Home Figure Skating News Devins and O’Keefe Make Studies a Priority

Devins and O’Keefe Make Studies a Priority

by Barry Mittan

Junior ice dancer Victoria (Vicki) Devins, a 17-year-old senior at Arlington High School in Massachusetts was recently selected for the Chevrolet Scholastic Honors Team, which recognizes high school student-athletes who have excelled in both academics and the sport of figure skating. The award brings with it a $1,000 scholarship. Both Devins and her partner, Kevin O’Keefe, are serious students. “We skate from 5:20 each morning to 9:20 then I go to school from 9:30 to 2:30 so I can’t take any electives,” she stated. “Even though I can’t take a full course load, it is very important to me to graduate with my class, so I may have to take some summer school courses.” Devins is on her school’s high honor roll, while O’Keefe, a junior who is majoring in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University with a minor in math, is on the Dean’s list.

The dancers have been skating together for about three years. After only six months together, they won the Intermediate Dance title at Junior Nationals in March 2000. Moving quickly up to novice, they swept all of the compulsories and free dance competitions at the Lake Placid Summer Dance Competition in August 2000, then won the Eastern Sectionals and capped off a fantastic year with a gold medal in novice dance at the 2001 Nationals in Boston.

Last year, they moved up to juniors, where they found the competition a bit tougher. Devins suffered a broken ankle that kept her off the ice for two months in late fall, but was back skating two weeks before Easterns. Although they took the bronze at Easterns, they finished seventh at the 2002 Nationals. But they were back in form by the 2002 Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships, where they won three golds, three silvers and a bronze in junior dance. That earned them their first international exposure with trips to the Junior Grand Prix events in France and Germany, where they finished fifth and seventh. They finished fifth at the 2003 U.S. Nationals in Dallas.

Devins began skating at the age of four. “I started because our town rink was only a block away,” she said. “It was one of the few things a 4 year old could join and winters are very long in Skaneateles so you have to find something to keep you busy. My younger brother Chris and sister Emily both play ice hockey.” She began ice dancing because she didn’t like jumping. “What I like most about skating is the athleticism, the artistry, the competitiveness, and the hard work needed in practicing,” she explained. “I prefer dancing because I hate jumps!”

Skating was also a family affair for the O’Keefes, and Kevin started when he was five. “My family lived in Northern Maine so my parents thought it would be a good skill to have for recreation during the long winters,” she said. “My dad had played hockey in college and my mom loved to skate on the ponds in Kansas so we all skated around and around together. I started skating on hockey skates but changed within a year because I could do better tricks.” O’Keefe’s older sister, Keelin, is a gold level ice dancer, but no longer competes since she is attending the U.S. Air Force Academy. O’Keefe has skated in freestyle and pairs as well as dance, mainly to gain competition experience. “I still do freestyle because jumping is a terrific feeling. Pairs is fun but dance is more creative,” he said.

Devins and O’Keefe met by circumstance in August 1999. “Vicki and I were both in Lake Placid to watch the dance championships,” O’Keefe related. “It was one of those, have you heard about the boy from Boston…there’s a girl from NY type of things and our coaches got us together for a tryout. By Labor Day, the coaches and parents organized things and Vicki had moved to Arlington and my mom and I were driving to Boston every week. We drove a thousand miles every week so I could spend four days training at the Skating Club and three days in Maine for my senior year. With the help of my teachers and school, the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, I finished high school in three years so I could move to Boston to train full time.”

Both skaters had solid grassroots training at their local rinks to develop strong skating skills before coming to train at the Skating Club of Boston with Tom Lescinski and Barret Brown. O’Keefe’s first meeting with Lescinski also happened by chance. “I went to partner tryouts with Tom in April of 1999,” he said. “My coach, Debi Coppinger, couldn’t go with me so she asked Tom to help out. From that time on, Tom and Barret have been my coaches. Tom is my freestyle coach as well.” Unable to find a partner at those auditions, O’Keefe noted that he “spent the summer of 1999 in Boston doing hours and hours of solo work.”

They currently train for about three hours a day on ice plus an hour off ice. That includes balletics with Karen Cullinan and ballroom dance a couple of times a month. “I love our ballroom dance lessons,” Devins said. “If I ever had to quit skating, maybe I would try that.” Devins had some previous ballet training, starting when she was 12. O’Keefe also has a good background in dance. “I have had dance training including jazz, tap, and ballet since age three,” he stated. “I started because my sister was taking lessons and I didn’t want to sit around while I waited for her so I danced too. Tap is my favorite.”

Devins also likes to dance in her free time. O’Keefe enjoys going to concerts and hearing live music. His favorite music is ska, which is rock with heavy brass, especially the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. He also enjoys punk and Boston area bands. Vicki prefers top 40 pop music. Since they are a relatively new team, the skaters haven’t yet developed a particular style or preference for the music they use in their programs. Choreographer Barret Brown selected the music for this year’s free dance to “Treat” by Carlos Santana. Their favorite compulsory dances have been the blues and the Viennese waltz although Devins noted “all compulsories get boring after practicing them for a whole year.”

Both skaters have been involved in other athletic pursuits. O’Keefe took karate lessons for about four years while he was in middle school. In high school, he played both varsity soccer and tennis and did some running. “For recreation I like all kinds of sports including skateboarding, rollerblading, water skiing and kneeboarding,” he said. “Frisbee is fun because we can do it anywhere, anytime. The parking lot at SCOB or across the street along the Charles River are favorite places for the ice dancers to relax in between sessions for some Frisbee. We are pretty extreme!” O’Keefe likes extreme sports and has taken up BM biking in the last two years. Devins used to ski with her family, but her schedule no longer allows her main hobbies are shopping and spending time with friends and family.

“Since I live away from home, I like going back to my hometown of Skaneateles best on holidays,” she stated. “It’s a five hour drive from Boston. It is a very small town and I still have a lot of close friends there. Everywhere you go you know most everyone, and when I come home, everyone asks how my skating is going or congratulates me. Skaneateles is on the end of one of the Finger Lakes so in the summer there is no place better to be. The biggest sacrifice I have had to make for skating is leaving there. In Arlington, I live with another skater and her grandmother. I get home or my family comes to visit me about twice a month.” But she misses her two dogs, which had to remain back home. “One is a very cute, well behaved miniature poodle and the other is an extremely wild and mischievous Airedale,” she said.

O’Keefe also likes to visit with his family during his rare time off. “I like to go to Ottertail Lake in Minnesota,” he said. “My grandparents have a cabin there and our family used to gather there from all over the U.S. every summer. That’s when I got to ski and kneeboard.”

Both dancers are looking forward to future trips to international skating events. Devins said, “I love to travel and hope to do more through skating. My favorite family trip was a cruise we took to the Caribbean. There was so much to do on the ship and when we went ashore we did some sightseeing, lots of shopping, and plenty of beach fun.” She hopes to visit Italy while O’Keefe would be glad to visit anyplace overseas. Reading helps the skaters to while away the time on those long trips to skating events. Devins likes to read romance novels and historical fiction, while O’Keefe reads Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines.

He plans to attend graduate school in engineering and work as an engineer, although he hopes to coach or stay involved in some aspect of skating after he finishes competing. Devins definitely plans to remain in the skating world as well as going to college. “After skating, I might coach or I would love to stay involved with skating by working full time for the USFSA in organizing events or athlete programs,” he added.

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