Figure skating has done more for Emmy Francek than earn her medals in competitions. The 16-year-old Sewickley girl first took up ice skating as a child to help her walk. “I couldn't walk until I was 4,” she said, noting a pediatrician suggested she take up a sport to correct the problem. “I was supposed to start a sport that would challenge me.”
Francek quickly found a love for the sport and was hooked. “I fell in love with it from the start, and after a few months of working at it, I could finally walk,” Francek said. “It was the best thing that could have possibly happened to me.”
Today, the Sewickley Academy sophomore is such a good skater, she's earned top marks at figure skating competitions. Elena Valova, an assistant skating coach at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center on Neville Island, where Francek trains, said Francek's artistic ability is rare. “She's very talented,” said Valova, a former pair skater from Russia who won an Olympic gold medal in 1984. Francek earned silver medals in the Juvenile Dramatic Entertainment final in 2012 and the Intermediate Dramatic Entertainment final in 2013 at the U.S. Figure Skating National Showcase championships, which is a theatrical competition that fuses artistic creativity with figure skating.
“Emmy is one of our most advanced skaters,” said Beth Sutton, skating director at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center. “She's a dynamic, beautiful skater.” Last weekend, Francek performed at the Ice Rink at PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh in the role of Olaf, which was created for her because of her skills. “She's very theatrical and very entertaining (and) really gets the audience into her performances,” Sutton said. U.S. Figure Skating spokeswoman Mimi McKinnis said Francek has passed all of the Moves-in-the-Field tests, from pre-preliminary through senior, making her a U.S. Figure Skating gold medalist. She has passed up to the novice free skating test and is working on her gold pattern dance tests. She also passed through the intermediate solo free dance category.
Francek, who is 5-foot-4, said she prefers Showcase because it is less technical and allows more creativity than other forms of skating. Rachel Lane-McCarthy, the head skating coach at the RMU Island Sports Center, said she enjoys guiding Francek. “She makes the music (she skates to) alive,” Lane-McCarthy said. “Emmy's all about the show.”
Francek said she hopes to some day tour as a skater on a cruise ship. Until then, she hopes to perfect her skills. “In the short term, I plan on passing all of the skating tests so I can become a quadruple gold medalist,” she said. “I also hope to regain my (ability to perform) my double axle and perhaps a few triple jumps.”
Karen Kadilak is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.