Rachael Williams-Hale has glided on thin blades across ice from the time she could walk.
She began ice skating lessons when she was 6 – four years after first stepping onto the rink.
“I was a little afraid, but I loved it,” Rachel, who turns 14 Sunday, recalls of her first days on the ice. “It was so much fun.”
When she was younger, she took group lessons once or twice weekly. Now she takes four or five each week for 45-minute intervals. Most of the time she skates at Lexington Ice Center – in the summer, when Kentucky ice rinks close, she skates in Michigan with relatives.
Aside from the lessons, she spends an additional two hours working on her skating five days a week.
That’s a lot of time on ice.
Coach Marta Nilsen – who has been working with Rachael five years – said skating becomes a lifestyle. It’s suited for Rachael.
“She’s a little bit of a perfectionist which is good for skating,” Marta said. “It’s a difficult sport in that it’s so subjective. You have to have that desire to do things perfect and right.”
Rachael picked up the sport from her mother, Kari Williams, who grew up in Michigan where ice skating is popular. Rachael’s younger brothers, Jackson, 6, and Ethan, 4, often join their sister in the rink. Rachael also has an older sister, Barbara, 26, who doesn’t skate.
Before taking to the ice, Rachael stretches and jogs or prances to warm up her muscles. She circles the rink a few times then gets into more difficult skills. She says some days she works on jumps, on others she does “moves in the field,” or footwork.
Thrill of competition
In 2008 she competed regionally in Midland, Mich. – two steps before the nationals. As a 12-year-old, she placed 14th out of 20 skaters.
Kari said it doesn’t matter where Rachael finishes in competitions.
“They (skaters) work so hard and put so much dedication into it,” she said. “We were so proud of how hard she worked.”
Kari said it’s difficult being a skating mom, especially when her child’s jumping through the air and spinning on ice.
“That’s the hardest thing to watch,” Kari said. You’re like, ‘Please God let her land it.’ I don’t want her to fall because she’s worked so hard for it. When I know it’s a hard jump for her, my stomach gets in knots.”
Competition organizers provide a list of jumps and moves and scoring rules. Mistakes reduce a skater’s point total. Arm positions and variations earn a skater bonus points.
“Spins get you more points than jumps,” she said. “I actually like doing more spins.”
Rachael’s most difficult trick – an axel with 1½ spins above the ice – took three years to master.
“It was really hard for me to learn.”
Currently she’s working on double lutz, double axel (each has 2½ spins) and getting back into routine shape.
“After you do it a few times, you know what it feels like and you know you can do it,” she said. “Basically all jumps are same in the air; it’s how you start.”
Some of her favorite spins include the layback with back arched and a spin in a sitting position.
When learning jumps for the first time, she uses a harness.
“You can feel more confident to spin in the air,” she said. “Some of the hardest jumps are in the harness.”
Rachael said learning routines takes about a week.
She’s participated in many small competitions in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana – now when she competes it will be an age category for women up to 18. Her first top finish was a competition in Indianapolis when she was 8.
“Usually I try to keep the skater focused on warming up for their routine and what they need to do for their performance,” Marta said of competitions. “It’s just a matter of doing it. Focusing on themselves and what they need to do to perform.”
Aside from competitions, Rachael likes to perform in ice shows. She’s been in multiple productions of the Nutcracker on ice at the Lexington Ice Center as well as Halloween shows at the center.
Rachael also dances at Frankfort School of Ballet three days a week.
“(Dance) helps me strengthen my core and helps me have pretty positions,” she said.
Marta said dancing is an asset to Rachael on the ice.
“She has a great presence. She’s very artistic, which helps in interpreting the music, that’s a big part of the judge’s perception of the program. I think it’s her dance background.”
Taking a toll
The intense ice skating schedule takes a toll on Rachael’s body. She sees a physical therapist and other doctors each week for rehabilitation from a June hip injury.
She’s split her finger on her blade twice using the harness.
“Skaters are pretty tough,” Rachael said. “Once I actually cut my ear with my blade (doing a haircutter spin).”
There have been times when she was worn out by ice skating and considered quitting. She said a break allowed her to overcome the exhaustion.
“Sometimes it just takes time off to appreciate the sport and be able to do it.”
Rachael is home schooled, which allows her family a flexible schedule. “I couldn’t skate if I wasn’t home schooled,” she said.
She said it takes coordination, balance, strength and endurance to be an ice skater. And fearlessness. “You can’t be afraid of stuff.”
Rachael’s dad, James Hale, said when he and Kari first met they skated at the ice rink in Lexington. When they started a family, they continued to bring their children to the rink.
“It’s a very challenging activity to be in,” James said. “If you can do that for a couple of years, you learn so much about yourself,” he said. “She’s (Rachael) extremely persistent. She has that mental toughness that will carry her through anything she wants to do in life.”
A future on ice
Rachael hopes to parlay her skating into a career.
“I’d like to do Disney on Ice and skate on cruise ships,” she said. “My goal isn’t to go to the Olympics or anything. I just want to be a good skater.”
“I definitely think she could make a career out of it,” Marta said. “She could be a great choreographer or coach.”
“I think whatever she does, the skating will serve her well because it teaches her that grace and poise,” Kari said.
Rachael said although she’s not really a spectator of the sport, her favorite skater is Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen.
“I actually don’t watch that much skating,” she said. “I’d rather be out there doing.”
“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.