By Johanna Bear, staff writer
Photos courtesy of Sarah Arnold and Leah Adams
No matter how old you are, moving halfway across the country is a major life event that brings about its own unique challenges. Aside from the process of quite literally picking up your life and starting over, moving can also bring about feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and stress. Add to that being seventeen years old and moving by yourself to a new training facility with a new coach, and you begin to understand the strength and courage that Paige Rydberg is drawing upon while she prepares to take her skating the next level.
Rydberg had been with her former coach, Mary Alice Antensteiner, for almost a decade, but after thinking through her options in the wake of an eleventh place finish at her senior U.S. Championships debut, she and her mother decided that it was time to pursue a change to help her reach her full potential, so they decided to have Rydberg move from their home in Illinois to Colorado to train at the Broadmoor Skating Club with Tom Zakrajsek.
“I’ve been with my former coach now basically since I started and we’ve done so many amazing things together, we’ve accomplished so much and she’s taken me so many places, and our relationship grew as the years went on,” Rydberg said. “We’ve been through a lot. but what kind of made the change was just that I wanted something different, and to try new opportunities and take my skating to the next level. Both of my choreographers are in Colorado so it’s really convenient, so that was a big part of it as well. I’ve known Tom for some time and I see him all the time at competitions, so I think I felt comfortable with going to somebody that I’d seen before and talked to before.”
Zakrajsek has coached numerous national champions including Jeremy Abbott, Rachael Flatt, Ryan Bradley, and Max Aaron, and Rydberg looks forward to sharing the ice with some of the best skaters in the country.
“I would just say all of them!” Rydberg said when asked if she was most looking forward to sharing the ice with a particular skater, “There’s not one specific person, but being on the ice with national champions like Ryan Bradley, Max Aaron, Mirai Nagasu, just being surrounded with people who I used to when I was younger look up to, and I still do. To be training with them is completely crazy.”
Rydberg went into the U.S. Championships having only just learned her triple flip, triple Lutz, and her triple-triple combination, so she is looking forward to getting focused attention on the continued development of her technical skating.
“I definitely want to continue getting the Lutz on the right edge and getting a couple more triple-triples and just really grinding this long program, because I don’t want to be a short or long program skater, I want to be both, so I’m really looking forward to having the whole package,” Rydberg said of her goals in working with Zakrajsek. “Having my choreographers there and a jump technician coach, that’s the whole package right there.”
Though just seventeen years old, Rydberg is preparing to enter a stage in her life where her mother will be hundreds of miles away and she will have to learn how to take care of herself all while training at the highest level of the sport.
“I’m going to be moving out there alone, so that will be something different! My mom will stay home because of work and my family is all here, so she decided she trusts me enough to move myself out there,” Rydberg said with a laugh. “It’ll be like I’m going to college, that’s what I told my mom. The date that we have set is the beginning of May, so it all kind of fell together. For a while we didn’t know if it would happen but I felt like okay, it’s time. I’m continuing right now to train with my coach and she’s one hundred percent supportive of it, which is really good because we have such a good relationship that I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it and we’re going to continue to stay in contact.”
When asked what she was most nervous about regarding the move, Rydberg cited the unique differences between being the highest-level skater at her rink and being one of many.
“It’s a completely different thing, instead of skating with five people on the ice, I’m going to be skating with 20 people on the ice, so I would say that, and being on my own,” she explained. “And being able to figure things out by myself like when I need to buy groceries and do my laundry!”
Along with all the turmoil involved with moving across the country, Rydberg also recently had to deal with the different turmoil that comes with making the transition from the junior level to the senior level, and going from watching skaters on television to competing against them.
“It’s definitely a 360,” she explained. “I was like, wow this is a whole different way of thinking. I was on the practices, my practice group had Gracie [Gold], Courtney Hicks, and Mariah Bell in it and just to be on the ice with them and not actually watching them, because I’m usually in the stands or on Icenetwork watching, but to actually be on the ice knowing that I’m going to be competing against them was completely different.”
One skater in particular, however, turned Rydberg from a fellow competitor back to a fan.
“One of my favorites to watch is Ashley Wagner so before the short program I was like, you know I need to go watch her because I need to have a little inspiration,” Rydberg said with a smile in her voice. “I feel like that helped a little bit too.”
After finishing in the top ten after the short program, Rydberg struggled in the free skate, but was still able to take huge positives away from her first senior Nationals.
“Showing that I can be a contender at the senior level and not just falling back into the pack, being able to say that I was eighth after the short, that’s incredible,” Rydberg enthused. “I wasn’t even expecting to be tenth overall and I ended up eleventh, but the overall picture of it was definitely incredible. Showing that I do belong there and that I’m not this brand new senior just making my way through. I didn’t have any expectations or a Worlds team over my head going into it. It was definitely more exciting, and I think learning from that was watching all of the higher athletes just being able to handle the pressure of the cameras following them and the media and thousands of people who were sitting there, and just seeing them so calm, at least they looked calm – maybe inside they weren’t – but they looked calm and it was neat to see that.”
It was also a revelation for Rydberg when she realized the viewership that the televised broadcast received.
“When I saw that thing that NBC put up that two million people were viewing it I was like wow! Like you’re in an arena and you’re seeing this couple thousand maybe, just knowing that people are at home having a good old Saturday watching it!” Rydberg laughed. “I wasn’t really focusing on that but in the back of my head it was still there!”
Rydberg told Figure Skaters Online that her short program for next season will be a tango called “The Gaucho’s Pain” by Tango Jointz, choreographed by Rohene Ward, and that Tom Dickson choreographed her free skate to the selections “Gladiator Rhapsody” (from Gladiator) performed by the pianist, Lang Lang, and “Pegasus” by Two Steps from Hell. In addition, Rydberg announced her planned schedule for the beginning of next season.
“Every year I always do the Broadmoor Open and Glacier [Falls], those are usually my two to get my programs out there, so I’m definitely going to do those two this year and then hopefully whatever else I receive I will do after that.”
It will be a huge adjustment for Rydberg going into this season to look over the boards and not see the familiar face she has seen for so many competitions in the past, but even though she will be working with a new coach, Rydberg made certain to stress her appreciation for everything that Antensteiner has done for her career.
“I just want to thank her and her whole coaching staff and everybody that’s been along with me on the journey. I don’t regret any part of our journey together,” Rydberg stated. “We’ve experienced everything from juvenile to senior, so we’ve definitely checked everything off our list! I just want to thank her for her continued support, and I’m grateful that she supports this whole decision and just all my coaches that I’ve had in her coaching staff from my jump coaches to off-ice trainers and definitely my rink too, they’ve always been so supportive. I’m really lucky, I’m leaving a good group of people, but it’s for the better for me. I’m truly excited and never would have thought that this would actually happen. I’m really grateful for all my sponsors and people who helped make it happen!”
Though this offseason will bring plenty of change as Rydberg adjusts to her new coach and new home, it will also bring new experiences and a chance for her to learn even more about her own resilience and how she stacks up against some of the best skaters in the country. She will certainly be one to watch throughout the seasons to come.
To learn more about Paige, visit her official website at www.figureskatersonline.com/paigerydberg