In January of 2020, U.S. Figure Skating launched the National Development Team Camp, a brand new initiative to enhance the skills of their developmental athletes (juvenile through novice).
Participating skaters were given the opportunity to observe the U.S. Championships with officials and other experts. The officials broke down the event's various routines and techniques with the athletes in hopes of motivating them to one day compete at such a level.
"It was done in person, so it was a really exciting opportunity for that to be the first year [of the camp]," Justin Dillon, director of high performance development, said.
Dillon helped facilitate the camp in 2020 and faced the challenge of creating virtual programming for the 2021 session. He and Kelly Vogtner, senior director of special projects and skating programs, used a multifaceted approach to reach athletes.
They held a virtual celebration of competitive skating to encourage athletes to watch U.S. Championships, organized a virtual competition for novice skaters, and brought in senior skaters to teach sessions on various aspects of figure skating. This year's camp was about more than inspiration; it was a method of allowing athletes to stay involved after the pandemic interfered with many in-person events.
"We wanted to really throw the love of figure skating at them," Dillon said.
The camp kicked off on January 11 with an athlete welcome. Senior director of athlete and performance Mitch Moyer, ISU Official Gale Tanger and USA team leader Ann Barr were among those who spoke to the attendees about overcoming adversity in their own careers. The speeches were moving, Dillon said.
They set the tone for what was undoubtedly a memorable month. Attendees heard from senior skaters on a variety of topics, including a session on competition makeup from Kaitlin Hawayek.
After spending 20 years on the ice, she's learned how to be self sufficient when it comes to competition makeup. While professional advice and YouTube tutorials were helpful tools in learning how to apply the cosmetics on her own, they didn't provide all of the guidance she needed.
"There's a certain difference between editorial photography or just everyday makeup instead of performance makeup, so that's the thing that I have to really learn through trial and error myself," Hawayek explained.
The tutorials didn't take into account the increased heat from a packed arena or explain how not to look washed out on the ice, so she took the basics from their explanations and tweaked it to fit her needs. Sometimes, that meant using different products. Other times, she had to apply the
As she experimented, Hawayek developed a passion for makeup. Brushing foundation across her skin or applying eyeshadow was not unlike drawing or painting.
The only difference? Those artists used paper or canvas, and Hawayek's medium was her face.
The onset of the pandemic gave Hawayek time to dive into her love of art. She thought again about the gaps between online tutorials and performance makeup and was struck by an idea.
YouTube might not be able to explain how to do makeup for a competition, but she could.
Hawayek reached out to Dillon and others within U.S. Figure Skating and pitched the idea of teaching a makeup course. Dillon loved the idea and made sure to include the session as he planned the camp. Not only was Hawayek passionate about the subject, but she brought expertise and experience to the table as well.
Those were two factors that made senior skaters invaluable as presenters.
"They've gone through it," Dillon said. "They were that 11 or 12-year-old, so they really understand the athlete they're speaking to. They get their audience."
The opportunity to listen to someone who's been in his shoes was one of the most beneficial aspects of attending the National Development Team Camp for junior skater Beck Strommer. He first began skating eight years ago and is currently working on becoming more consistent with his routines.
Attending a camp session with Vincent Zhou gave him motivation to accomplish his goal.
"He talked about how when he was younger and developing his triples… He would work so hard to get them to be consistent," Strommer said. "He would just do triple after triple after triple… to force himself to be consistent.
"That's something I really try to take into my skating. ...When I listened to him talk like that, it stuck out to me because it was interesting to hear an elite skater's thought process."
The senior skaters provide insight, and they also reminded Strommer he wasn't traveling an unbeaten path.
"[As I listened], I really am thinking, 'Okay. I can do that too. I know I can stay focused during the second half of my free skate… I can keep pushing and just stay focused on what I need to be doing,'" he said.
The ability to make such an impact on the next generation of skaters was another factor that drew Hawayek to presenting. Mentors like Meryl Davis and Kaitlyn Weaver helped her find herself within the sport, and she wanted to return the favor for others.
"It's really left a mark that one person or one interaction can make a mark on you as a young skater, and I hope that I can hopefully find a way to do that with younger kids as well," she explained.
The National Development Team Camp was not only a chance for developing skaters to grow, it was also an investment into the next generation. The knowledge that was shared and the lessons that were learned over the last month will leave ripple effects across U.S. Figure Skating for years to come.
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