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Feb. 13, 2014

The great unknown

by Harini Salgado, Online Entertainment Editor
We often hear about Blair teams like football, basketball and soccer. We know whether the team won or lost and who the good athletes are. But what about those Blazers who do sports that don't have teams at Blair? Here are some Blazer athletes that we don't hear about as often.

Figure Skating
At the Yarmouth Ice Club in Cape Cod, a figure skater finishes her long program and knows that she's done well. All her training has paid off and she's skated the best that she possibly can. This is the situation junior Maria Yang found herself in at the 2013 Eastern Junior Sectional Figure Skating competition, where she won her first major competition "That moment, the feeling I got made [all the hard work] worth it," Yang says. Yang's hard work has allowed her to go from regionals, to sectionals and finally to nationals twice at the junior level, where she placed ninth in 2013 and seventh this year.

Yang first started figure skating when she was six. She liked watching the Olympics on TV and really admired the figure skaters. "I would put Lysol on the floor and slide around with socks on, pretending to skate," she remembers. Her mom then decided that she should get figure skating lessons. She only needed to take one group class before her teacher recognized her talent and suggested private lessons. As a child, she looked up to figure skating legends like Michelle Kwan. Now, however, she's competed against many of the people who are going to the Olympics.
Maria Yang placed seventh at the figure skating nationals this year at the junior level. Courtesy of Jackie Zimmerman
Maria Yang placed seventh at the figure skating nationals this year at the junior level.


Yang trains one to three hours on school days, seven days a week. She splits her time between rinks in Ashburn, Reston and the more local Cabin John Ice Rink. She has three coaches. A main coach, who she practices with three times a week. Once a week she sees her choreographer. She also trains with a stroking coach, who helps her with how she moves on the ice, who she also sees once a week. She also works out once a week at the Inside Edge Fitness gym.

With skating comes many injuries. She's pulled her groin, bruised her lumbar and even had nine stitches in the face when she was seven after somebody ran her over. Her parents wanted her to stop skating after that, but Yang persevered. One of the hardest decisions she has made was to switch coaches after working with her previous coach for 8 years. She made the switch because her coach was unable to teach Yang how to land her double axel, despite working on it for several years. It turned out to be a smart one. Within four months of switching, she was able to land her double axel and two triples. "It's probably the best decision I've made but it was really hard because she was my coach for so long," Yang comments.

Yang plans to continue skating for a long time. "[I want to keep skating] as long as my body lets me," she says. Right now, Yang is very excited for the Winter Olympics. "I watch almost all the sports anyway and can't wait to watch my friends," she says eagerly.

Wushu
You may have heard of sophomore Amy Li. Being a Wushu Junior World Champion not once but twice (in 2010 and 2012) is no small feat. She also came second at the Adult National championships in 2013. She first started in 2008 at nine years old, the age her parents decided that she should choose a hobby to focus on. "I tried swimming, dancing and ice skating and I didn't like them," she recalls. One of her friends was doing Wushu and suggested it to her. She observed a class and decided to start. Although many people in America are not familiar with Wushu, it is a fairly well-known martial art in China.

The type of Wushu Li does has five "forms": bare hand, broadsword, staff, straight sword and spear. Li does bare hand, broadsword and staff. Li trains at a Wushu center in Fairfax, which is about a 30 minute drive without traffic from her house, normally training four days a week for two hours. Within two months of a competition, she goes six days a week. The first hour of training is class. During the second hour, the people who are more advanced practice on their own. Class begins with a warm-up of running, and a lot of stretching. They work on their basics, which include kicks, jumps and weapon work. Each form has four sections and they run sections repeatedly.

Li originally started doing Wushu for exercise, to have fun and to meet new friends. For a period of time, she felt that she began to hate it but still continued working. After she reached an extremely advanced level, she began liking it again. She likes that Wushu teaches people to be confident, persistent and diligent. "I think confidence is the most important thing Wushu taught me," Li remarks. She also really likes the jumps and using weapons.

One of her fondest memories is when she went to her first competition, two months after she started training. She had no idea what was going on but went out there and did her best and came fourth or fifth. Her coach came up to her afterwards and said that if Li tried her best, her coach would help her become great. "It was really special because my coach is not a person who often gives compliments," Li remembers.

Like any athlete, Li has had her share of embarrassing moments, such as dropping her staff and breaking her sword. She also has injured herself several times. She twisted both her ankles multiple times. She also tore the ligament in her left hand after a kick went wrong. She had to go to the doctor, where they gave her a cast and told her not to practice Wushu for a few days. Unfortunately, since it was a week before a competition, she ignored the doctor's orders. Two days before the competition, she got the cast off but still had to wrap her hand. She still managed to come in first place at the competition. Li says that a lot of people don’t get injured, though. "If you're careful, you won't get injured," she says.
Amy Li, a two time Junior Wushu world champion, performing at Magnet Arts Night last year. Courtesy of Amy Li
Amy Li, a two time Junior Wushu world champion, performing at Magnet Arts Night last year.


Li's role model is Colvin Wang, one of the other people who trains at her Wushu center, whom she describes as a United States Wushu legend. He won second place in the Wushu championships and taught Li and her friends a lot about how to overcome pain, helping them both mentally and physically.

