As the 2018 U.S. Championships start this weekend, competitors from all over the country will head to San Jose. For ice dancer Elliana Pogrebinsky, who lives and trains in Novi, Mich., it’s a homecoming.
“I am incredibly happy and excited to be competing at the SAP center,” Pogrebinsky said. “This is the rink my Mom would take me to watch Disney on Ice when I was little, as well as other events.”
Born in Los Gatos, Calif., Pogrebinsky is a native Silicon Valley girl who has lived and trained away from home since 2009. She has fond memories of spending her childhood in San Jose.
“Growing up in San Jose was amazing. I didn’t know of any other place though and California was my only paradise. Even now, after traveling to so many countries for competitions or pleasure, it still is a dream place to live in.”
Pogrebinsky started skating at the age of three in a ‘Mommy and Me’ class before moving on to group sessions, followed by private lessons. She then started competing in both singles and synchronized skating.
“I don’t remember those early days very well, but I do recall traveling to the rink early in the morning, then to school, afterwards to skating or rhythmic gymnastics, and on some days, ballet or ballroom dancing after those two,” Pogrebinsky said. “I had great coaches bringing me up and helping me blossom into the skater I am today, including Nina Edmunds, who trained me and her daughter, my best friend Polina, since we were about 5.”
Pogrebinsky also worked with 1992 Olympic champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, freestyle coach Tracy Prussack, as well as teachers at the San Jose Ballet. When she was 10, she and her mother relocated from California to Maryland so that she could pursue her dream of excelling in figure skating.
“I don’t think many people are ready to leave behind a father and brother, along with extended family and childhood friends, to pursue a career,” Pogrebinsky explained. “My Mom and I took a chance and, together, we worked hard in order to get to where I am now.”
Pogrebinsky spent five years in Maryland, where she began to focus exclusively on ice dance. She found success with Ross Gudis at the junior level, where she became a member of Team USA and competed on the Junior Grand Prix series.
In 2014, she and her mom moved to Novi, Mich., where she started a partnership with Alex Benoit. Benoit did not have any international experience before they teamed up, but together, they went straight to the JGP Series in their first few months together.
Two years on the junior circuit culminated in a fourth-place finish at the 2016 World Junior Championships, propelling them onto the senior level. In the past two seasons as seniors, Pogrebinsky & Benoit have competed in four senior Grand Prix events and they were fourth last year at the U.S. Championships, their first on the senior level.
As they have improved and pushed their career further, training times have increased, as well as the length of the competitive season. For Pogrebinsky, trips home to the West Coast have been a rarity.
“I get to go home only once or twice a year, mostly in the spring, which leaves my mom and I homesick for the rest of the year,” Pogrebinsky said. “My dad tries to visit us for a couple of weeks in summer and winter, and my brother takes time off his work to travel to all national championships. He is happy it’s in San Jose again, so he can be with his new wife. They just celebrated their first anniversary a week ago.”
Last year, Pogrebinsky was able to squeeze in an extra trip home for the wedding. Benoit, an actor and singer off the ice, accompanied her and even sang at the reception.
“It was great not to miss an important family event, as I’ve missed too many birthdays and other celebrations over the years,” Pogrebinsky said. “Living away all this time, I long for the yearlong sunshine and palm trees. My dad planted two palm trees in our backyard in California, because I feel such a deep happiness when I see them.”
This week, she will not only have the opportunity to see her family and the palm trees, but also her childhood friends, who will be able to cheer her on as a senior-level ice dancer. While nearly everyone agrees that the Olympic team spots are wrapped up, Pogrebinsky & Benoit are expected to be among the teams fighting for a berth on the Four Continents team.
“To be the one there in the center of the ice and having all my family and close friends finally being able to watch me skate and support me in person after all these years brings such warm feelings to my heart,” Pogrebinsky said. “It being an Olympic Qualifier will make the event just that much more grand and the whole experience unforgettable.”