by Daphne Backman | Photos by Robin Ritoss, Katie Weigel and Melanie Hoyt
The fourth edition of our Siblings in Skating series focuses on ice dancer Gwen Sletten and her brother, Morgan.
Gwen is a two-time U.S. national medalist with partner Elliot Verburg, winning silver at the juvenile level in 2012 and bronze at the intermediate level in 2013. Sletten & Verburg were second on the novice level at this season’s Pacific Coast Sectional Championships and will compete at the upcoming U.S. National Championships in Boston.
Morgan skates at the pre-juvenile level with partner Jordan Lin. Pre-juvenile teams in the U.S. do not compete at the national level and skate only pattern dances; the free dance is not added until the juvenile level. Lin & Sletten won the Chesapeake Open and finished fourth at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships this season.
Both teams train at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) in Maryland, which is run by Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmytri Ilin. Both attend regular school, a French immersion program, and sometimes need to leave early for practices.
When Gwen was five years old, she started taking group lessons at Wheaton Ice Arena. Elena Novak, who coached her group lessons, invited her to join WISA. During this time, Morgan spent a great deal of time at the rink while his sister skated.
“I was dragged along to the rink with my sister,” Morgan said. “It looked fun, so I asked to try it when I was 5. I liked it a lot.”
Because they skate at different levels, they do not practice at the same time. The coaches split the skaters training at WISA into four groups, with junior- and senior-level skaters in Group I, novice, intermediate, and juvenile skaters in Group II, pre-juvenile teams in Group III, and beginner skaters in Group IV.
“My regular training day includes 2-3 hours of skating in the afternoons, plus off-ice or ballet,” Gwen said. “We also have one early morning practice before school. In the summer, we start at 8 or 9 and skate for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. We have a few hours of rest or hanging out together, then we come back and skate another one to two hours. Depending on the day, we also have ballet, off-ice, or sometimes stretching, and then it’s time to sleep.”
“I skate four days per week after school with one to two hours of skating, plus off-ice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” Morgan said. “I have ballet on Fridays and also one early morning practice. Gwen and I may be at the rink at the same time, but sometimes we are doing different things. An example is me on ice and Gwen in ballet.”
On Saturdays, they both train from 6:45-2:30 with a mix of skating, off-ice, and ballet.
Training at WISA has allowed the siblings the opportunity to be exposed to international-level competitors. Danielle Gamelin & Alexander Gamelin, now senior, represented Team USA at several Junior Grand Prix events before they moved to WISA. Three of WISA’s junior teams competed on the JGP circuit this season, with two teams (Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter and Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons) qualifying for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
“Knowing people who are actually traveling to other countries for competitions makes me want to do that someday, and it makes it seem like I could,” Morgan said.
“They are good idols; I can learn from them and they help me get through the things they have already been through,” Gwen added. “And I know what things are supposed to look like and how it is supposed to be done. It’s almost like having a lot of older siblings.”
Although they have close bonds with their training mates, they think that having a sibling who also skates has extra advantages.
“Since Morgan is younger, I can practice my coaching skills,” Gwen said. “It’s kind of fun to help him.” “It means I have good company at the rink during down times,” Morgan added. Both siblings have their own ideas on why they enjoy ice dancing and which element they like the most.
“[I like] having a partner to encourage each other, training with so many other people so you can push one another to do better, and have amazing friendships,” Gwen said. “Ice dancing, as in truly dancing on the ice, is my favorite part.”
“[I like] everything, especially making my partner Jordan laugh,” Morgan said.
“My favorite element is twizzles…just kidding,” Gwen joked. “[It’s the] rotational lift because it’s like you’re flying.”
While Morgan enjoys attending every competition because they are fun, Gwen, since she has been skating for a longer time, has several favorite memories.
“I have two [favorite memories],” Gwen said. “First, coming off the ice after free dance at Lake Placid my first year with so many large soft toys I had to put some in my mouth, because Elliot only took a few. Some of them were REALLY big. My second [favorite memory] was one year in Lake Placid—all my friends came to our hotel close to a lake, and we fished and then sat around the campfire and just talked for a long time.”
Both are supportive of each other on and off the ice.
“When Morgan is competing I’m in the stands, cheering him on like crazy,” Gwen said. “If he was in the same level as me, it might be a bit more difficult because we would be going for the same top spot, but I would still cheer him on and hope he does his best.”