"This sport has taught me more than I can put into words."
Today, we have two "Women of the Week"! Not just one skater, but two that show their love for synchro. To my left, Sarah Checkosky, 22, who has been skating synchro for 9 years and to my right Sharon Neff, 24, who has 17 years of synchro under her belt. It’s in Boston, Massachusetts that we meet these two athletes from the Haydenettes.
Before we delve in to their interview, let's learn more about these incredible athletes. Sarah has just graduated from Boston College in Accounting and Marketing. She is currently working at a venture capital firm in the Boston area. Sharon is a behaviour therapist ABA for children and adolescents with special needs. On top of that, she is also assistant coach for beginner and pre-juvenile teams at Hayden Synchro. Sharon also gives private lessons to skaters who like to work with sync-related items. Now that we've got to know each other better, let's talk about skating with these two athletes.
You & Synchro
How did you discover synchro?
Sarah Checkosky: I competed in singles throughout my whole skating career growing up, and when I entered high school, a couple of my friends convinced me to try synchro. I was excited about being on team and was on Denver Synchronicity for 4 years before moving to Boston.
Sharon Neff: When I started skating, I trained at a big facility in Michigan called the Detroit Skating Club. There were banners for their synchro program so my parents decided I should try it to learn about teamwork and meet other skaters. I auditioned and made the preliminary team. After that, I never stopped.
What is your background in the world of synchro?
Sarah Checkosky: My background with synchro started in Denver when I was on the Denver Synchronicity Intermediate and Junior teams. While on those teams, I realized that skating for the Haydenettes was my ultimate dream, so I worked hard to achieve this goal, while continuing to train singles and ice dance. In 2014, I moved to Boston and started school at Boston College, and skated on the Hayden Collegiate team (Metroettes) during my Freshman year. I made the Haydenettes Senior team my Sophomore year of college, and now am in the middle of my fourth season with the Haydenettes.
Sharon Neff: I first started with an organization formerly known as Team Elan. I skated there for 5 years (3 years of preliminary, 1 year of juvenile, and 1 year of cross-skating juvenile and novice). Then, I went to the Crystallettes organization where I did 2 more years of novice followed by 5 years on their senior line. After, I moved to Boston to pursue my dream of becoming a Haydenette and am now in my 5th season.
What is your best "synchro" memory and why?
Sarah Checkosky: I have so many unforgettable memories with the Haydenettes, but my best memory is finishing our Free Skate at the 2017 World Championships in Colorado Springs. Our team had a crazy couple of weeks leading up to the World Championships, so I was extremely proud to finish that competition with a team that I felt so bonded to. I grew up in Colorado, so it was very special for me to skate in a rink that I was so familiar with and in front of so many incredible USA fans. It was so loud we could barely hear the music!
Sharon Neff: My best synchro memory is medalling at the 2016 World Synchronized Skating Championships. It was amazing that we were able to not only get back on the world podium, but we were also the first US synchro team to win a small gold medal (for the free skate) at Worlds. We worked so hard that entire season, so to be able to show up and do our jobs when it mattered most was incredibly rewarding and something we will all take with us the rest of our lives.
If you had to remember a program that affected you, what would it be and why?
Sarah Checkosky: This is a tough choice. Our 2017 Free Skate “Prince” was very special and will always hold a special place in my heart, but our 2016 Free Skate “Street Beats” was my first year with the Haydenettes, so it probably affected me the most. We worked SO hard that season and were able to win the bronze medal at Worlds, along with the small gold medal for the free skate. The medals were a great reward, but I will never forget skating at the World Championships for the first time and seeing our hard work pay off.
Sharon Neff: My most memorable program would be our New York Street Beats program from the 2015-2016 season. That was the free program we won the small gold at Worlds. At that point it was one of the most difficult free programs we had ever done so it was amazing to see our progress throughout the season leading up to our skate at Worlds.
Describe the costume you were most proud to wear…
Sarah Checkosky: I was very proud to wear the dress from our 2017 Free Skate, “Prince.” I felt very confident in it because I thought the dress was beautiful and matched the theme of our program, but I was mostly proud to wear it because I was so proud of the program that we had created. That was definitely an unforgettable year, and one of my favorite dresses.
