They have been skating for the better part of their entire lives and have demonstrated the raw talent and passion needed to successfully compete at the national level. However, this is only the beginning as they aspire to compete on an international stage one day.
These are aspirations of 16-year-old Rocky and 13-year-old Elizabeth Swenor, the dynamic brother and sister skating team who just recently placed eighth in Canada this past December. What makes their story so impressive are the many obstacles they have had to overcome, as a team, in order to perform at such a high level.
Rocky and Elizabeth are pair skaters, a team sport that involves both partners skating perfectly together while performing various tricks such as lifts. Rocky summed it up when he said, “You work together to be one.”
Rocky started on the ice when he was just two-and-a-half years old. He got into skating because of extreme hearing loss when he was a child. His mother, Marie Swenor, did not want her child to be treated any differently so she wanted him in a very structured sport. Figure skating gave him this opportunity.
“I took him to an open ice skate and he saw the kids jumping and spinning, and he ran outside into the arena and he started jumping and spinning with his skates on,” said Marie. “Then he just went onto the ice and it wasn’t even his session, and tried to spin.”
Elizabeth began skating when she was three years old. As well as being a provincial-level skater, she was also a provincial-level gymnast. Not being able to do both, however, she was eight years old when she chose to continue skating.
Each enjoy the sport for different reasons, and it is this mix of admiration that helps them as a team on the ice. “He likes to be challenged technically and she likes to be challenged artistically,” said Amanda Covre who has been coaching the team for the past four years.
The brother-sister team was formed just over four years ago when their current coach saw them perform a jump together.
However, their age difference meant that it would take a lot of work for Elizabeth to catch up to the much more experienced Rocky.
“When I paired them together, the age difference and the age gap was such a huge one that she had a lot of work to do to catch up to where he was,” Covre said.
“But in the end it absolutely worked out with her drive to catch up to him.”
Marie says that her plan all along was to try to create a pair’s team between both Rocky and Elizabeth. She says that they will not be competing as singles anymore and that they have entrenched themselves within the competition as a pairs team. This is important because they have to train and think like a team, not as individuals.
“When they skate out on the ice, even at a warm up, they automatically skate almost beside each other and do the same thing because it has to be second nature,” Marie said.
This does provide its fair share of challenges, however, for their coach.
Normally pair teams project an aura of passion and romance. This is not the case with brother-sister teams, and forces Covre to think outside the box for artistic creativity. However, both Elizabeth and Rocky have been able to put that issue aside and are able to compete at high levels with whatever instruction has been given to them by their coach.
“There’s definitely a magnetic force between them now,” Covre said.
The relationship between the Swenor’s and their coach has become very close over the years. Covre has become very close friends and even part of their family. Both Covre and Marie have been very supportive of both Rocky and Elizabeth through all of their training and performances.
“Because we spend so much time together, we’re on the same page with same values,” Covre said. “So when you say a pair team it’s not just what you see on the ice, it’s what’s on the outside too. There’s a different respect level.”
Since becoming a pair team, Rocky and Elizabeth have competed two years in a row at Eastern Canadians, various Sectionals, Octoberfest, as well as Pre-Juvenile and Juvenile Champions of Ontario. They recently placed eight in all of Canada this past December in a national tournament.
All of these amazing accomplishments have been done with less practice and funding than many other teams that compete within the competitions. Both Rocky and Elizabeth train for about three and a half to four hours a week.
This is compared to the five hours a day most other teams practice. The lack of funds make it very difficult for Marie, a single mom, to keep her kids on the ice any longer than what they already do. It is also a credit to the raw talent both Swenor children have to be able to perform at such a high level with so little practice time.
“When they step on the ice, they are told to utilize the time that you have and pay attention to what your coach says,” Marie said. “Every time you attempt something, make sure it’s your best attempt, listen, follow directions and I’m a firm believer that it’s quality of training, not quantity of training.”
However, this does not mean that they have stopped looking for ways to promote both Rocky and Elizabeth in order to try to get as much funding and sponsorship as possible. They hope that someone will eventually notice the amount of talent and drive that this team has and will help them further their already exploding potential. The older both of them become, the harder the training will get and more time will be needed to practice.
“It feels like I have a lot of talent and the drive and I want to go far in figure skating so I am going to utilize the time that I have on the ice,” said Elizabeth.
Both kids feel that if they had more funding, there would be no limit on what they could accomplish in the future.
After everything both Rocky and Elizabeth have accomplished, it is still important to understand that they are brother and sister, and with such a relationship comes the squabbles a normal family will have. Despite this, no one who watched these two perform would ever think they have fought a day in their life.
“When they perform, they perform,” Covre said. “You would think they’ve never fought in their life. They come together when it counts.”
Rocky and Elizabeth both have international aspirations, with “Worlds” competition held annually, as well as the Olympics that are to be held in 2014.
One thing is for certain, as long as Rocky and Elizabeth receive the proper funding for future skating endeavours, there is no limit to what this dynamic duo can accomplish.
By Ryan Easson