Photo Credit: Cynthia Slawter Photography
By Robyn Clarke
Twenty young women call the junior squad of Team Image their synchronized skating home, but they are more than just a number. They are a collection of nationalities, perspectives and walks of life, and they are leveraging that diversity to propel them to growth and success throughout the 2023-24 competition season.
The team features skaters from a variety of ethnicities, and if you ask sixth-year head coach Cindy Kim, Team Image’s home base of Hackensack, New Jersey, plays a role in fostering the assortment of backgrounds present within the organization.
“We’re based in the tri-state area, so naturally, we're going to attract a melting pot of families and skaters,” she said. “I think the skaters are all really good about just embracing each other and understanding that they have to do that in order to work well as a team and succeed every season.”
The acceptance the skaters have of one another fosters an environment that is open, welcoming and safe. Such an atmosphere means many of them feel comfortable showing up to the arena as authentic versions of themselves.
“I feel like an individual,” skater Melody Xu said. “I don’t feel like I have to skate as somebody else, and I also don’t feel like I stand out in any sort of way, either.”
Xu is not the only one who took note of the comfortability that comes with skating for Team Image. Sweden native Moa Skrtic is a part of the organization while she participates in an exchange program, and being a member of their community has made acclimating to the United States much easier.
“I was nervous at first, coming to a new country alone,” she said. “And I feel like with everybody’s background [being different], everybody was very welcoming.
“I always feel safe. Even though my English isn't the best, I always feel like the team takes their time to listen to me and to understand what I'm saying. So, I feel safe to know that no one is judging me because I’m not from America.”
The strong sense of team camaraderie that has developed as a result of such a safe and inclusive environment has paved the way for the squad’s on-the-ice success this season. They reached the podium at this year’s Lumiere Cup, which they are hoping is just a hint of what lies ahead for the remainder of the season.
“I think with us coming in third [in the Netherlands] and having been proud of our skates can inspire us to do even better,” said team member Jordan Bond, who first donned a pair of skates at the age of four. “I think we have that win driving us to skate even better and to execute even better for the next competitions coming up.
“We really want to go hard for the next competitions to do even better and push our limits.”
The key to reaching their fullest potential? Cleaning up the minute details of their routines. They have long figured out how to embody the theme of “mystical warrior” for their short program and :desert Arabian queen” for their free skate. To achieve the level of success they are striving for, they will need to polish their performance.
Having multiple run throughs of both competitions under their belt makes it easier to tweak the small things. Bond believes that is especially true of the short program.
“I think that after … competing it at competitions, I think that we’ve gotten [to] a point where we're able to express [ourselves], and I think we can do it even more,” she said. “And I think that [by] getting used to the dynamics of the program, [and] all the elements in the performance aspect, we're going to be able to get even more comfortable with it.”
She hopes that by skating at a high level, she and her teammates will be able to send a message to other young skaters from diverse backgrounds: They, too, have a place on the ice.
Team Image competes at the final Challenger Series Synchronized Skating event this weekend in Helsinki, Finland. To follow them live, visit the series’ competition central. They then travel to Las Vegas for the 2024 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships. To purchase tickets, visit ussynchrochampionships.com.