CMU Figure Skating Club gears up for Carnegie Cup

Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Lott Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Lott

Did you know Carnegie Mellon has a figure skating club?

That’s a question Jennifer Lott and Cheyenne Bell have been answering for over three years, ever since they founded the club as first-year students in Jan. 2015.

Bell, a senior architecture student, has been skating since she was six years old. She wanted to continue skating in college, but when she was making her college decision, Carnegie Mellon’s academics outweighed the fact the school didn’t have a figure skating club at the time. She set her sights on a new goal: she was going to start a figure skating club.

What happened was serendipitous: “When I was on the housing portal, I found this girl who said on her bio, ‘I figure skate,’” Bell said in an interview with The Tartan. “I was like, ‘No way!’ and I messaged her saying, ‘I’m also a figure skater. I want to start a figure skating club and I can’t take no for an answer.’”

That other figure skater was Lott, now a senior chemical engineering major, a nine-year skating veteran when she entered college.

“I came to CMU and there wasn’t a figure skating club,” Lott said in an interview with The Tartan. “I really had no intention of continuing to skate in college until I met Cheyenne, and she had this grand vision of starting this figure skating club.”

As co-founders and co-presidents, there have been several challenges Bell and Lott have faced in the last three and a half years. The first was receiving recognition as a legitimate organization by the university, especially considering the expensive costs of figure skating as a sport.

“When we were [first-years], it was a lot more difficult to found a club,” Lott said. “I think it has become easier over the years for newer clubs, but we eventually proved that we were going to financially support ourselves as a club.”

Because Carnegie Mellon does not have a rink, scheduling practices have been difficult for the team. They split time at Robert Morrison University Island Sports Center and Alpha Ice Complex. Both rinks are a 30-minute drive away, a difficult trip for twelve team members with two cars. The team understands the time commitments and challenges of being a Carnegie Mellon student, and thus they try to be flexible.

Due to her school schedule, sophomore math and physics major Victoria Kubyshko practices once a week while other team members may practice up to four times a week. Though Kubyshko, who began skating at three years old, isn’t as competitive as she was when she was younger, the sport remains an important part of her life. “It’s not really something I can give up. I can’t imagine stopping,” she said in an interview with The Tartan.

In the fall of 2015, the team transitioned into a competition team, competing under the U.S. Figure Skating governing body. A member of the Eastern collegiate region, the team is eligible to compete in three competitions a year, where teams enter skaters to earn points. After the third competition, the top four teams from each region compete in U.S. Intercollegiate Championships.

The first season, 2015-16, a crowdfunding campaign supported Carnegie Mellon’s team for the expenses of one competition. The next year, they were able to compete in two of the competitions. This season, they will compete in all three competitions for the first time as an official club, and are hosting the third. They are currently in seventh place out of 28 teams, including Boston University, and Dartmouth College.

“Hopefully they will go to nationals; it seems like it’s something that could definitely happen with time. Unfortunately, I will not be there,” Bell said.

Carnegie Mellon’s figure skating team, at three-and-a-half years old, will be the youngest club to ever host an intercollegiate competition. The Carnegie Cup will be held from March 17-18 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ official practice rink, and host 21 teams across the east coast.

Bell, Lott, and Kubyshko — along with two other team veterans — have been organizing the Carnegie Cup on top of their other responsibilities as students. They raised the $30,000 needed to host the competition, booked ice time at the rink, and coordinated the judges needed for the event.

They are excited to host the competition and for the opportunity to prove themselves, especially considering the difficulties they faced early in the club’s existence.

“We had such a hard time at the beginning of being a club. We had a hard time being recognized, but we can do it,” Bell said. “We can prove that we can do this.”

The team is also looking forward to the recognition the competition will bring the club in the figure skating community. As the club has steadily increased its funding, legitimacy, and awareness, more incoming students have cited the existence of the team as a reason for coming to Carnegie Mellon.

Kubyshko, who grew up in Texas, was deciding between Carnegie Mellon and a school in Texas, which did not have a figure skating club, to go to college. While academics had more importance in her decision, the fact Carnegie Mellon did have figure skating did contribute.

“It’s been a small group and we’re close,” she said. “I’ve been there for part of the growth, mainly from last year to this year, [as we] doubled in size. Now I can think about what we can accomplish in two more years.”

Lott said seeing how much the team has grown has been very impactful to her. “To hear [first-years] say that they chose to come to Carnegie Mellon because we have a figure skating team, and I am part of the reason we have a figure skating team, is very inspiring.”

“I’m very grateful for where it is now,” Bell said. “I almost wish that I was like one of the [first-years] who just joined this year, ‘cause I think that it’s really great that now that figure skaters can come to [Carnegie Mellon] and continue skating. There will always be a little place in my heart for CMU figure skating.”