Twelve-year-old Laura Combs of Redmond has been ice skating for just two and a half years, and has already put together quite an impressive record.
She has attained seven gold medals in various skating competitions, including one this year at the Blades on Ice competition at Shoreline’s Highland Ice Arena in April and another at the 2008 Washington Games in Mountlake Terrace.
Combs’ other five medals came before she and her family moved up to Redmond last year, where she got her start in figure skating in the unlikeliest of places.
They are from Flower Mound, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where the average temperature climbs well into the 90s during the summer months.
“My neighbors had done ice skating, and they took me skating sometimes,” Combs recalled. “It was really hot in Texas, and they actually gave me their skates and an outfit. I did some group classes and I really liked it.”
According to her mother, Karen, something about Laura caught the coach’s eye and he correctly predicted that she had a future in the sport.
“The coach that she had said, ‘you should try some private lessons, you’re really good,’ and she’s been told ever since that she’s been talented with it,” Karen said.
Laura’s biggest victory by far in her young career was at the Washington Games in the pre-preliminary division, and the circumstances surrounding her gold-medal performance were just as significant as her stellar on-ice routine.
Similar to the situation in a memorable Peanuts cartoon special, Laura’s music got damaged between the time they handed it in and the time it got to the judges’ table.
“Her coach had some old music in the car from another competition with another girl,” Karen said. “She had to skate to that, and she still won.”
In the tense moments before Laura was called to skate, her coach was trying to calm her down by making small-talk conversation, asking her questions like, “Do you still tell people you’re from Texas?”
It worked … for a while.
“When I found out about my music I was actually really nervous, I was like ‘what am I gonna do?’” Laura said. “But I think it worked out better, because at the end I had more time to finish my spin, and at my normal music I had to kind of rush through my spin just so I could finish my program.”
By winning her division at the Washington Games, Laura has earned a trip the 2009 State Games of America in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Laura’s rigorous training schedule leading up to events like the Washington Games involves three or four days a week of on-ice practices in addition to one weekly lesson, and she also takes time at home to learn from the very best in the sport.
“She’s been watching video of (Olympic silver medalist) Sasha Cohen skate, and I’ve talked to her about how to calm yourself with your breathing, and she’s been watching Sasha do that,” Karen said of her daughter’s training regimen. “We’ve also been discussing visualizing her program in her head, and I think all that has helped.”
Like her role model, Laura’s ultimate goal is to skate in the Olympics someday, but in the near future she wants to move up to the “sectional” level, at which skaters are separated only by age and not by skill level, and it will certainly be a lot of work for the young skater. One of the requirements of sectionals is that skaters have to land a double-double jump somewhere in the program, something that Laura has already begun to practice in the hallways of her North Redmond home.
“I was working on that and landed one when I was on the floor,” she said proudly. “I love jumping, my mom knows I jump all around the house.”
On skates, the soon-to-be seventh grader at Timbercrest Junior High can do a single axel, and is learning do to the more challenging double sowkow, double loop and double toe jumps.
A PASSION FOR SKATING
Having been involved with numerous activities growing up like soccer, ballet and dance, Laura believes it is the “individual” aspect of skating that keeps her fired up.
I think it’s just really fun to be out there because it’s a sport that not very many people do, (unlike) soccer,” Laura said. “It feels really special because when you say you won a gold medal, people are like, “wow that’s really amazing,” rather than saying “my team won this,” because it’s all my work, that I’ve worked really hard to get. It wasn’t like it was other people that earned it and I was just part of the team.”
Karen says that although commuting from their home to ice rinks in Kingsgate, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace can be hard on her, she is proud of Laura’s accomplishments so far and believes “it’s worth it.”
As with most parents of child athletes, she admits she feels the heat watching from the stands, knowing that after the hundreds of hours of training, lessons and pep talks, Laura’s performance is now entirely out of her hands.
“I get kind of nervous, but I’m starting to take the advice I’m giving her, I’m learning to breathe,” said the mother of two. “It can be kind of frantic, but I think the more competitions we’ve done, we’re starting to get more used to things.
“Except now we know to bring extra music.”