By Neil Geoghegan
@NeilMGeoghegan on Twitter
ASTON >> ‘Do you ever get tired of skating?’
It’s a question Meghan Huffman answers quite often these days. But for the Downingtown tween, it’s not hard to answer.
“Not really,” she said.
A seventh-grader at Villa Maria Academy, Meghan is one of the country’s top young figure skaters. So advanced at the age of 12, she just skipped a whole level of competition – intermediate girls – and went straight from juvenile girls to novice ladies. And despite her clashes with older, more experienced skaters, she is already thriving.
“Every time I ask her if she wants to take a day off (from training), she says, ‘no,'” said her mother, Shannon Patton Huffman.
Self-motivation has never been an issue, which isn’t always the case for an emerging young prodigy like Meghan. And few people can fully relate to the uniqueness of the situation like his mother, Shannon, who is a skating instructor.
“Meghan loves everything with skating,” Shannon said. “She is very motivated and would like to go to the national championships one day.”
This kind of dedication and drive was visible as Meghan made great strides even during the 2020 shutdown in the aftermath of the pandemic. All the home workouts and Zoom meetings with her coaches at the IceWorks skating complex in Aston came to fruition this spring when Meghan started performing a variety of triple jumps.
The triple jump at 12?
“It’s very impressive,” admitted Shannon. “You have to be very precise and have the right technique to do those jumps.”
“SHE LOVES COMPETITION”
It’s no surprise at all that Meghan was introduced to skating at a young age. Her mother was a figure skater in her youth (“but nothing to the extent that Meghan is,” she added), has been an instructor since 1996 and is on the Premier Orthopedics/IceWorks coaching staff.
“I’m a coach and she always wanted to be with me. I put her in group lessons and she really liked it,” Shannon recalls.
Just four years old at the time, Meghan remembers that day vividly.
“It was a public shoot with my mom and I loved it,” she said. “In the group lessons, everyone was on the ice most of the time, and I was the only one who could move a little.
Things progressed well and at age seven, Meghan was taking private lessons. But by choice, Shannon was never his coach.
“(Meghan) was quite shy, and she still is,” Shannon said. “I put her in competitions for her to make eye contact with people and come out of her shell a bit. And she loves competition.
And now, five years and many competitions later, Meghan is much more comfortable performing in front of a crowd and dealing with people in one-on-one situations.
“I was more nervous when I was younger,” she said. “Now it’s much easier.”
With a coaching staff of four guiding the way, Meghan’s breakthrough came just before the pandemic when she placed first in Juvenile Girls at the 2020 South Atlantic Regionals. Based at IceWorks, her coach- chief is Leif Gislason, along with famed technical specialist Jeff DiGregorio, who previously mentored former Olympic gold medalists Tara Lipinsky and Sara Hughes. Additionally, Megan Williams-Stewart is her spin coach and Michael Solonoski her choreographer.
“I can’t say enough good things about IceWorks. It’s a wonderful training facility,” Shannon said.
“Meghan loves jumping and isn’t afraid of falling. She’s competitive and loves being on the ice. She rides it herself.
“IT’S ALMOST LIKE FLYING”
An average week during the summer months includes five working days on the ice. At school, Meghan goes to six days a week.
“It’s a big commitment,” Shannon said. “Villa Maria has been wonderful. She gets out of school early every day to practice. She is a straight student.
The 2021-22 season saw Meghan garner her first major national fame. At the US National Figure Skating Championship qualifying series last fall in Leesburg, Va., and Norwood, Mass., she placed second on the East Coast and sixth nationally in the Juvenile Girls division.
Soon after, she made the United States National Development Team. She traveled to Nashville last winter to train, and in May she competed in the Jump On It! Camp in Colorado Springs with many world and Olympic coaches attending.
All of this led to attempting and landing a series of triple jumps. His first was a triple Salchow. This is followed by a triple toe loop, triple loop, triple flip and triple Lutz.
“It’s really fun. It’s almost like flying,” Meghan said. “It can take a few months to land even a triple jump. .
Shannon added: “Since mid-May she has started getting those jumps, and now the goal is to make them consistent.”
Adding more challenging elements to her routine each week is really paying off, although Meghan has made the leap to Novice Ladies. Earlier this month, she picked up the Rule Trophy, which goes to the Novice Ladies winner of the Skate Wilmington 2022 competition. And to top it all off, Meghan also received the Dodson Trophy, the most prestigious award in the event for excellence in free skating events.
IceWorks will host the next big competition, the Philadelphia Skating Championships August 3-7, which is part of the National Qualifying Series. Later in August, another qualifying event will be held in Norwood, Mass.
“The goal is to do sections (for the South Atlantic region) in November,” Shannon said.
“SHE TALKS ABOUT STAYING FOCUSED AND HAVING FUN”
As you can imagine, figure skating is a frequent topic at home between Meghan and Shannon – but not for younger brother Zachary, 10.
“He doesn’t want anything to do with the rink,” laughed Shannon.
Asked about the best advice she’s gotten from her mum, Meghan said: “She talks about staying focused and having fun.”
Meghan’s interest in international skating reached a new level during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. And soon after, Meghan made her way onto the National High Performance Development Team, meaning she is now eligible to compete internationally in the Advance Novice Ladies division.
Asked about her favorite skaters, Meghan does not hesitate. Among the women, it was the Russian Alexandra Trusova who won the silver medal in Beijing. On the men’s side, it’s US gold medalist Nathan Chen. Both are proficient in landing quadruple jumps.
Although she’s probably far from her best years as a performer, Meghan has a number of goals she wants to achieve, both short and long term.
“The first is to go to nationals,” she said. “My very long-term goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics.”