It’s a sunny Saturday morning and as, the brisk morning
warms into a gorgeous October afternoon, Iris Zhao is on the ice.
The Colonial Figure Skating Club is abuzz. By 11 a.m., the center’s rinks are filled with skaters of assorted ages and abilities. For Iris, this will be her third session of the day.
A song fills the air around one rink. It’s “Butterfly Lovers,” and Iris is practicing her routine for the upcoming Eastern Sectional Championship in November. As she glides across the ice, spins and jumps, her coaches are keyed in on the little things.
“There’s always something that can be improved,” said Krisen Weir, one of Iris’s figure skating instructors at the Nashoba Valley Olympia.
This is Iris’s second season with the “Butterfly Lovers” program, and her team has embellished it over many months of practices and competitions. Earlier this month, the routine earned Iris a victory in the US New England Regional Championships in the juvenile girls division.
On this particular morning, the team—which consists of two coaches, two choreographers, a Dartfish Video analyst, a jump technician and a ballet instructor—working on fine-tuning the details of Iris’s program, like landings and facial expressions. And also the double axel.
“There is so much of her essence in her skating,” says Weir as Iris spins, smiles and leaps. “So much of her flair – it’s the magic that you can’t teach.”
A sort of shy seventh-grader at RJ Grey Junior High School in Acton, Iris has been skating since before she turned 5. She was following her big sister onto the ice. Rose, who is three years older than Iris, has since moved on to tennis and played for Acton-Boxborough’s state championship squad as a freshman last year.
“Everything that Rose does, Iris want’s to try,” said Mae Zhao, the girls’ mother. “For Iris, her balance and her talent showed up at an early age.”
And almost immediately she dove into skating full speed ahead, hooking up with Weir for private lessons. Before long, Amy D’Entremont Allen came on as a second coach. Now, at age 12, Iris averages 16 weekly skating sessions, which sounds like a lot before you even take into account the off-ice work and the scores of parties, sleepovers and other social activities Iris has had to miss for skating practice and competitions.
“It’s a sacrifice,” says her mother.
“It’s a sacrifice,” says her teacher.
“It’s OK,” says Iris.
According to her coaches, Iris is an elite figure skater at the juvenile level. Her recent New England regional championship earned her a berth in the upcoming Eastern Sectional competition. A top placement there will secure Iris a spot in Nationals, which will be held in Boston.
“It’s a very small [percentage of skaters] who are at her level,” said Weir.
Still, despite the high praise from her coaches and success in competition, Iris is modest about her on-ice achievements and aspirations.
Asked about her figure skating dreams, “landing a double axel” is Iris’s reply. With some prodding from her coach, Iris allows that she’d also like to make nationals and perform well in the competition. Only after her mother’s prompt does Iris reveal her long-term goal: “To represent the US internationally.”
While she might be might come across as a bit shy, her coaches say Iris known as “the Mayor” around the Colonial Figure Skating Club. She’s even a bit of a prankster, they say.
In fact, Iris says one of her favorite parts of the competitions is when her friends are in the stands yelling silly random things at each other to help get rid of the nerves.
And that could come in handy at the upcoming sectionals, as Iris is one of a dozen Colonial skaters who will be competing at Nov. 20 in Virginia.
Before the Colonial skaters head south for the Eastern Sectional Championships, there will be a send-off party this Saturday, Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the Colonial Figure Skating Club.
For more information about the Colonial Figure Skating Club, the send-off event or the upcoming sectionals competition, visit the club’s website.