Golden Skate

Parekh Brings Bollywood to Ice

Ami Parekh, 19, is the first figure skater to represent India at an ISU Figure Skating Championship (both the 2007 Four Continents and the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships).

“There is a complex connection between the United States, figure skating, me, and India,” said Ami Parekh, India’s first skater to compete at the World Figure Skating Championships. “The USA is my country of birth, where I was raised primarily, and continue to live. I am an active U.S. citizen, and I voted this year for the first time. Schooling in the U.S. has instilled the American in me and of course a flawless American accent. The U.S. also gave me figure skating. However, figure skating helped me define myself, and find the India within me.”

“When I was born and raised in New Jersey, I grew up in an Indian community,” Parekh related. “I spent most of my time around Indians, Indian stores, Indian food, and a very Indian family. When I began to skate, and when I was absorbed by its power, I moved away from my Indian community and started to train in many states. And as I skated, I discovered myself and the inner satisfaction I got when I did skate to Indian music and when I wore Indian clothing and jewelry on the ice. It was all so natural for me.”

“I skated in the United States, competing up to Junior Nationals (2000 and 2001) and Sectionals (2002 and 2003),” Parekh continued. “When India became a provisional member of the ISU in 2004, it was a complete surprise. I immediately got drawn in and contacted the federation, not to mention that they also needed me. And this season was my first representing the country that is a large part of me–dominating my family (almost all of who were born there), my upbringing, my childhood, my appearance, personality, and my character.”

Parekh spent the summer of 2006 bringing ice skating to audiences in India, then spent the rest of the 2006-07 season presenting Indian music to skating fans in international competitions. For her show program, Parekh skated to pieces from The Elements: Earth by Vanraj Bhatia and The Elements: Space by Zakir Hussain. “I did that program myself,” she said. “I performed it in India every other week for two months in Delhi, Calcutta, and Kashmir.”

Once she started ISU competitions, Parekh used Indian music for her short program. She skated to a Bollywood mix that included Taal, Kama Sutra, and Dil de Chuke Sanam. Her long program was to La Bayadere by Leon Minkus. “I really like Indian music, but I can skate well to almost anything else,” she said. “I haven’t tried Spanish yet, but give me any piece of music and I’d enjoy it. I like to act out. It’s fun to be a character.”

Chris Conte, Rob McBrien, Olga Mudruk, Sasha Kirsanov, and Vitali Popkov have worked with Parekh on her choreography. “Chris Conte helped paste my short program music together and he choreographed my short program,” Parekh said. “Rob McBrien chose my long program music and did the initial choreography and Olga, Sasha, and Vitali changed the choreography of the short and long programs to fit the new ISU Judging System.”

Parekh returned to Delaware in the summer of 2006. Jeff DiGregorio coaches Parekh, who trains at the University of Delaware. She trains for three to four hours a day, five days a week with another hour and a half for off ice for conditioning and jump training. “I also do a lot of yoga,” she added. In 2005, she trained primarily in India. “They had really tiny ice rinks so I did mainly off ice work,” she stated. “I did two or three hours in the gym every day, also practicing jumps and spins on a spinner.”

Parekh tried almost everything as a child including ballet, piano, singing, Indian classical dancing, and karate. “I watched skating on television and my brother and I would jump up and down in the kitchen trying to do a triple jump,” she recalled. “I went to Bridgewater Sports in New Jersey when I was nine to skate on a public session and I tried to copy other people. My mom took me to Learn to Skate classes and the coach said I had some potential. I took some lessons on and off for a year before I decided I wanted to be serious.”

Parekh first landed a double Axel when she was 17, and a triple toe loop and salchow when she was 18. “I’m working on getting my jumps more consistent,” she said. “I’m working on a triple loop and a triple lutz – the flip will come later. I’m doing a triple toe-double toe combination for my short and I have three combinations in the long: a triple toe-double toe, double Axel-double toe, and a double flip-double toe-double loop.”

Parekh made a good impression when she became the first representative from her country to compete at an ISU championship in 2007. She finished 20th when she competed at the 2007 Four Continents Championship in Colorado Springs, Colorado in February. Later in the season, she finished 44th at Worlds after suffering a back injury in training that almost caused her to withdraw.

“It turns out that I have a large herniated disk in my lower back,” Parekh said. “Before Worlds, the doctors said pretty soon I might need surgery. I talked to four doctors and two told me to go ahead and try in Japan and two of them told me that I should not be skating right now period. I listened to what all they had to say and talked to a few physical therapists, my coach, my family and then I decided to go to Japan. The main factor in my decision was that after taking a week off, and an injection, I felt better. Falling, sit spins and Biellmanns hurt, and so my spirals, spins, and jumps were affected.”

“The biggest problem this caused me was I missed one week of skating and working out before Worlds because of the injection I took and because I was completely unsure what I could and couldn’t do,” she continued. “But now I think I know how far I can push it every day and so it shouldn’t be a problem anymore. Of course, now I will not skate as much as I used to and I will probably never do that level 4 flying sit spin in my short. But it all depends on how resilient my back injury is, no one can tell me for sure, only time.”

In her first international event, Parekh competed at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Norway in 2006, placing 17th. “I just want to give every element my best shot,” she said. “In 2010, I hope I have a shot at the Olympics.”

Off ice, Parekh said, “I don’t watch much television, instead I love reading,” she said. “I read a variety of books. I like science fiction and fantasy. I love music and I listen to everything, but nothing in particular, from classical to spiritual music to Hindi-English pop and rap remixes but not heavy metal. That drives me nuts.” Parekh also enjoys playing board games and writing. She collects stickers, stones, and coins from around the world.

The 19-year-old is finishing her senior year in high school via home schooling. “I love science, especially biology, and math,” she said. “I plan to go to college in pre-medicine. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor. I love working with brains.” Parekh has rolled up an impressive list of scholastic honors: second in the North-South Foundation National Vocabulary Bee, third in the Maryland State Brain Bee, 59th in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee, and a 2200 on the PSAT.