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Natalie Terry leafs through the photo album and stops at a picture taken by her mother seven years ago at the Baltimore Arena. It is of Debi Thomas, who won the bronze medal in figure skating in the 1988 Olympics.

Under the photo are the words: "I love Debi."

It was only for a moment, but Terry spoke to Thomas that day at the Arena. Thomas and other Olympians gave an exhibition, and Terry and her mother, Marie Terry-Harris, had seats close enough to the ice to call to the skaters as they came from the locker room.

"I couldn't say anything to Debi except, 'Wow, I ice skate, too. I want to be like you,' " Terry said. Thomas smiled in acknowledgment.

Terry is now a senior at Western High, and she is one of the top skaters in the Baltimore-Washington area, according to her coach, Lisa Lalor.

Terry and other skaters from Maryland and surrounding states will compete in the inaugural Chesapeake Open, Friday through Sunday at the Mount Pleasant Ice Rink.

"This is one of a series of competitions leading to the National Junior Olympics next summer in Denver," Lalor said. "The idea of the competitions is to boost a kid over the edge to a higher level. In November, we have the South Atlantics."

The National Junior Olympics are Terry's main goal: "It's a dream. If I make the NJOs and do good there, maybe I'll find a sponsor to help me go to the Olympics."

Terry has trained at the Northwest Ice Rink for nine years, the past seven under Lalor, and is progressing nicely.

Last month she was first among nine girls in the pre-intermediate category at the Hershey Open, sanctioned by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

"Natalie will be pretty big in skating at some point," Lalor said. "But she could skate more than she does. The amazing thing is that she achieves goals in two lessons a week that others do in six or seven. She does that on talent."

Terry skates year-round ("People think I don't; they think the ice melts"), but devotes only two or three hours a week to it.

It is a source of some frustration to Lalor that Terry has been on Western's tennis and swimming teams and also is involved in other activities.

"Most kids get taken out of school to skate," Lalor said. "Natalie's mother doesn't want that. I am the tool that works on the vehicle as the owner [mother] dictates. And her mother doesn't want anything to interfere with school. Her mother is very demanding about Natalie's academics, which is admirable but limits her skating."

Terry-Harris makes no apologies for that. She and her husband, Mike Harris, want Natalie to be well-rounded. She has a 2.8 grade-point average at Western and hopes to wind up at Maryland or UMBC on a partial scholarship.

"We've exposed her to different things -- tap lessons, ballet, gymnastics -- so she could find her niche," said Terry-Harris, a special ed teacher at Greenspring Middle School.

Like computers. Natalie got her first one at the age of 5. The past four summers she has been a counselor at Friends School's advanced computer camp.

"I love computers," Terry said. "I like computers as much as ice skating. And shopping. They're neck-and-neck."

Her stepfather, an electrical engineer who is assistant administrator for radiology, physics and engineering sciences at Johns Hopkins Hospital, admires the way Natalie takes challenges, measures them and then meets or exceeds them.

"I've seen her do it in tennis, swimming and ice skating, especially," Harris said. "They're not so much long-range goals, but stages. She meets one and goes on to the next."

Terry-Harris observes that her daughter and Lalor relate well. Lalor wrings the best out of Terry, knowing how and when to nudge her and which string to pull to get her to perform.

Lalor acknowledges that Terry has a "very good shot" at qualifying for the NJOs next year. If she puts her mind to it. If she improves her strength and stamina.

"I've suggested that since she doesn't get much ice time, she cross-train," Lalor said. "With weights at a gym. With exercises at home."

That would still leave time, Lalor adds, "to hit the books."

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