Stephanie Ciarochi never shies away from a challenge on the ice. When the seventh-grade figure skating prodigy perfects a double jump, she wants to try a triple. When she competes in a national competition, she wants to go around the world. And when she falls down, she always gets back up.
In other words, behind the graceful lutzes, axels, and toe loops during a routine lie countless hours grinding behind the scenes.
That’s not unusual for an elite athlete, but Ciarochi’s average weekday finds her getting up at 4:30 a.m. and heading to practice in Plano for a couple of hours before school. Following her classes, it’s back to the ice for another workout before arriving back in the Park Cities at about 8 p.m. to start on homework.
It’s around 40 hours a week overall of skating, ballet, ballroom dancing, and strength and endurance training. And that’s not counting competitions.
“Her commitment level — she’s basically a work machine,” said Olga Ganicheva, who has coached Ciarochi for the past year. “She will do anything we say. She doesn’t take shortcuts at all.”
That work ethic led to Ciarochi’s surprise gold medal in the juvenile girls division at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January in Minnesota — the country’s top prize for a skater in her age group.
“I didn’t think I would win,” said Ciarochi, who was competing in a major national competition for the first time. “I’ve learned to maintain self-control when I’m under pressure.”
Ciarochi, 13, dreamed of being a figure skater since she was very young. She admired Sasha Cohen, who won a silver medal for the U.S. at the 2006 Olympics in Italy.
There weren’t any skating rinks in Rockwall, where her family lived at the time. But once the Ciarochis relocated to the Park Cities, she took to the ice at the Plaza of the Americas.
“In that first lesson, I was excited to start trying the jumps and spins,” Ciarochi said. “When I started doing the more difficult elements, I started liking it more. I just like facing challenges.”
At 9 years old, Ciarochi entered her first competition, called the Bunny Hop Open. She finished last in her age group. “I was happy because I got a pink ribbon,” she said.
She fared much better, of course, in subsequent meets. Her first win came in early 2014, and last year, she competed outside Texas for the first time at a sectional qualifier for nationals. In June, she will take part in the prestigious Broadmoor Open meet in Colorado. Eventually, she’d like to compete internationally and try to follow Cohen’s example by reaching the Olympics.
Her mentality fits the intense training regimen of Ganicheva and her husband, Aleksey Letov, both former international champions from Ukraine who train a handful of the top young skaters in the U.S.
“It was a surprise how quickly she was improving,” Ganicheva said. “Our expectations are very high. She not only accepts our challenge, she’s asking for it.”