Methow Valley 17-year-old’s life revolves around ice time
The Methow Valley offers a wide range of activities for kids who like to compete — even figure skating.
Meet 17-year-old Meaghan Robinson. Some might know her from her involvement with the Methow Valley United Methodist Church as the eldest daughter of Lay Minister Leigh Ann Robinson and husband Steve. Or, you might know her from her annual effort to raise money to support an orphanage, baking and selling delectable cookies with her good friend and fellow Methow Valley teenager, Ila Newman.
Or, you might know her as that red-headed girl at the Winthrop Rink skating circles, toe loops and “Axels” around most everyone else, helping with the Learn To Skate sessions on the ice, as well as practicing her skills daily during the winter outdoor ice skating season.
Robinson for the most part would almost rather remain anonymous. But she is really into her chosen sport and wants others to share her passion for skating. Her apprehension about doing an interview quickly faded into an engaging and enthusiastic hour-long conversation about skating, family and, of course, Cookies for Congo.
Robinson is transitioning into her senior year through an on-line high school, Laurel Springs, based out of Ojai, California, and West Chester, Pennsylvania. The school serves students internationally, to date teaching youth from over 100 countries, according to their website.
Robinson likes the on-line school, and it affords her the ability to travel, particularly for practices in the Puget Sound region, and competitions elsewhere. In a typical week, she spends two days of on ice practice time with a coach in the Tacoma area. She was splitting time between north Seattle’s Highland Ice Arena and the Ice Arena at Pierce County’s Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway, until Highland recently shut down after 60 years of serving the skaters of Seattle.
“That was sad,” Robinson said of the Highland closure. “They treated us all like family and it was a wonderful, friendly place to train and practice,” referring to rink owner Terry Green and staff. Green, the daughter of Highlands founders Jim and Dorothy Stephans, along with husband Gary, and brother Rick Stephans and wife Diana, continued to operate the rink in that family tradition.
According to an article regarding the closure published in the Shoreline Area News, the Jim and Dorothy Stephans died within months of each other at the ages of 99 and 100. They made skating their life love and work, Dorothy spending some time as a member of the Ice Capades, way back when. “Rick and Diana cared about their skaters,” Robinson said. “Figure skaters were their family and they provided a wonderful environment. There are still tons of rinks around Seattle, but Highland was a special place.”
All about family
That family environment of which Robinson speaks seems to run thick through the skating world. “The skating community is wonderful and amazing. You don’t have to be at the top for them to care about you,” Robinson said. “They care about everyone. They (competitors) clap during your warmups, other coaches give you advice. Everybody helps.”
Since being bit by the figure skating bug, Robinson has been making road trips with her dad, Steve, to Wenatchee, Bellingham, Seattle and Tacoma for lessons and training.
“She would wake up at 4:30 a.m., make sandwiches for her and Steve and they would hit the road early so she could be the first one on the ice,” said mom Leigh Ann. “Often they would camp overnight in Wenatchee, or wherever, so she could spend as much time on the ice as possible in a day.”
Not all of her training happens out of town, though. During the winter months, Robinson is a daily fixture at the Winthrop Rink, practicing her techniques and helping local teachers Ann Glidden and Annie Saunders with younger skaters just getting started. She can often be seen with her laptop at rink side, one of her two coaches on the other end. When the Winthrop Rink isn’t open, Robinson is often training at Wenatchee’s Town Toyota Center.
Keri Ferguson, whom Robinson hooked up with originally in Bellingham early on, is now based out of Northern California, and works with Robinson mostly online. She receives more face-to-face coaching from Natalie Thompson at Sprinker in Spanaway.
New Winthrop rink manager Ryan Bell, who has spent a number of years around ice at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and one as of the Zamboni operators at Winthrop, speaks of Robinson in glowing terms. “We’ll occasionally break from the open public skate and turn on Meaghan’s program music and let her have the ice. People will stop what they were doing to watch and appreciate her performance with applause,” Bell said.
Bell continued, “People just don’t realize how hard it is to be a figure skater. Time after time, trying jumps and falling, hitting the ice hard, then getting back up and trying again. It hurts. These are the toughest athletes in the world and for Meaghan to continue to work through that to perform at her level is, well, incredible.” He borrowed line from the 1997 top 40 hit “Tubthumping” about getting knocked down, and getting up again (locals may get the connective significance).
Looking to the future
Still young enough to compete in the Open Juvenile class, Robinson’s successes in ice skating are not measured in how high she places at each of her competitions. Instead, she measures herself by how she does in relation to her past performances. “I come in close to last in most of my competitions, but have never felt bad about it because I’m always improving,” she said.
Robinson’s dreams of her future in figure skating are consistent with the values she currently enjoys about her sport. She would like to teach, coach and serve as a competition judge. She has helped, and intends to continue with the Learn to Skate program at the Winthrop Rink.
Her immediate future ambitions include completing her studies with Laurel Springs in the next year and moving on to college where she is thinking about a major in biology with a minor in Latin. She’s been looking at smaller universities and colleges as, not surprisingly, the larger institutions of higher learning aren’t necessarily appealing to her.
Outside of skating, besides her educational pursuits, Robinson and friend Ila Newman — also 17 and an incoming senior at the Methow Valley Independent Learning Center and a Methow Valley Mountain Biking racer — have teamed up for several years baking cookies as a fundraiser to support the Peniel Children’s Orphanage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Each year since fifth grade, the two have been baking cookies, last year selling about 100 dozen for the orphanage.
Robinson also serves several volunteer roles in her church, and spends time with family, including her younger sister, Juliana, an avid dancer who performs her own spins, leaps and routines as part of Laura Fraley Wilson’s School of Dance. Juliana, 14, designed and constructed Robinson’s latest performance costume as a student project at the Independent Learning Center and designs and sews her own dance costumes.
Mom Leigh Ann recognizes the bond between the two sisters as something almost unique. “The way they support each other in their activities is very special,” she said. That family support for both of them is essential, traveling as much as they do and fostering their individual passions for dancing on the ice as well as dry surfaces.
Competitive skating might or might not be in Robinson’s long-term vision, at least as a skater. She just might show up as a coach, or in the judges’ box busily jotting notes and entering data into a computer while skaters anxiously await her verdict. One gets the sense, though, that skates and ice are going to be a significant part of Meaghan Robinson’s life for years to come.