Tomarchio and Sinchak Ready to Finally Show Their Stuff in Junior Grand Prixby Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
|Tomarchio and Sinchak at the 2006 State Farm U.S. Championships|
Photo by Michelle Harvath
(10/19/06) - The skating life was good for 16-year-old Samantha Tomarchio. In January, she and partner Nicholas Sinchak won the novice ice dancing bronze medal at the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships and earned a spot on the U.S. National Team. With that came the invitation to compete at the North American Challenge Skate in Vancouver and the Junior Grand Prix event in Hungary, with the possibility of receiving a second assignment.
The now junior-level team, coached and choreographed by Genrikh Sretenski in Laurel, Md., had its programs ready in early summer and was anxious for the competitive season to begin. First up would be the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August, where the pair would receive valuable feedback from the judges and have the chance to show off how much it had progressed in the previous seven months.
“We were doing double run-throughs of our free dance and OD, and we were totally ready to compete,” Tomarchio said. “We were really excited about it because we're like ‘Wow, it's June and we're ready.' But it just didn't work out in our favor.”
That was an understatement. On June 19, everything changed in a split second.
Tomarchio remembers going into a diagonal footwork sequence.
She doesn't remember the fall or the sound of her head smacking the ice.
The next thing she knows, people are talking to her, and she can't see. Her vision was scrambled and nothing made sense. Why couldn't she see? Soon, her vision cleared, but she needed to go to the emergency room as a precaution.
“They gave me a CT scan and said everything was normal and I was free to go, but I had to take off skating for three days.” Tomarchio said. “They said I'd be fine.”
Skaters get injured all the time. Athletes play hurt. It comes with the territory. And there were competitions coming up. So, after the three days, Tomarchio was back on the ice. But something wasn't right.
“I skated that Friday, and I did not feel myself,” she said. “I had the worst headache. I was dizzy, tired and still had trouble remembering things.”
She was overly sensitive to light and sound, too.
|Nicholas Sinchak reaches to help his partner, Samantha Tomarchio, when she fell at the Lake Placid Dance Championships.|
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla
A week and a half after her accident, Tomarchio's symptoms were not significantly improving. Her mother spoke to a neurosurgeon, who immediately pulled the skater off the ice.
“I was in high risk of danger for a second fall because my balance wasn't yet restored to normal,” Tomarchio explained. “Overall I wasn't fully recovered. I needed the time to rest.”
If someone recovering from a concussion has another similar injury, the results can be devastating and result in second impact syndrome. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center describes this as “when someone, usually an athlete, suffers a second blow or violent snapping of the head while they're still suffering the effects of a previous concussion. When this happens, severe hematoma can result with the patient quickly losing consciousness, and in many cases, lapsing into a coma and dying from respiratory failure caused by extreme pressure on the brain stem.”
After further visits to the neurosurgeon, Tomarchio was diagnosed with a level three concussion.
“I went to a neurosurgeon and he told me three days was not enough, and I needed to take my time,” she said. “He said, “Four to eight weeks is what you should be doing.' I was shocked. I did not want to take that time off, but my mom [said] ‘Your health comes first.' I didn't put up a fight, but I wasn't happy about it.”
After trading in skating practice for driver's ed, Tomarchio was antsy to get back on the ice.
“I asked my doctor if I could continue skating if I wore a helmet,” Tomarchio said. “He agreed as long as I didn't do any lifts. I then went back to restricted skating with a helmet on. It was very embarrassing at first, but I got used to it and so did everyone else.
“My mom didn't want me to do Lake Placid,” Tomarchio admitted. “I wanted to do Lake Placid so bad. I wanted to compete. I hadn't competed since nationals. I wanted to be out there, like ‘I'm ready!' I really wanted to skate my best.”
After a week and a half back on the ice, it was decided that Tomarchio and Sinchak would go to Lake Placid and compete just the compulsory dance events. She still was required to wear the helmet, but that shiny, white plastic doesn't go well with ballroom dancing.
“I put lots of fun stickers on it, and I tried to stone it a little bit,” Tomarchio said, laughing. “Not a lot, because I didn't want the stones to fall off. So I have pink and green stones. I got some stickers and they, not intentionally, matched my Starlight dress. My Samba didn't really match very well. But, hey, that's my personality all over the helmet!”
Tomarchio and Sinchak were third in the Starlight Waltz and seventh in the Silver Samba. The final dance was the Midnight Blues. Tomarchio and Sinchak took the ice for the warm-up with the other teams in their group. All of a sudden, there was a collision.
|Officials Peg Faulkner and Shawn Rettstatt talk with Tomarchio and Sinchak after the fall.|
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla
Her partner was injured, too, suffering a major gash in his leg. The arena fell silent. Sinchak, ignoring his own bleeding wound, rushed to his partner's side. Tomarchio was able to stand, and the pair made their way over to the boards where they talked with their coach and the first aid team. As the crowd stayed silent, the young couple made their way across the ice to the referee and withdrew from the competition.
Sinchak's family took him back to Maryland to be seen by a specialist. Tomarchio stayed in Lake Placid, under the watchful eye of friends and family, before returning home. They withdrew from the NACS event and had their Junior Grand Prix pushed back to Romania, later in September.
After returning home from Lake Placid, Tomarchio was off the ice again indefinitely. She and Sinchak were allowed to do off-ice work but had to postpone their Junior Grand Prix debut again. By the end of September, Tomarchio was told if she could pass a vestibular evaluation (balance test), she would be cleared for full training. At the end of September, she was finally cleared.
With one Junior Grand Prix event remaining, Tomarchio and Sinchak were given the last assignment in the Czech Republic. Just competing will be a victory for the young team.
Tomarchio knows wearing the helmet may have saved her life.
“If I didn't, I probably wouldn't be standing here right now,” she said.Tomarchio and Sinchak compete in the JGP Czech Republic beginning Friday with the compulsory dance. Photos used with permission by Tomarchio.