The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 05, 2020 1:00 am

Champion dreams of Olympics

Rome City girl wins US pairs intermediate

Barb Sieminski | For The Journal Gazette

Have an ice day!

No, that's not a typo. It's the sort of thing sixth grader Cayla Smith might cheerily say to a friend in passing, especially if the friend were an ice skater like herself.

Cayla tasted the thrill of victory in November when she and her skating partner, Andy Deng, competed in Dallas during the 2020 U.S. Pair Finals. The pair earned the title of 2020 U.S. Pair Finals Intermediate Champions with a score of 60.55.

Their gold medals were presented by 2019 U.S. figure skating pairs champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc.

How did this come about for one so young who also shines academically?

According to Chelsey Smith, Cayla's mother, her daughter started out home-schooled.

“Cayla and her older brother, Elijah, have never attended a brick-and-mortar school,” Chelsey Smith said. “Her two younger brothers, Gabriel and Jonah, have attended traditional school and her youngest brother, Samuel, is only 4. I judge each child separately and do what is best for them. We began home schooling because it worked for our family and our schedules. My husband, Bobby, traveled a lot when the kids were little, and by home schooling we were able to travel with him. That way the kids had their dad, and he didn't have to be away from his family.”

Cayla, a Jasper, Georgia, native who now lives in Rome City, began attending Indiana Connections Academy, a tuition-free online school, which fit in perfectly with her schedule since she was at the rink every day.

“I was 5 years old when I started ice skating,” Cayla said. “I had been watching the Sochi Olympics and 'skated' around my living room as Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated. I've wanted to skate ever since that time.”

Cayla brought her laptop to the practice with her and took care of schoolwork during breaks.

On top of the strenuous practice sessions, Cayla is taking a heavy school schedule including Gifted and Talented Language Arts, sixth grade math, sixth grade science, world history, art and health and physical education.

“For me, science is the most difficult,” said Cayla, who is looking forward to being eligible for the 2026 Olympics when she is 15 or 16 years old.

What is Cayla's Achilles' heel at the rink?

“Jumping is the hardest part because you have to get the timing right, know where your arms and legs are, know when to pull in tight, when to open up to land, and do all of that in a split second,” said Cayla, adding that Alena Lunin and her husband, Alexander (Sasha) Lunin, were her pairs and singles coaches at the SportONE Parkview IceHouse.

By Cayla's own admission, she is not the most fluid on ice.

“I am actually not very graceful,” Cayla said. “My embarrassing moments are usually slipping and falling while doing something simple like a crossover. On my pairs test, I was landing throw jumps and a twist, but fell on a crossover. You learn those when you begin skating”

There are occasional bruises and injuries from falls, which spectators seldom think of when they watch skaters spin and twirl on the ice.

“Cayla's had nothing major yet,” Chelsey said. “The worst was a concussion scare last year, but it was nothing. She does develop muscle tightness that causes pain. She's had physical therapy to work on stretching and keeping her body working properly.”

Cayla has been doing singles competitively since the age of 6. She has been doing pairs for only two years and skated with Charlie Jacobs when they lived in Houston from 2016-19.

When asked if she was able to do a double axel, Cayla's reaction was excitement.

“I can! I just landed it at the beginning of this November!”

With such a rigid schedule Cayla “sometimes” has time to go to sleepovers or the movies with friends.

“With my training and school, it makes extra things more difficult, but I also have my friends around me at the rink. Ice skating is fun for me. I love being able to do something that is fun and enjoyable for me.

“Skating is really all I do. I am at the rink six days a week. When I'm not at the rink I have to do my schoolwork. I do enjoy playing outside with my brothers, kayaking on our lake, drawing, and back in Houston I was on the summer swim team and placed third at our regional championship.”

Her parents' support for her skating means a lot to Cayla, and the family's sacrifices are not lost on her.

“I teach English online to Chinese students,” Chelsey said. “I get up at 2:30 every morning to teach. This is my job to pay for skating so that Cayla can chase her dream.”

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