Figure skater Agnes Zawadzki on her favorite local places to practice and which animal you should imitate to keep from slipping on the street.
A Chicago native, Agnes Zawadzki started skating in Niles when she was 5 years old. She knew immediately that she had found her soulmate in sport form. “I loved being on the ice and feeling the wind in my hair, the carefree attitude, and the atmosphere of the rink,” she says.
Since then, she has won a gold medal at the 2012 US International Classic and a bronze medal at the 2013 US Championships. She was also training to compete in the upcoming Sochi games, but unfortunately, she didn’t qualify.
Just because Russia isn’t on her itinerary doesn’t mean her spirit has flagged, though. Agnes considers skating her full-time job, and has spent this past year “preparing for anything,” from performing at corporate events to competing nationally. I spoke with her about what a professional figure skater’s training regimen looks like, then asked for some tips on how to skate (and fall) properly.
Training On and Off the Ice
On a typical day, Agnes spends two to three hours on the ice (after a six-minute warm-up). She’ll join other athletes in the rink, but crowds aren’t a big problem—everyone tends to stay in their own mental zone.
As she skates, she works on her spins and jumps, trying to perfect every turn of her toe and slice of her blades. When the mood strikes her, she will throw in one of her favorite “exhilarating” tricks, the triple lutz or triple toe loop. You can see her nailing a triple toe loop–triple toe combination at the 2012 US Nationals below, starting at 1:10.
Off the ice, Agnes does Pilates, yoga, and cardio workouts twice a week. She also hikes on the trails by her house, when the weather permits. One trail in particular, Pikes Peak, provides a challenging climb to the summit, but the payoff is worth it: “It’s amazing to be on top of a mountain and look down. It’s like being on top of the world.”
When she does get a chance to relax, Agnes prefers to “sit at home and watch Netflix,” or explore local restaurants. She is a self-proclaimed healthy restaurant foodie, and perpetually on the hunt for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free places. Her edible weakness? “I really like peanut butter and almond butter. Put it on anything. I’ll eat anything peanut-butter-flavored.”
Pro Tips for Skating (and Walking) in Chicago
Where to skate: Agnes recommends the IceLand Skate Complex in Niles, where she first started skating. She also suggests the Oakton Ice Arena, where she completed her early training. The Oakton rink is an ideal environment for skaters hoping to improve their technique—in fact, Agnes’s old coach is still there. If you just want to experience the thrill of the ice for an hour, though, "definitely check it out for public skate." See below for the addresses and hours of both rinks.
How to survive a stroll down an ice-covered sidewalk: Skating down Chicago’s sidewalks in the winter can be a sport in itself. Agnes’s professional advice is that “you’re supposed to walk like a penguin, on your toes a little, and hold your weight forward.”
If you find yourself falling, whether on the rink or on the road: Do what the pros do, and “just try to fall on your butt. It is as least painful as possible.”
How to pick yourself back up: Once you’ve recovered from your less-than-graceful descent, use the rhyme that instructors teach kids who are beginning to skate: “Start like a doggie and turn into a froggie and push yourself up.” That is, start on all fours, move into a squat, and stand. Inelegant, but effective.
If you’re feeling nervous about leaving the wall: Agnes says that everyone feels scared their first time, even the professionals. “It’s really scary to go out there on the ice. You’re like a deer, [and you] hold on to the wall for dear life. Everyone started like that; I started like that. You just need to take a leap of faith and go out there.”
* IceLand Skate Complex | 8435 W. Ballard Rd. in Niles
Public skate is available for $5 with $3 skate rental. Available times include Monday–Friday from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., Friday from 8:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m., Saturday from 12:05 p.m. to 1:20 p.m., and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
* Oakton Ice Arena | 2800 W. Oakton St.
Public skate times run Monday–Friday from 11 a.m. to 12:50 p.m., Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and 8:30 pm. to 9:50 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The fee is $6 with $3 skate rental.
Photo: Leah Adams