Sophomore Julianna Romero becomes first East skater to compete at nat’l level

Sophomore Julianna Romero competes at the 2018 Dance-Pair Chicago Competition in Fox Valley Ice Arena in Fox Valley, Illinois. “I know it’s cliche, but I feel like ‘keep moving forward’ [are the three words that I want people to think of me by].” Photo courtesy of KrPhotogs.

She glides through the rink, sharp skates zipping across the cold surface, cutting particles of snow and carving unintelligible cursive letters in their wake. Her emotions translate through each stride, the song playing in the background accompanied by the sound of the skates scraping. A permanent smile glued on her face enhances the passion and love evident for this sport. Her beautiful, flowy attire flutters as the wind passed through it. The audience is captivated from start to finish awaiting each twist and turn she executes. When she finishes, they erupt into cheers and applause. She goes back to her seat and waits nervously with the others, butterflies in her stomach, her head in the clouds hoping that at the end of the day, her name would be plastered in the top spots, making her hometown proud. She belongs to East and her name is Julianna Romero, taking the ice skating world by storm one slippery step at a time.

Sophomore Romero has been ice skating since she was nine years old. It started as just a toe in the water of possible sports to participate in, later turning into something much more. With her maturity and wisdom, Romero acts older than she actually is. She has gained so much experience from ice skating that her mother Shirley Romero feels as if she grew up faster than most because of this.

“She kept moving to the next level and one after that at times it’s hard to keep up with her. At an early age, we saw her competitive spirit and the drive to be the best she can be. She has shown us how much she values and appreciates all our sacrifices. She will skate for hours and never complain about how tired she is, how early she has to get up in the summer to practice her routine over and over, how much pain she has when she falls on ice, and how disappointed she feels when she doesn’t get the judges’ score she hoped for,” her mother Shirley stated.

Her parents were the ones who advocated that Romero begin trying new sports to see which one would stick.

“I started lessons with my brother because it was one of the multiple sports my dad wanted us to try. I loved skating ever since,” Romero said.

Her mother quickly realized just how much potential her daughter held after her talents began to truly showcase.

“Julie started skating competitively in Synchronized Skating at age 10. She moved up skating levels quickly and had surpassed a lot of other skaters she started with,” Shirley added.

After she began to qualify into teams with members that possessed a higher set of skills, she knew ice skating was more than just a hobby.

“We saw the same passion with Julie when she was preparing to try out for the Dazzlers Juvenile Team in 2014. This is a very competitive team with talented skaters. She has to prove that she has what it takes (skills and performance) to belong to this group. When we found out that she made the team, we knew then that our journey had begun,” Shirley added.

Julianna thanks her family immensely for their encouragement to try new things.

“All my life they have encouraged me to try new things in order to find what defines me as a person. I think that is what inspires and drives me to do everything to the best [that] I can,” Romero said.

She practices non-stop each day, skating for one hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she has one- to two- hour lessons with her coaches. On Sundays, she exercises and stretches in her free time.

One of her coaches, Alina Ponomaryova, works with Romero on skating skills, pattern dances, and presentation. Ponomaryova’s sister, Kseniya, expertly creates her beautiful choreography routines while Jamie Whyte works with Romero on technical details of pattern dancing and partnering. It’s a long process that Romero feels helps her immensely.

“I feel that it helps to build stamina and muscle memory in order to perform my program effortlessly or at least portray that it is effortless,” Romero said.

Some would presume that balancing school and such a busy after school schedule would be too stressful. Her friends say that’s not a problem for Romero at all. She has developed many strong friendships despite her hectic schedule and her friends praise her for being able to do so. Sophomore Rhiannon Rannochio is one of Romero’s friends that stated the excitement she felt when finding out that she qualified for the nationals and why she felt that way.

“I was super excited for her and very proud because she is very dedicated to her skating and I was so happy that all of her hard work has paid off. She’s had to miss sleepovers and other things that our friends do together because of skating, so I’m glad that it’s all paid off for her and that she’s becoming so accomplished,” Rannochio stated.

Sophomore Kesiime Akankwasa recalled feeling ecstatic about Romero qualifying.

