by Anne Calder | Photos courtesy Naomi Lang
The term “Skating Mom” is a familiar title that traditionally refers to the female parent who spends a significant amount of time involved with her child’s figure skating activities. Whether it’s prodding them out of a warm bed before dawn, driving them to and from practice or sitting in a cold ice rink monitoring their every move, skating moms are the watchdogs of their young prodigies.
In the current world of ice dance, there are also “Moms Who Skate”. After a competitive career, many ice dancers have become moms. Some continue to be active in the sport by performing in professional shows, coaching, choreographing, and commentating. Some even do it all.
Ice-dance.com would like to salute these amazing women by highlighting their dual roles in the figure skating world and as family caretakers.
We begin our series with NAOMI LANG STRONG – U.S. and International ice dance champion, Solo Dance coach, and Ice Dance Manager at the Chandler Arizona Ice Den. The title she wears the proudest, however, is wife and mother of five children.
Naomi Lang Strong and partner, John Lee, were the 1995 U.S. Novice gold and 1996 US Junior silver medalists. She and Peter Tchernyshev were five-time U.S. National champions (1999-2003), two-time Four Continents champions (2000 and 2002), and World and Winter Olympic Game competitors.
Lang Strong currently resides in Gilbert, Arizona with her husband, Jeffrey Strong and children, Lillia, almost 15, Mason, almost 10, Madelyn, just 6, Elora is 2 and her littlest baby, Sebastian, is 6 months. She and former husband, Mark Fitzgerald, share custody of Mason and Madelyn.
Lang Strong loves being a working mom, but it takes a lot of time management to keep things running smoothly every day. The family is fortunate to have a trusted baby sitter who watches over the younger ones in their home while she and her husband are at work.
“My life is quite chaotic – I won’t lie,” Lang Strong said. “I never know what to expect when I wake up in the morning. I think every mom would understand. You just never know with five kids. Life is pretty hectic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Still scheduling activities for five kids plus two adults can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Lillia is a high school soccer player while Madelyn competes in swimming. Then there’s Naomi’s coaching, which often takes her out of town to competitions.
“I have to plan everything out in order to keep things organized and our schedules in order,” Lang Strong explained. “It’s a bit difficult sometimes, but I try to give my kids equal parts of me even if its just spending quality time just two of us together going to the grocery store. They all deserve that.”
The Phoenix area had no ice dance coaches until Naomi Lang and Mark Fitzgerald arrived ten years ago. At the Gilbert Polar Ice rink, Naomi held small intro-to-ice dance classes on Saturdays. Karina Manta, a young freestyler, joined her group and in 2012 became novice solo ice dance champion.
Lang Strong coached Manta until she moved to Colorado Springs and teamed with Joe Johnson. The duo competed on the senior national and international level for five years before retiring in 2019 to perform with Cirque du Soliel.
Four years ago, Lang Strong began working at the Chandler Ice Den and again took on the task of developing an ice dance program. Her “learn to skate” classes included previews of ice dancing and slowly, but surely the discipline began to catch on.
“I encouraged my students who didn’t like to jump that solo dance was a good way to be able to skate and do elements without the pressure of jumping,” Lang Strong noted. “Now I have 12 dancers in the Solo Ice Dance Series. That’s not all my students; it’s just the ones who are registered and want to compete. I also have little ones coming up. It’s really growing like fire in Arizona, which is awesome because we started with nothing.”
In the 15 years since her retirement, Lang Strong has also performed professionally with partner Peter Tchernyshev in many Russian and European tours. In the U.S., the duo did Stars on Ice, Champions on Ice and several Disson specials. In recent years, the traveling has been limited.
One particular performance stands out as an example of her toughness and persistence as a Mom Who Skates.
In 2016, Lang Strong performed in Las Vegas at the “Shall We Dance on Ice” show just five weeks after the birth of her daughter, Elora. Peter was unable to attend, so she skated with Todd Gilles, a former U.S. junior champion and current Ice Dance Director at the Scottsdale Arizona Ice Den.
I had never skated with Todd before, so even though he’s a very strong guy our lift techniques were different, so if I would go up at a wrong time, that was a little bit scary,” Lang Strong explained. “Also, I wasn’t very strong, and my muscles weren’t working how I wanted them to be.”
Lang Strong explained that while she did question her decision to perform, she was encouraged by two of her castmates who announced at an earlier rehearsal that they were three months pregnant.
“I wanted to prove to me and them that being a skating mom was possible – that you just have to go out there and perform,” Lang Strong said. “It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but now I know that since I did that, I can pretty much do anything.”
The following summer, Lang Strong, with one-year-old Elora, plus Kim Navarro and Beata Handra (the castmates from “Shall We Dance on Ice”) with their new babies, turned an ice dance internship into a bonding experience. While on-site, they shared a home they dubbed, “The Maternity Ward”.
“We had Kim’s mom and a baby sitter to help,” Lang Strong said with laugh. ”It was great – babies, moms, skating and ice rinks. It was just a crazy mess and so much fun!”
The three-some were part of the Ice Dance International ensemble that filmed two television specials in Sun Valley, Idaho.
For many seasons, Peter Tchernyshev has choreographed the staged ice shows held during the renowned Moscow Christmas Festival. Lang Strong has performed in several productions, including Swan Lake and Nutcracker.
“This year after spending Christmas in Arizona with my family, I will be returning to Russia and doing a few programs,” Lang Strong said.
“I love performing, not necessarily doing level 4 twizzles, but I love the performance aspect and the acting in the shows,” Lang Strong noted. “It’s been a very long career, but as long as Peter’s skating, I’m going to let him be the first one to say that he’s done. I’m waiting, and he hasn’t said it yet.”
The Arizona Solo Dance coach hopes to be taking some of her students.
As if Lang Strong’s plate isn’t full enough, she recently announced plans to take her Senior Moves in the Field test in August.
Before transitioning from freestyle (singles) into ice dance full time in 1995, Lang Strong took her Junior Moves, but never took the senior test.
“It was all pretty new at that point, so I just continued on with my ice dancing and kind of forgot about it,” Lang Strong explained. “Recently I was thinking that since I was still skating and not doing any shows, I should challenge myself and take the Senior Moves in the Field test – just to show myself that I can.”
“I’m 40, and I’m not going to skate much longer, so I’ve got to do it now if I’m going to do it at all. I just had my first lesson this week with my coach at the Chandler Ice Den”.
Lang Strong ended our interview with some sage advice for women who want to be “Moms Who Skate” and also raise a family.
“You don’t get as much time on the ice as you used to, so enjoy the time you do.”
“You don’t always have to be supermom. You don’t always have to be perfect. Things are sometimes not going to go right, and you just work through things day-by-day – minute-by-minute.
“What’s great about being a mom is you always have your kids who support you – forever. As long as you have your support system, you are able to do anything you want in life.”