Sharon Neff: The costume I was most proud to wear was our Prince free skate dress from the 2016-2017 season. They were purple with a nice bead design. This season’s free program dress is right up there as well! They are super cool and we all have different colors. Mine is orange! It’s a very special dress and I am excited to wear them throughout the season!
What did this sport teach you?
Sarah Checkosky: I would say perseverance and work ethic, things that any athlete learns over time. The most important things I have learned, however, have to do with being a good teammate and learning how to respect my teammates and cooperate towards one common goal. It is not easy to work with so many other people, but I have learned a lot of skills through this, and I also value the importance of setting realistic goals.
Sharon Neff: This sport has taught me more than I can put into words. Synchro has given me the thickest skin, best discipline, and mental toughness. Hard work and perseverance with a positive attitude comes a long way. I’ve learned that you need to have a self-accountability, but you also have others who you can depend on when you need friends in your corner. Teamwork and camaraderie are two of my favorite parts of the sport.
Where are the medals and prizes you have won over the seasons?
Sharon Neff: All of my medals are in their cases displayed on my wall shelf. The ones that did not come with a case are strategically hanging on a few pieces of furniture around my room.
Which advice(s) would you give to young people who want to start synchro?
Sarah Checkosky: Give it a try - synchro is so much different than you could ever expect it to be! There is so much value that comes from being on a team - whether you intend to pursue synchro competitively or just for fun. Set your goals high, and keep working hard. It was not an easy path for me to become a Haydenette, but I really believe that you can achieve your goals if you are stubborn and persevere.
Sharon Neff: My advice would be to just do it! Synchro is so much fun and you learn so much both on and off the ice. It’s a difficult sport so just keep in mind that the tough days are worth it when you’re doing what you love.
Do you have any rituals before a competition?
Sarah Checkosky: The Haydenettes as a whole have a lot of rituals, which I really enjoy because it puts me in the zone and gets me excited to compete. Personally, I like listening to the same songs when I warm up and when I’m in the locker room. My favorite ritual is a Haydenettes cheer before we take the ice. Other than that, I just make sure that I am focused and present before I take the ice.
Sharon Neff: I personally don’t have too many rituals. One is that I always do my left foot first when getting skates on, taping skates, and putting my guards on. As a team, we have 2 different cheers before we compete. We do our first cheer before we leave to compete and we do the second right before we get on the ice. The cheers date back to the beginning of Haydenettes so they’re really special to us.
By entering the ice, when you hear your team's name being announced at a competition, what are you thinking of?
Sarah Checkosky: I try to keep my mind as calm as possible, so that I can compete just like I practice. If I am nervous, I like to just rely on my training. It is very exciting to hear our name announced at a competition, but I try not to let this excitement overcome me because our programs require a lot of focus. I like to maintain my focus throughout the program and really be present during the performance.
Sharon Neff: When I hear our team name being announced all I can feel is pride. I think back to when I was younger dreaming of being a Haydenette and how stepping on the ice as one all these years later never gets old. If I have some nerves, I tell myself that everything is okay with my team’s trust and teamwork. “Trust in the training” is often said by our coach, so I really take that to heart.
The Haydenettes Senior
Can you tell us a bit about this team?
Sarah Checkosky: Our team is coached by Saga Krantz, and before that the Haydenettes were coached by Lynn Benson. Saga does most of our choreography herself, and this year she has really pushed us with the creativity of our programs. We practice outside of Boston, MA, and our team is comprised of skaters from all over the U.S. Most of us have a history of training singles and ice dance, so we try to bring these skills into our programs.
Sharon Neff: Haydenettes are 26-time National Champions and 5-time World Bronze medalists. Our coach is former Helsinki Rockette, Saga Krantz. We train at two rinks in the greater Boston area. Most of us move to pursue our dream of being a Haydenette, but we also work and go to school.
26-time National Champions, what’s your secret ?
Sarah Checkosky: We are extremely hard workers and we know what it takes to stay at the top! We don’t make any excuses for ourselves, and we hold each other to a very high standard, so when we have new members join the team, they know that they have to step it up. It also helps that our coach is extremely good at what she does and she knows how much to push us every day.
