USA’s Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage have had little time for pause since the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, where they placed a respectable fifth in their first time at the event. The skaters took a week off in Arizona immediately after, but have been training ever since.
“We went to Montreal in April to skate with Julie Marcotte,” said Settlage. “She had already choreographed our short program for next year back in February, so we spent the week working on the long program. We will take a day off from time to time, but we are usually on the ice six days a week.”
The US Junior Champions are staying flexible with their competitions this summer, but they might compete at the Colorado Championships as they have received good feedback on their choreography and performance there in the past.
“We are lucky enough to be at the World Arena (Colorado Springs, Colo.) where there are many opportunities to skate our programs in front of an audience, judges, and representatives from USFS (United States Figure Skating),” said Aaron. “We often do the weekly exhibitions sponsored by the Broadmoor Skating Club; we skate in full costume, and the performances are open to the public.”
Aaron, 19, and Settlage, 22, are hoping for an opportunity to get some international experience this fall, and will adjust their schedule accordingly.
“Junior champions in the past have gotten a place,” Settlage noted, “so we are keeping our fingers crossed. “We just want to get as much experience as we can this year.”
The team is mainly coached by Dalilah Sappenfield, however, her son, Laureano Ibarra, has become important to the skaters.
“He traveled with us last year to our Junior Grand Prix assignments,” said Settlage. “He is also our strength and conditioning coach.”
They also work with Eddie Shipstad and Tom Zakrajsek (on jumps), and take spin lessons from Janet Champion.
“Eddie uses the pole harness when we are trying something new,” Settlage offered. “We drill our jumps with him to improve our synchronicity and flow. We are trying out some new entries so that the jumps flow seamlessly into the programs.”
“With the great transitions that Julie has built into our choreography, we need time to make the jumps a natural part of our interpretation of the program,” Aaron added.
The team will be debuting two new programs, both choreographed by Marcotte. The short program will contain selections from the ballet Coppelia, while the long will be to music from The King and I.
“Julie did our Spartacus program last year, and Dalilah decided, and we readily agreed, that Julie should do both programs this year,” said Settlage. “The great thing about Julie is her passion for what she does. We feel her energy as soon as we all step onto the ice. It has been great to watch her creative process as it develops. We trust her judgment on choosing music that will work for us.”
“We love to visit her at her rink in Sainte-Julie,” Aaron added, “and we always enjoy our work with Sylvie (Fullum), who polishes our movements as we learn the choreography.”
“Both pieces this year are character driven,” Settlage revealed. “We work best when we have a story to perform, when we can become characters. We often choose ballets because these pieces “speak to us”. We both love to perform, and a ballet piece reminds us that we are on the ice to perform for an audience, that skating is about beauty and grace as well as athletic prowess.”
The skaters, who are constantly pushing themselves technically, are excited about moving up to the Senior ranks this season.
“In our Novice year, when we won the national title, we added side-by-side double Axels and a triple throw in our long program,” recalled Settlage. “When we were Juniors, we pushed ourselves to do two triple throws, a double Axel sequence, and a triple jump. We believe that got us ready to start thinking about what it means to be a senior-level team.”
“Obviously, the technical elements are harder,” said Aaron, “but we don’t want to lose sight of our performance and execution. With the changes that are happening now, Dalilah will be constantly re-evaluating our elements and levels.”
Sappenfield is extremely proud of the improvements Aaron and Settlage have made in the past year, and feels their consistent dedication and commitment to their daily training is an asset for them entering their first year as seniors.
“They have matured incredibly as a team and have really learned how to train effectively to reach their goals,” she said. “They are one of the hardest working teams I’ve ever had.”
The coach added that they had developed three new level four lifts for the season, and that the team is working very hard on progressing their new programs.
The skaters paired up in March 2010 after a three-day tryout with Sappenfield. They moved to Colorado soon after, and begin competing almost immediately (Liberty and Indy Pairs).
“We think the move showed our commitment to the sport,” said Aaron. “Though we both skated at the same rink in Arizona from the time we were young, we knew that we wanted to try out with Dalilah and to have a chance to skate in a rink where many top-level skaters trained.”
“Our fathers stayed in Arizona to work,” said Settlage. “Maddie’s sister, Molly, was also a pair skater with Dalilah at the time, and her brother, Max, had already begun working with Tom Z.”
“This will be our fifth year skating together, but we were friends for years before we paired up,” he continued. “We both went to the same competitions, shared the same coaches, and did the yearly ice show that our club sponsored. It just seemed natural that we would pair up.”
The skaters are currently pushing through with training for the summer in order to prepare for the fall, and don’t plan to take much time off.
“Given the choice of taking a vacation or staying to work, we would both choose to be on the ice,” said Aaron. “When we are “forced” to take some time off, we both feel impatient to be back on the ice.”
“When we took a week off after Junior Worlds this year, Dalilah told us not to take our skates with us so we would truly stay off the ice and have a chance to rest,” said Settlage, grinning. “That was hard for both of us. We both love what we do, even on days when things are not perfect.”
“It would be difficult to skate with someone who had different goals,” Aaron agreed. “We both know what we want to accomplish in the sport.”