Clara Neal skates into stardom for the USA

Facing forward, senior Clara Neal skates with a partner during a free skate program and performs a catch foot. She was looking forward to dedicating more time to figure skating since the high school field hockey season is over.

 Clara Neal, a senior at WJ, has been skating since she could walk. Now, she is heading into her final season with DC Edge, one of the most competitive and successful synchronized skating teams in the world. Her life is anything but relaxed. Juggling school, skating and even varsity field hockey during the season, Neal is a wonder woman. 

   “I still skate every morning, before school and after school and on the weekends I practice with the team. I think as I grew up it got more intense,” Neal said. 

   Neal’s schedule is almost impossible. As she started to get older and become more serious about the sport, school began to interfere with her schedule more and more. Skating, however, has always been the priority. 

   “When I was younger I used to miss a little bit and now I miss weeks and weeks. It’s kind of a lot but it’s about communicating with the teachers and making sure I know what I need to do. My team is also really helpful, we have study time to balance everything during practices,” Neal said. 

   Neal also emphasizes the stresses that come with the schedule as well.

   “I mean it’s definitely stressful because once you get to a competition you know you have a job to do and you need to focus on that and not school,” Neal said. 

   Laura Brager, the school’s varsity field hockey coach, reflects on the season she spent coaching Neal.

   “With multi-sport athletes, especially when field hockey is not their main sport, you can tell that they’re putting field hockey second, but with Clara this was never the case,” Brager said. “I think her commitment to skating bled into every aspect of her life, including field hockey. She just really cares about everything she does.” 

   But being able to spend so much time with her team makes it all worth it.

   “It’s kind of like a second family,” Neal said. “I feel like a lot of people say that but with all the travel we do and practice it really becomes your second family. You see people at their best and at their worst because competitions are really stressful but they’re my sisters.”

   Now, Neal is competing on the Junior Team, the second highest level in synchronized skating. Her team is one of only ten junior teams in the country. This is the first level that a skater can qualify for Team USA to compete internationally on behalf of the country.

   This year, her team was named Team USA and will be going to England and France to compete on behalf of the United States. 

   “Last year I got to represent Team USA in Switzerland and that was my first international competition. It was such an amazing experience meeting other teams from different countries,” Neal said. 

   Neal also reflects on her time in Switzerland as it was a new and exciting experience for her. 

   “Being able to compete against other countries was crazy because it has never happened before. You know all the teams that are in the US because you see them every year, grow up with them. Meeting new people that do this all around the world was really interesting,” Neal said.

   As graduation inches closer, Neal is weighing her options of what’s to come for her academic and skating career.

   “I’m planning to continue skating in my undergrad years at the senior or collegiate level which qualifies for Worlds and the Olympics if it’s decided that next summer synchronized skating will be in the Winter Olympics,” Neal said. 

   Although synchronized skating is not an official Olympic sport, fingers crossed that Neal will be one of the first to represent the US.