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GWINNETT FRIDAY  April 5, 2002

Skating contests for adults fill demand
Jay Stone - For the Journal-Constitution
Friday, April 5, 2002

Rob Lichtefeld just wanted to learn to skate backward, while Gloria Smith found a rekindled desire to go back to the pursuits of her youth. Both skaters, members of the Georgia Figure Skating Club, based at the Duluth Ice Forum, are headed to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.

Lichtefeld's foray into figure skating started out with lessons. The Norcross computer programmer kept going to the free skating sessions with his wife and just wanted to learn how to skate backward.

He had tried golf and scuba diving before taking up skating.

"Each class offered something a little bit more," Lichtefeld said. "It got to the point where it was either do that or play hockey. I was doing all this in hockey skates, but the hockey games all started at 11 o'clock at night."

Lichtefeld decided to forsake his hockey skates and went to a secondhand sporting goods store to find a pair of the more lithe figure skates.

After 3 1/2 years of training, learning one maneuver after another, Lichtefeld was coaxed by fellow students to take the proficiency test that would allow him to compete. He passed and started entering skating competitions.

Lichtefeld enjoys winning medals, but there's plenty more about the sport that holds his interest.

"To me, it's a hobby, one; exercise, two; and competitions, three," he said. "I've dropped weight and kept it off, and I'm probably in the best shape I've been since my teens."

At the Adult Nationals this weekend at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., Lichtefeld will compete against 16 other skaters from around the country in the bronze division, in which he won a gold medal at the New Year's Invitational in Washington in January.

"I'm hoping to medal," he said.

For Smith, a physical science teacher at Buford Elementary School, skating was something she had set aside when she went off to college and returned to after her two children were grown.

As a teen, Smith skated at the Gainesville rink owned by her uncle, Royce Brown. After two years of that, she went off to college.

"We moved in close proximity to the rink," Smith said. "I went to the rink, and it all came back. I had really always missed it. I was involved in too many things. My children were grown, so I didn't have any reason not to come back."

Smith's path to a medal is longer than Lichtefeld's.

Because more women skate than men, she must first compete in a preliminary round in hopes of qualifying for the finals.

She earned a spot in the finals last year in Boston, but refused to speculate on a repeat performance.

"It was my first trip, so I was really surprised," Smith said. "There are tons more of us. I think there are 28 I'm competing against. They pick the top five or the top six in each group.

"It's a lot of self-expression. I'm too short to be a dancer, but I don't have that far to fall on the ice. I do aspire to do axels and doubles. I don't think I could do more than that."

No matter how she fares, Smith has a built-in fan club with her classes at school.

"They're very enthusiastic," she said. "They're always looking to see what medal you've brought home this time. I just enjoyed being there."

Both Lichtefeld and Smith are coached by club coach Helen Ross, and Smith also takes tutelage from Honey Burton, who coached the club's ice dancing team that won a national championship last year.

The Adult Championships have been around less than 10 years, according to club publicist Jennifer Silas.

The event started in response to the growing number of adults --- particularly those who did not skate as children --- who wanted to match moves with others in competition. Lichtefeld and Smith seem to fit that demographic perfectly.


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2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution