimmie placed first in the long and short programs. Donning a sparkly red outfit, she skated such a clean short program that eight out of the nine judges gave her a perfect score.

And in her long program, she stunned the judges - and the audience - by opening her act with a flawless triple lutz: one of the sport's most challenging moves.

Kimmie is one of a handful of girls her age to master the three-part jump, which she learned last summer under the tutelage of coaches Pamela Gregory and Tracey Poletis at the University of Delaware.

At 4 feet 10 inches tall and 75 pounds, the tiny teen looks like she'd blow over in a gust of wind.

But she has built the kind of strength and athleticism needed to spin fearlessly through the air.

In just the past year, she has learned the double axel, triple salchow, triple toe loop and triple loop - all formidable jumps that her coaches say signal a new stage in her skating.

"Doing these jumps at her level separates her from the rest of the field," Gregory said. "She's now on the international scene."

It's a scene dominated by big names like Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes, where the word "Olympics" is tossed around and all eyes are on the prize.

And by landing there, Kimmie has skating insiders buzzing. In a story about her search for figure skating's next big thing, USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan wrote: "The best thing about Meissner was her presence; she reminds me of Cohen, all the way to her bun."

But for all her maturity on the ice, Kimmie is still a young girl - one who bounces excitedly on her living room couch when she talks about meeting Cohen and Michelle Kwan, another of her favorite skaters, at the championships.

The petite features of her china-doll face light up when she talks about returning to class at Southampton Middle School last Tuesday, where her eighth-grade classmates asked for her autograph.

"I didn't really want to go back to school," said Kimmie, wearing blue jeans and a sparkly pink T-shirt. "But it was really cool. It's nice to think that other girls kind of look up to me."

Kimmie's mother, Judy Meissner, picks her daughter up from school every day at noon and makes the hour trip to the training center at the University of Delaware.

While Mom reads, Kimmie spends two hours practicing on the ice, and one hour off the rink doing strength training and ballet.

For Judy and her husband, Dr. Paul Meissner, a podiatrist in Cockeysville, Kimmie's skating is not only a time commitment - it's also a financial one.

The couple declined to put a price on their daughter's training, but said it is "huge." Still, the Meissners, both of whom grew up skating recreationally in Buffalo, N.Y., said their daughter's skating is well worth the time and cost.

"It teaches her discipline and how to handle the ups and downs," Judy said. "She's learned to overcome injuries to fight back and be strong."

"It's the one thing that's all hers," said Paul Meissner. "That gives her an amazing sense of self-confidence."

The Meissners have three sons -17, 21 and 24 - all of whom play ice hockey in addition to baseball and soccer.

Unlike so many parents of ice princesses, Judy and Paul Meissner are not pushing their daughter toward the top. In fact, their faces grow weary when they talk about Kimmie's inexhaustible drive.

"We have to drag her off the ice sometimes just so we can get a break from it," Judy said.

And when the word "Olympics" is mentioned, both parents grow reserved.

"We don't think that far ahead," Judy said. "We're just taking this one step at a time."

The Meissners have spent enough time in ice arenas to know how high-stakes the sport has become. They know that with one false move, dreams can be shattered. They also know about the odds.

Just to get to the national championship, Kimmie had to compete in regional then sectional events.

Still, with her latest win, Olympic trials might be in Kimmie's future.

"It's a possibility," Gregory said. "But there are so many factors. Will she stay athletic enough? Will she grow more? Will she still love the sport at 17? There are a lot of hotshots out there. There's also a lot of pressure. Some kids can't handle that."

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