Mount Hebron High sophomore Allison Timlen, 15, of the Columbia… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
New routine? Check.
New dresses? Check
New teeth? Double check.
In the figure skating world, where girls become young women in the blink of a season, Allison Timlen is pushing warp speed.
Four weeks from now, she'll make her debut as a junior lady at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, where she hopes to wow judges and fans with a more mature persona and a brand-new long program to match.
Her goal is a top-six finish in a field of 12 skaters and a place on the U.S. team.
"It really is a lot," she acknowledges. "But I'm only good when I'm challenged."
Needless to say, growing pains are part of the game for the 15-year-old Mount Hebron High sophomore who skates for the Columbia Figure Skating Club.
The braces came off last week, unveiling a warm and inviting smile to accompany dancing brown eyes with a trace of mischief. The new dresses go with putting her best almost-adult foot forward. The new long program, well, that's the story.
In November, Timlen took the top of the podium in the junior division of Eastern sectionals with a long program "that just wasn't working anymore," says choreographer Nathan Birch. "She had outgrown it."
Timlen says she just wasn't connecting with the music, which made it hard to sell herself to the judges. The same wasn't true of her "Moon River" short program, choreographed by Tim Murphy, where her skating flows and her joy is obvious.
So Birch, Murphy and coach Denise Cahill agreed to can the long program and start fresh with a " Mark Twain Portrait" by American composer Jerome Kern.
Now, Timlen is testing that new-found maturity as she races to learn all the jumps, spins and nuances of a program that will debut on her biggest stage ever. She will skate her short program Jan. 24 and her long program Jan. 26 at North Carolina's Greensboro Coliseum.
Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 Olympian and world champion and 2007 national champion, went through the same growing-up phase just six years ago.
"It's a big development then," she says. "When you're little, you're just trying to get better and trying to remember the program. Then you're skating gets better, but your program stays the same. You're taught to sell yourself so that people can see you in the nosebleed seats, and all of the sudden, you're actually skating in places with nosebleed seats. It can be tough."
Meissner changed her long program a month before 2007 Skate America. "I won, so it worked for me," she says, laughing.
Her coaches say Timlen was a standout from the moment she took to the ice as a gnat-sized tyke and caught the attention of Pat Muth, Columbia's artistic director.
"She so wanted to learn to skate," Muth recalls. "She would toe pick and go 90 mph and toe pick and fall. She was the funniest child I had ever met."
At 7, Timlen choreographed her own ice version of Riverdance, which she would perform solo at the drop of a hat. Muth turned her over to Cahill, who was leading group lessons. Cahill loved what she saw.
"She's got a disposition from heaven. She's a great performer, and she never gives up," says Cahill.
The medals started coming — 107 so far. Last year, Timlen finished third in the intermediate level at U.S. Junior Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y. She went to senior nationals as a novice and finished 11th. In September at the Skate San Francisco competition for the best young skaters in the country, Timlen was third in both the short and long programs (the two scores were not combined).
Bobbe Shire, a spin specialist who has coached world and Olympic champions in her 40 years in the business, says Timlen's skating style reminds her of Dorothy Hamill and her competitive drive mirrors Meissner's.
"She's tough as nails and will skate through any illness or injury," Shire says. "It's a tough sport. You know you're going to fall, and you have to be OK with that."
Timlen and her parents, Donna and Eddie, have opted for public schools over home schooling because, as the skater says, it's important for her "to have that normal side and the experiences that are a part of life."
She misses only the last 45 minutes of each school day, where she takes a load of advanced placement classes, to practice at Laurel's Gardens Ice House. After leaving the rink at about 5 p.m., she races home to dinner and homework before turning in at 9:30.
Unlike many skaters, who obsess about their diets, Timlen makes no bones about her love for "rib-eyes, really rare rib-eyes." When the braces came off, she celebrated with a bone-in steak, corn on the cob and apples.
But all in moderation, she says.
"If it's one time a week and if I want to have a Starbucks, I'm going to have a Starbucks," she says. "Now, it may not be a double chocolate, peppermint mocha with caramel on top, but I can get a really nice vanilla chai latte."
However, what Timlen really has her eyes on is the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"From the time I was 8 or 9, maybe younger, I was already figuring out the Olympic years and when I'd be eligible," she says. "All my decisions are made with the Olympics in mind."