Li plans to compete in major competitions for two more years and wants to do collegiates, an inter-college Wushu competition, at least once. She know that it will be really hard to let go of Wushu. "Not only will I miss Wushu, but all the friends I’ve made," Li says. She uses a quote that Wang told her to help describe her feelings: "It's good to make it, but it's better when your people make it with you."
Click here to see Li in action

Speed Skating
Junior Peter Ho is another star on ice, who speed skates instead of figure skates. He started in fourth grade after his cousins, who speed skated, told his parents that speed skating is good exercise. "I was really fat when I was little and this was a good way to get fit," he jokes. Seven years later, he's still at it and enjoying it. "It's different. It's not the normal basketball or soccer; it’s unique. Also, I really like how fast you can go," he explains. He can get up to around 25 miles per hour speed skating.

From fourth to sixth grade, Ho says he wasn't that great of a skater and was at a beginner level. After breaking his ankle, he had to stop skating for a while. After coming back, he did a lot of intensive training and began to shine.

Ho goes to either the Wheaton Ice Rink or the Cabin John Ice Rink on the weekends. On weekdays, he trains by himself. He does lots of running to work on his endurance. Although he does short track, it is still a fairly long distance so he needs to build up his stamina. He also does a lot of squats and leg exercises, which really builds up his leg muscles. "My thighs are like tree trunks and my arms are like noodles," he says, laughing. His training has taken him to the top sixteen at the 2013 Junior Nationals, eighth place at Nationals in 2012 and third place at Nationals last year.
Peter Ho racing in the 500m at the U.S. Junior Nationals 2013. Courtesy of Jerry Search
Peter Ho racing in the 500m at the U.S. Junior Nationals 2013.


Ho thinks his friend Thomas Hong is an inspiration to look to in the sport. "He’s a prodigy and he’s really good,” he says. Hong is the same age as Ho and qualified for the Olympic trials, where he got into the top 16. "He's a good role model," he says. Along with his friend, Ho has met many of the other great skaters. "The skating community is pretty small, so everyone knows each other. I've gotten to meet Apolo Ohno and the other Olympians," Ho explains. Ho plans to skate until at least senior year and says that if he goes to a college near a skating team, he'll skate there.

At the moment, Ho is also excited about the Winter Olympics, although he's worried about the U.S. team. He doesn't think that the US women's team will do well and feels the men other than JR Celski will not be especially amazing. "Celski is at his own level!" Ho exclaims. He also thinks that Korea will "destroy!"


Fencing
Junior Arjuna Subramanian is a talented épée fencer. Épée fencing, compared to the two other types of fencing (foil and saber), is a slower style of fencing using a bigger sword, where the whole body is a valid area to target. A member of the DC Fencer’s Club in Silver Spring, Subramanian first started fencing when he was nine, after a friend of his started a class because he was studying pirates. Out of the eight people who were originally in the class, he is the only one who is still fencing.

He trains four nights a week, for at least three hours depending on how much school work he has. His training, in accordance with his club's philosophy, is comprised of several components. He has two private lessons, two group lessons with other "elite" fencers his age, free bouting with other people and a few footwork and blade work drills.

Subramanian enjoys fencing because it is an individual sport with a lot of team qualities. He also likes the fact that there are some fencers whose technique and fitness aren't that great but are still really good. "It’s just such a mix of strategy and execution," he explains.

For a couple of years, Subramanian ranked in the top 25 fencers for his level nationally, but has since fallen. However, he still consistently places in the top four in the strong local and regional competitions. "Regionally, everyone thinks, 'why isn't he an A-rated fencer yet?' Nationally, everyone thinks, 'why hasn’t he put together the pieces yet?'" Subramanian explains. Currently he is working on a long-term project that will help him transition from techniques he used at a younger age to ones that he can use for college and beyond.
Arjuna Subramanian (in the air) bouts with Benjamin Wieder at the Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic in 2013. Courtesy of Caitlin Hilbert
Arjuna Subramanian (in the air) bouts with Benjamin Wieder at the Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic in 2013.


One of his personal favorite moments is when he won his first regional medal, which was actually in Houston when he was thirteen. The club that hosted the competition was really strong and dominates the age group. Subramanian fenced well and got bronze. Another good memory he has is at a national competition. Although he didn't qualify, he still stayed to support his friend whom he describes as being 'unstoppable' at the competition. "Watching him win a national title after being twentieth in the country was just really special," he reminisces.

Subramanian doesn’t really look up to a specific person in fencing. "This is where my teammates would pop up with hilarious suggestions," he jokes. He says that the sport is too big for him to pick a few people. He does, however, admire many of the American fencers who continue to compete internationally with very little monetary support from the United States. He also looks up to his two coaches. "Any coach is a role model. My coaches push me to excel, but never go too far. They're my friends," he explains.

Subramanian plans to continue fencing as long as he is able. He wants to fence in college because it is a NCAA Sport. He says it depends on where life takes him, especially since the sport is expensive and time consuming. He does know that if he drops the sport, he can always pick it back up again.

These Blazers are all very accomplished in the sports they do. They work hard, train a lot, and do extremely well at competitions. They deserve all the recognition they can get.



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  • yay on February 15, 2014 at 6:41 PM
    AMYYY - you are the funniest, cutest Wushu-er ever!! :) We love you~ Peter - Korea did DESTROYYY XD
  • J on February 17, 2014 at 10:23 AM
    Great article Harini!
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