The 12-year-old competes on synchronized skating team.
Gabriella Thomas could feel her grip on her teammates' hands slipping away.
The 12-year-old Thomas, a Heritage Harbour resident, was skating across the ice Jan. 19 with her hands interlocked with her Ellenton Epic Edge teammates in the midst of a linked circle during the 2020 Eastern Synchronized Skating Sectional Championships at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.
If her hands broke free, it would be a scoring disaster for her team, which is made up of girls aged 12-16. Thomas, the Edge's youngest member, said she was starting to panic. Then her teammate, Sude Tanrisever, looked her in the eye and said, "Don't worry. I have got you."
Thomas said the reassurance calmed her, and the flawless routine continued.
For the Edge, a program out of the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex that was created four months before the event, a mistake-free routine was itself a victory.
Thomas initially joined the team as a reserve, but quickly proved to coach Jude Fulton that she belonged on the ice as much as the older girls.
"It was a tough spot, but she did great," Fulton said. "She showed her strength and her skating skills."
Even though Thomas' teammates are older, she said, they embrace her and include her in their activities, whether that is getting a bite to eat or doing each other's hair and makeup. Synchronized skating is all about trust, Thomas said.
The quiet moments off the ice are where that trust is built. It is why Tanrisever's words at the Sectional Championships meant so much: They were a test of faith. Thomas trusted her to not let go of her hand, and she didn't. That, Thomas said, is the best part.
The Edge fielded a roster of nine skaters, and though Fulton initially planned on using eight, all nine skated at the Sectional Championships. They were the only team from Florida at the competition. Fulton said that other programs were supportive of the Edge since they were new and from a state not usually competitive in the sport. The Edge finished eighth in its Open Juvenile qualifying group and did not make the finals.
Fulton said the Edge program was created because Ellenton's figure skaters wanted it to exist. They were too old and too good for the recreational team, she told them, so she helped them start a competitive program. The Sectional Championships were the team's first real performance of any kind, while other experienced teams had been training a whole year for the event.
"We were winging it, as far as our routine," Fulton said. "We didn't know what other team's routines would look like. We were just trying to be the best we could be."
The trip to the Sectional Championship is just the beginning for Thomas and the rest of the team. Fulton said she wants the team to grow before their next competition, with 12 skaters being a goal. The maximum number of skaters a team can use at one time is 16, and Fulton hopes to hit that number eventually. She is actively looking for recruits, including skaters from the East County area. Interested parties can find more information at ellentonice.com or by calling 723-3663.