She skates for India via Delaware

Ami Parekh is first from family homeland on this world stage

March 24, 2007|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Sun reporter

TOYKO -- She's a long way from home. Or not.

When Ami Parekh stepped on the ice for her short program yesterday, she was not only the first skater, but also the first skater to represent India at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Her nerves showed as she fell on all three of her jumps, which meant Parekh, who trains with Kimmie Meissner at the University of Delaware, would be watching today's long program from the stands.

But you'd scarcely know Parekh finished next to last in the field of 45 women.

Beaming afterward, she called her first step - and India's - "unbelievable."

"I can't believe India actually has a skater. I feel great that I could be the first one. It makes it a real world championship," she said. "It might be a small step I'm taking, but it's a good one."

Just before her music started, the skater said she tried to remember all the good practices she had at the Delaware rink to steady her nerves and put herself in a good frame of mind. It didn't quite work, she acknowledged, as she felt a rush of adrenaline and nausea.

"I felt big. I felt like a filled up the whole rink," she said, pausing and taking a deep breath. "I felt queasy."

Skating to a "Bollywood" mix, she fell on her opening triple toe loop, double toe loop combination, her triple salchow and double axel. But she gathered herself and performed a steady series of spins and spirals.

"I have to find a way to control myself," she conceded. "My arms and legs weren't working together. One thing was going before the other."

Parekh, 19, said she admires Meissner for her work ethic.

"I see her every day. She really works hard. I look up to her. She always nails her jumps," she said.

The feeling is mutual, said Meissner, the U.S. and 2006 world champion.

"She's such a nice girl, always very happy. She's a hard worker. She talks about my hard work? She goes crazy every day, at every session," Meissner said.

Parekh was born in Jersey City, N.J., and lived a year in India before returning to the United States. At an early age, she competed for the United States, reaching regional and section finals. She won the juvenile level North Atlantic Regional Championship in 2000 and won the intermediate level the next year.

Besides skating, Parekh had time to spell up a storm. In 2002, representing The Trenton Times, she finished 59th at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, stumbling on the word "enfilade," a military tactic.

When India became a provisional member of the International Skating Union in 2004, it opened the door for athletes to participate at worlds and the Olympics. A surprised Parekh wrote to the Shimla Ice Skating Club, India's governing body, to ask about representing her ancestral home.

"They did need me. I was thrilled," she said.

But using India as her base of operations was impossible. Although the Shimla club is more than 80 years old, its rink - like the handful of others in the country - is an open-air venue that operates only in the winter months.

She debuted last month at the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she finished 20th out of 26 skaters.

The youngest girl in a family of eight children, Parekh said she has relatives "all over the United States and India."

"I'm from everywhere," she said, laughing.

Parekh isn't India's only up-and-coming skater. Her younger brother, Amar Mehta, who also skates at Delaware, finished 44th at this year's Junior World Championships.

Like his sister, he also is coached Jeff DiGregorio, but gets an assist from Scott Gregory, the husband of Pam Gregory, Meiss- ner's coach.

While Parekh may be ready for the worlds, her country isn't quite there yet.

Indian sports fans are more interested in watching the Cricket World Cup being played in the Caribbean.

"Not many know about figure skating," she said. "I am hoping I can be the one to help change that."

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