Club Sport Spotlight: Hitting the Rink with the Figure Skating Team at UCI

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Chasing the Sun

“Wake up! It’s competition day! Wake up guys!! We’re going to be late if you don’t wake up!!!”  It is 5:45 in the morning. Vanna enthusiastically attempts to rouse the team, her hair already gelled back into a sticky bun and a powdery purple eyeshadow swiped across her lids.

“Just five more minutes,” her teammate moans from the other room, not ready for the 15 hour day that lies ahead.

The team drove from Irvine to San Francisco the night before, a journey of about eight hours that left everyone exhausted.

Vanna’s eagerness proved hard to sleep through, so the girls roused the boys sleeping upstairs, and they all joined in the kitchen to eat an early breakfast of mini sausages, fruit, and coffee.

Less than an hour later, they are dressed in their costumes, packed into the van tighter than sardines between their equipment. Running a little late, they speed down the Bay Bridge towards Oakland at 100 mph.

The Figure Skating Team at UCI is a club sport that provides an opportunity for students to gain skating experience while diminishing the outrageous costs that are associated with ice skating. During the Golden Bear Skate competition at UC Berkeley this past weekend, 11 students competed. The team won 7th place out of 12 schools.

Two of the freshman members, Vanna Giang and Paul Yeung, skate at the highest levels that collegiate competitions offer.

Giang, a first year Bio major, began skating when she was just five years old after participating in an introduction skating class for tots. She skates three hours per day, seven days a week; if it’s a holiday, she will drive to any rink that is open.

Giang’s love for skating radiates through her performances and shows in her smile. She sees herself as any other student athlete, experiencing ups and downs in the sport like anyone else: “I pride myself in the fact that I can admit I’m having a hard time and that it’s OK to feel that way,” she said. “I find strength in vulnerability.” Giang competed in the 2016 U.S. Nationals as well as the Youth Olympic Games.

The Big Stage

Before her performance, Vanna Giang prepares for an hour, jumping rope and stretching. This is her first collegiate competition, and she has been awaiting this moment for days. She takes the ice in a black sequined dress handmade by her father, facing the judges with a confidence that dares to be challenged.

The team is all smiles and energy as they cut through the silence in unison, “UCI! ZOT ZOT ZOT!!! GO VANNA! WOOOO!!!”

She skates to a classic Debussy song, Clair de Lune, a heartbreakingly beautiful performance that had won her first place in the Senior Ladies Free Skate event.

Along with Giang, Paul Yeung another special talent on the team. Yeung is a first year Biomedical Engineering major and started skating when he was six years old. Last year he performed at Nationals alongside the best skaters in the U.S. He radiates pure joy and energy, and has the ability to jump higher than he stands tall. Yeung is a performer at heart, causing a commotion when he takes the ice for his Michael Jackson tribute, full with sequined outfit and white diamond studded gloves. He easily sways over the judges, winning a unanimous first place in the Junior Men’s Short Program.

UCI also competed in High Team Maneuvers, an event that tests individual skill sets such as spins, jumps, and dance patterns. Each team is made up of one school and is constructed of six people who perform one element each. UCI’s team was made up of only three freshman, Giang, Yeung, and Jullia Bautista. They took first place over seven other teams.

Ending a Successful Night

It is 9 p.m. and the day is finally over. Still buzzing with excitement over the competition, the teammates walk past the bars of downtown Oakland toward a hole in the wall pizza shop. They order extra large hawaiian and supreme pizzas and spend the night talking about the highlights of the day. They are already preparing for tomorrow, another day full of skating.  

Emilia Williamson is a third-year literary journalism major and President of the UCI Figure Skating Team. She can be reached at eewillia@uci.edu.

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