Sharon Neff: No secret, just a lot of hard work, relentless training, and a coach who works extremely well with us. Saga is able to use our strengths, but also work with our weaknesses as a team. She transforms our programs with strong choreography and technical elements. Saga does most of the choreography herself, which is an advantage because she can utilize each skater’s strengths within these programs.
May you describe your both programs this season?
Sarah Checkosky: Our short program is a song called “Gravity Levitas” from the Cirque du Soleil show “Kurios.” It has a bit of a tango theme and has a lot of different levels of emotion that we can explore. We are calling the program “Game of Seduction”.
Sharon Neff: Our long program theme is “The Greatest Show” from the movie, The Greatest Showman. It is an extremely upbeat program with a lot of fun elements and tricks.
Are you presenting some new innovative elements in your performances this year? Could you describe them?
Sarah Checkosky: Yes, we have a couple new tricks this year. With some of the new creative elements you will see us highlight new tricks and lifts. Our creative element in the long program is probably our most innovative element - it is quite hard to explain, but the crowd will be amazed when they see it!
Sharon Neff: Yes! This year’s free program is the most challenging program we have ever done. With the new creative lift element you can look to see some lifts that have never been done on the ice before. In addition, we have also implemented a type of lift in our traveling wheel!
How are the Haydennettes considered in the USA? Are you like rockstars?
Sarah Checkosky: When I was younger skating on lower level teams, I looked up to the Haydenettes as role models. I always thought they showed themselves to be good people in addition to being amazing skaters. I think in the USA a lot of younger teams look up to us and dream to be on our team one day. However, we aren’t exactly rock stars - we like to stay humble because we know that we must work as hard as any other team!
Sharon Neff: I think we are a team that many young athletes look up to and aspire to be a part of. I know my number one dream was to be a Haydenette since the age of 10. I wouldn’t say we are rock stars, but I think we are good role models for the sport in the US. Humility is very important to us and reminds us that we need to always work hard.
What’s your goal for this season?
Sarah Checkosky: Our goal is to win the U.S. Championships, qualify for the World Championships, and make it back onto the World podium. It has been a couple years since we won a World medal, so we are pushing ourselves every day to make this happen. We have had some highs and lows at the World Championships, so this year, we want to make sure we leave it all on the ice and come away with a medal.
USA and Synchro
In your country, how is the development of sport going? What is made to promote this discipline of skating?
Sarah Checkosky: I think the development of synchro is progressing, but there are still a lot of barriers to breakthrough. We are extremely grateful for the support we get from U.S. Figure Skating, and we think that they have helped a lot to raise the awareness of synchro in the US. The number of teams in the US are growing every year, but there is always room for growth, especially as we aim towards inclusion in the Olympics.
Sharon Neff: I think the development of the sport is going really well. It is one of the fastest growing disciplines of skating in the US. Over the years, I have seen a bigger interest in the sport with young athletes, which is incredible! Synchro in the US used to be associated with skaters who wouldn’t typically make it in singles, pairs, or dance. However, now we are really starting to see skaters pursue synchro from the start of their careers.
In your opinion, how can this sport evolve in the USA?
Sarah Checkosky: I think it would be great if we could get more television coverage in the US, because synchro doesn’t get a lot of mainstream coverage in the US. I think that would really boost the popularity of the sport and help us towards our goal of inclusion in the Olympics.
Sharon Neff: I think the sport can evolve even more in the US with more coverage. On TV we see a lot of singles, pairs, and dance events, but we don’t typically see much synchro, if any at all. I think that would really make people more aware of the sport and what it’s all about. Of course, it’s nothing like seeing it live, but it could spark an interest. It’d be great to get people to see it in person, and maybe even try it out themselves!
Many thanks to Sarah and Sharon for sharing their passion with us. To get back into the atmosphere of the Haydenettes program, you can watch their program recorded a few days ago at the Mozart Cup.
And good news, you will soon find Sarah and Sharon in video on our YouTube Channel for a brand new show (do not forget to subscribe to the channel to follow this new program).
See you next week, still on the American continent but a little further north. We will go to Canada to meet a new "Woman of the Week".
Article by Remo De Tomi
Photography by Haydenettes
Editing by Catherine Ruta