Where there’s a will, there’s a way: sisters Alexandra and Gabby Shirley adjust to ice skating during the pandemic


Alexandra Shirley

Alexandra Shirley (10) and Gabby Shirley (9) pose with the world-famous coach Alexei Mishin. During the coronavirus pandemic, most sports and group events have either been cancelled or changed drastically, and ice skating is no exception.

Throughout the last eight months, students have faced many obstacles. However, the pandemic has also served as a source of discovery for many students. With time on their hands and their daily schedules cleared, students are able to assess what they value most.

Sisters Alexandra (10) and Gabby Shirley (9) have been ice skating since they were around five and six years old, when their mother took them to a public session. In the beginning of lockdown, especially, the two sisters found themselves evaluating their passion for ice skating and its effect on their mental and physical health. Although she loved the sport, Gabby Shirley felt that she was not able to enjoy it because her coach was negative and brought her down. 

“The pandemic almost helped it [in a sense] because I got to take a break for a while and kind of redefine my mental health,” Gabby Shirley said.

Alexandra Shirley, on the other hand, especially misses ice skating and has felt the consequences of not being able to skate.

“For me, definitely the mental and physical health combination [was difficult] because at the beginning of the pandemic, I just missed it so much and I think it was really hard for me,” Alexandra Shirley said.

While all of the other ice rinks in the area reopened in May or June, the rink that the sisters usually skate at announced that they would not be reopening until August. In order to maintain their skills, they had to innovate. Most of the time, they were not able to practice at an actual ice rink, but they travelled to open rinks in Nashville and Florida to practice. They also did an off-ice workout that mimicked the movement of jumps on the ice and allowed them to practice without a rink. In a sport where technique is paramount, practice is key.

“Everything has to be so precise,” Gabby Shirley said. “I love to jump. When you finally land a jump…you just feel so accomplished.

The sisters have always admired Gracie Gold, an American figure skater. 

“We always both really loved Gracie Gold when we were younger. Just like her whole skating and everything but that was even after we kind of got into skating,” Gabby Shirley said.

Alexandra and Gabby Shirley’s mother was a figure skater, who still ice skates at around the same level as the sisters. It was her experience with ice skating and their father’s interest in the sport that resulted in the sisters attending their first session. Alexandra and Gabby Shirley quickly followed in their parents’ footsteps and developed a love for it.

“Being on the ice is not only really great exercise, it’s just really fun,” Gabby Shirley said. “I always look forward to it. I guess it’s just something that you just learn to love.”

The sisters are part of a figure skating club and both participate in competitions. They also do theater on ice, in which the characters of a play talk in the background while the ice skaters impersonate them. However, the element of art does not stop with ice shows. A large part of ice skating includes dance techniques and technical precision. 

“It’s kind of controversial,” Gabby Shirley said. “A lot of people tend to say it’s not a sport.”

The two argue that it requires a considerable amount of physical strength and stamina. 

“The thing with skating that a lot of people don’t realize is that…we’re literally going against all the laws of gravity,” Alexandra Shirley said. “… It’s a crazy hard sport. ”