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Tracey Tyson figures on career in skating


NEWARK, Del. -- Tracey Tyson struggles to land a double axel.

Time after time, she takes off, spins around 2 1/2 times and comes down on the ice. Sometimes on her feet. Sometimes not.

"I'm really close," said the 14-year-old after a frustrating hour. "I don't really have the feeling of it yet. I have to think about it too much instead of it being kind of automatic."

Still, Tyson smiles, laughs and bounds off to her next hour of ice time in an adjacent rink at the University of Delaware Training and Sports Science Center. Tyson came to Newark to train hard and to have fun -- and she's doing both.

"One of the most positive things about Tracey is her ability to laugh things off," said her coach Tracey Cahill Poletis. "Some kids are so intense, so serious. This is supposed to be fun. Not that she doesn't take her work seriously, but she's very easy to work with."

Skating has been a passion for Tyson ever since she took her first lesson. She was 6. Two years later came private lessons. When she started competing, Tyson really began to shine.

"To be a competitive figure skater, you've got to have the drive," said her mother Gloria Tyson. "You'll see it now, but Tracey's very shy, and the coaches weren't sure. When she hit the ice [for her first competition], she was a different child. It was like she was shot out of a cannon. People said, 'That's Tracey?' And she came in second."

Ever since, Tyson has done well in competition. Last spring, she won the Capitol Regional Council's championship and finished second in the Cherry Blossom competition the same weekend.

That's when she started thinking about getting even more serious about training. With little local ice time available and sessions always crowded, Tyson knew her skating could not improve much without a change.

Two days after finishing the eighth grade at Ellicott Mills Middle School, she packed her bags and moved to Newark.

"It was a hard decision, and my mom gave me the decision to make," said Tyson. "I wasn't too crazy about going to school up here and leaving my friends, but I love skating so much. I knew the change would make a difference."

Not that Tyson never comes home. Her mother picks her up every Friday . . . and takes her back on Sundays.

Tyson never leaves her skates behind. Most Saturday mornings, she arrives at the Bowie Ice Arena by 8 for a couple hours of practice.

That kind of dedication makes it a little easier for Gloria and Lee Tyson to let their only daughter go. "When Tracey talked about wanting to do this, her dad and I figured we'd find the money if that's what she really wanted," said Gloria Tyson, who estimates the cost at $15,000 a year. "She started out going up there to skate for the summer, but once she got up there, she didn't want to come home. It's hard, but there's the telephone."

Tyson really seems to understand what her parents are giving up. "My parents always say, 'If it weren't for your skating we'd have a Mercedes and a big-screen TV.' They're just joking around, but they have made a big sacrifice, only seeing me two days a week."

The decision to let her move also came easier because of Betty DiGregorio.

A former skating mom whose 29-year-old son Jeff now coaches, DiGregorio runs a household that has turned into a sort of motel for the national and international skating world.

Although Tyson is the only regular resident right now, a couple of kitchen bulletin boards filled with snapshots attest to dozens of other skaters who have passed through for a couple nights or a couple years.

With a comfortable bed at DiGregorio's -- not to mention the hot tub -- and all the ice time she needs, Tyson seems perfectly at home in Newark.

Poletis has seen no problems with the transition. "Tracey's pretty mature for a 14-year-old, but the mentality here is so different. You have 10- and 11-year-olds who know what they want to do and are so focused it's amazing," she said.

Tyson trains five hours a day, five days a week. She spends four hours on the ice and another on ballet or weight training.

The extra work shows already. "My parents can see a big difference," said Tyson. "They say I've gotten faster, my jumps are higher and more consistent and my spins are faster."

Tyson has moved quickly through the first levels of figure skating. Now, she skates as a novice, the lowest level with a national competition.

Last year, she reached the regional finals at the intermediate level. In the fall, Poletis wants to see Tyson in the novice regional finals.

Next year, they'll shoot for the East Coast championships -- and then nationals, Tyson's ultimate goal.

"When I was younger, my goal was to go to the Olympics," said Tyson. "I realize now that not everybody can reach that goal, but I would like to go to nationals one day. Even if I wouldn't even medal, it would be worth it."

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