“I was so happy for her [qualifying for finals]. She really deserved it, she’s such a good skater. She can hang out but not sleepover because she has training yet she manages to skate, get straight A’s, and maintain a social life,” Akankwasa declared.

Sophomore Alaina Hyland praised how capable Romero is in a number of aspects of her life.

“Julie is [one of] the most organized people I know. She can manage her time super well and is always on time,” Hyland stated.

Romero compares her work ethic in the classroom to how she practices.

“I always think ‘How can do these moves better?’ ‘How can I improve?’ rather than just doing the work. So I guess I translate that to my work through ‘How can I explain this certain topic further?’ and not just answering the question and to kind of expand my learning in that certain topic,” Romero said.

From the classroom to the rink, Coach Ponomaryova described Romero’s passion to win while staying humble the entire way through.

“Julianna is a very talented and hard working skater. She has a positive personality and good sportsmanship. She is a very good competitor always striving to do her best and fighting to the end. At the same time she is a very gentle and humble person,” Ponomaryova said.

This desire to fight until the end shined through the Nationals. Its path proved to be very competitive and challenging as each skater tried their absolute hardest to rank. Alina Ponomaryova wrote in her own blog about the exact process.

“The qualifying series of competitions started on March 1st and went through August 15th, with only the six top places in each discipline in each of the Eastern, Midwest, and Pacific sections receiving an invitation to compete in the Final,” Ponomaryova wrote in the blog.

According to Ponomaryova, the specific components of solo dancing are considerable.

“Solo dancers perform elements and connect them using intricate transitions showing edge quality, expression of music, finesse in movement, quality of details, speed and flow,” Ponomaryova added.

Not only this, but in each competition, skaters receive different amounts of points depending on what place they get. First place gets nine points, second place gets eight points and so on. The top three scores from three different competitions are combined as the overall score.

Romero’s journey to the nationals started with her entering the top six for the Midwest section. She scored a total of 24 points because her top scores were nine, eight, and seven placing her in the finals. She recalls her reaction to qualifying.

“I actually started calculating the scores after my last competition and when I found out, I smiled so hard my face hurt. I was so excited when I qualified for both my events. I felt so accomplished,” Romero said.

Next was her plane to Hyannis, Massachusetts, where all of this hard work would pay off. Performing a choreography created by Kseniya Ponomaryova to the music from the Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton,” Romero skated both American Waltz and Silver Tango. Using the techniques she trains each day with her three coaches, Romero placed first in her section and fifth overall.

Being a solo dancer would seem to be difficult since the skaters have no team to rely on when they are on the ice. Romero admitted she does in fact get nervous before each competition.

“I always get the smallest bit of nerves right before I step onto the ice but I like to think it keeps me on my toes and motivates me to be more confident,” she stated.

Romero feels as if the individual pressure to perform well isn’t a challenge at all.

“I guess since … I used to be on the team, I think the pressures of me trying to perform my individual part in a team has helped me calm my nerves right before my performance … so the preparation … that helped me kind of find that confidence,” she said.

However, Romero’s ice skating career isn’t always so successful. There are times where she doesn’t do as well as she thinks she could’ve.

“So in skating you have to pass certain tests in order to move onto the next level. There was this specific test where it took longer than the rest of mine, I usually take almost less than a year to test, this one was taking about a year and a half,” Romero stated.

Again, she used her work ethic found in the classroom in order to pick herself back up.

“So I guess I was trying to, again where I said before about coaching through and figuring out how to improve each of my steps, and thinking about my steps more critically than I would normally do,” she added.

Romero remains the first East student to accomplish feats such as these.

This method has proven to work as seen with how far Romero has come as of now. This is a huge accomplishment that Oswego East and has never been graced with, and Romero is indeed the first OE student to do such a thing.

She is already starting her tests for moving onto the next level, after these tests, she will begin practicing her new routine for the next season. Romero has a bright future ahead of her in skating, but she has other plans for a career.

“I am definitely continuing to compete through the rest of high school. As for the future, I have been interested in colleges with solo ice dance programs as well as good medical programs since I want to become a pediatrician. But I’ll always try to keep skating in my life,” she said.  

Even on the ice, a source of warmth indeed.

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