Is the Best 'Chicago Jazz' In Switzerland?
A proud uncle learns about figure skating through his niece.
For student athletes, there is nothing quite like going for the gold. Getting there, though, takes a lot of hard work.
My high-school-aged niece has been figure skating for as long as I can remember, both on teams and as a soloist. I always knew it was a big commitment, with early morning and late afternoon practices, weekends, summer camps and private lessons. When she joined a junior level synchronized skating team called the Chicago Jazz this year, I learned a whole different definition of dedication, but also of the glory as well.
Synchronized skating isn't an olympic sport, at least not yet. Despite that, thousands of skaters worldwide participate on synchro teams, competing at local, national and international levels. Like solo figure skating, there are several levels to competition, and some skaters start on junior teams about the time they enter grade school. Like solo skating, teams are judged on routine elements, precision and accuracy.
Over the years, I've attended many of my niece's ice shows and the occasional Chicago-area competition. Traveling teams are a fact of life in many student athletic sports, and the synchro skating team has its share of bake sales and magazine subscriptions to raise money for the team. My sister and I have never discussed the details, but the expense of equipment, costumes, private lessons, team dues, transportation, and all the rest clearly adds up quickly.
Of course, that investment is all for the moment it pays off, and recently I had the opportunity to witness that firsthand.
The Chicago Jazz juniors are consistently a top-ranked synchronized skating team, and compete internationally. This year, they entered the Neuchâtel Trophy competition, which took place last month in Switzerland. As luck had it, I was traveling nearby in Germany that week, so was able to join my sister and niece for the event.
Here in Chicago, commuters complain of a recently-increased $5.25 Metra ride from Highland Park to downtown. In Switzerland, the 90-minute train from Geneva airport to Neuchâtel cost me over $50, one way. At home, we stress about rising food costs. In a typical Swiss restaurant, a hamburger was -- seriously -- $25. Adult admission to the skating competition was $40. On top of that, the skating rink was completely unheated -- even the judges sat bundled up like Michelin men, with the outdoor temperature around 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Still, the Swiss manage to always meet your expectations. Everything Swiss is as precise as their watches; even the vending machines in the train stations throughout the country had the exact same products in the exact same positions. The trains always run on time. Though my hotel was only fifteen minutes away from the skating rink, it crossed an imaginary line into the German-speaking part of Switzerland -- the hotel desk clerk was surprised when I greeted her with "bonjour." Back across the line on the French side, the crepes were fantastic and the chocolate plentiful.
The competition for the Neuchâtel trophy -- a cowbell, actually -- was fierce. Two American teams faced several Swiss, Swedish, Italian, German and Finnish teams. The Chicago Jazz were in second place after the first night's short program, and the parents -- barred from communicating with their children -- chattered anxiously about the team's prospects. On the second night, the Jazz put on a clinic, with the night's highest score, and enough of a leap to put them into the winner's circle.
Uncle Ed was proud and honored to have been able to witness this gold medal achievement first-hand. For sure it makes my niece -- and her mom's -- efforts all worth it. I'm ready to sign up to travel with the team again next year; let's just hope they don't end up competing in Snowflake, Manitoba. And I have a new-found appreciation for the parents who put their precious time and hard-earned money into their children's dreams and aspirations -- it's an honor to see them pay off.
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