by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman and Michelle Wojdyla. Banner photo by Robin Ritoss

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey. – Roy T. Bennett

Ice dancers Elliana & Ethan Peal will make their junior debut at the 2021 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Las Vegas, NV this month.

Team Peal had a successful previous novice season that included winning gold medals at the U.S. Ice Dance Final in November 2019 and the international, Egna Dance Trophy the following February.

“I felt good at the end of our program in Italy not just because we skated well, but because we finished our final competition as novice ice dancers in such a remarkable place and with some of the best teammates,” Ethan said. “The best feeling was knowing that it was the perfect launching point for our junior career that is to come, and I’m so excited.”

A New Beginning
In the spring of 2020, the entire U.S. along with the rest of the world was hit with the COVID-19 virus, greatly affecting the skating world with closed rinks, canceled events, and blocked international travel.

Coincidently, around the same time, Team Peal had made a bold decision to leave their life-long home in Highland Park, Illinois and move 500 miles south to begin training in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We were anticipating our junior-level debut, and with it we decided that we needed a training center,” Ethan explained. “That’s where Scott Hamilton, Kori Ade and the rest of the amazing SHARP 4 sports team came in. The Ford Ice Center (Bellevue) has a great team environment.”

“When you do classes and exercises with your training mates, it pushes you to work harder and want to improve. There are also other ice dance teams at our rink, which has been an incredibly amazing change.” Ethan added.

Challenges
Leaving familiar surroundings was not easy for the sister and brother team. They faced several adjustments.

Prior to the move, their Illinois rink was shut down, and they had to stay home for a while. Once in Tennessee, their new rink was also closed. It was difficult waiting for it to reopen because they couldn’t go anywhere due to the pandemic. Fortunately, during the trip down to Nashville, the team did have an opportunity to train at different places along the way.

“Being in a new place with no friends or skating, was difficult for me to adjust to,” Elliana said.

“Leaving my friends back home and branching out in pursuit of Elliana’s and my careers was definitely a big step for me,” Ethan added. “One thing this whole experience has shown me is that when one chapter of your life closes, the opportunity for an even more amazing one opens.”

The siblings faced the challenge of going to new schools especially with COVID-19 restrictions, and at the same time coordinating new training schedules. The transition was difficult.

Elliana explained, “It was very hard to make new friends joining in eighth grade wearing a mask all day in assigned seats and no group work. The constant change of in-person to remote zoom [learning] all day was not conducive to my training schedule. I have decided to transition to online school for the next semester.”

“Moving to online homeschooling, I’m hoping will provide a more predictable schedule for training and schoolwork,” she continued. “My old school was very flexible allowing me to adjust my day as needed, but with COVID and a new school, it wasn’t the same.”

Ethan chose to go to an in-person school so he could meet some new people, but revealed he was nervous at first.

“Thankfully all of my teachers and everyone that I’ve met have been super nice and helpful,” Ethan said. “It made the whole experience so much better.”

He did, however, have a challenge balancing school with his skating schedule, but said he has discovered a way next semester to skate more and still really focus on his schoolwork.

Their dad, Rob Peal, a former national and international ice dance competitor has coached Elliana and Ethan since they formed a partnership in 2015. In Nashville, he joined the Ford Ice Center (Bellevue) staff.

“The move has allowed my dad to team up with Siobhan Godwin and Yuriy Kocherzhenko to work on our programs and skating, along with our mental training and performance,” Elliana noted. “They have been a great addition to our team, and we are so excited to have them.”

“The whole training environment in Nashville has been amazing especially when it comes to support for everyone’s individual needs,” Ethan added.

As a junior team, the siblings now had to execute five technical elements and choreography for the required rhythm dance. This was far more challenging than dancing two separate assigned patterns for a novice technical score.

“I think the idea of creating something new and innovative that is also at the junior level can be exciting but also a little intimidating,” Ethan said. “Aside from the [required pattern] Tea-Time Foxtrot being a very technically hard dance, there’s also a lot more to sell in a rhythm dance.”

“You have to craft a unique story and tell it in an interesting way like a mini free dance,” Ethan said. “It’s different from the story we used to try to tell in our [Novice] pattern dances. I really enjoy ours [Do I Hear a Waltz? By Richard Rodgers] because it’s a fun change of pace from our serious free dance.”

Team Peal chose Andrea Bocelli’s “Fall on Me” for the Free Dance that conveys a theme of trust in their relationship as siblings and being there for each other.

In December the dancers faced their biggest challenge when they were quarantined due to COVID-19.

“We wanted to follow all the right safety procedures and protocols,” Ethan explained, “so not training for a little bit was hard especially considering the upcoming Nationals. Thankfully we’d been training hard all year.”

Championship Excitement
Team Peal is anxiously anticipating their trip to the national championships.

“I am excited about everything,” Elliana said. “I miss my skating friends and the excitement of competing in a real competition versus virtual. I know this year will be different, but I’m so grateful we have this opportunity, and it’s something I was hoping for all year!”

Ethan added, “I’m really excited about being back on competition ice. It’s hard to believe that it’s been close to a year since my last competition [Egna Dance Trophy] in a real setting. However, I’m probably most excited to see some of my closest friends again after such a long time apart.”

“I really believe that competing in a sport is only enjoyable if you enjoy the people you’re doing it with.”

Skating Family Heirloom
Team Peal will continue a family tradition when it competes on US Championship ice January 20th. Even more impressive, Ethan will be wearing his dad’s Quickstep pattern tuxedo during the rhythm dance.

Designer Mansie O’Leary has been costuming for the Peals since the juvenile level and has waited for the time Ethan would grow into the tuxedo. She had the idea to inspire tradition from father to son by refurbishing and tailoring it for the current era.

Scott Gregory, Rob Peal’s first Team USA coach, wore it at the 1988 Calgary Olympics prior to passing it along to his student. Rob wore it for the final time at the 2000 Championships in Cleveland with partner, Stephanie Woodman.

Coach Peal is thrilled he will be there in person to witness the passing of the torch.

Hopes and Dreams
As the siblings bid adieu to 2020, they shared their wishes for 2021.

Elliana: I wish to be able to compete again, not wear a mask, see my friends, make new friends, and make stronger the friendships I made with those at my new rink. I also hope to move into our new house [that is being built].

Ethan: I wish that our lives could return to some semblance of normalcy and for the safety and health of everyone out there. Maybe my goofy, selfish wish would be to get to go back to Portillo’s to get my favorite chocolate cake.

Good luck to all the athletes competing at the 2021 US National Championships.

Seniors: January 14-17

Juniors: January 20-21

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