Sleep, academics, social life, landing that double axel jump flawlessly—for figure skaters at Penn, balancing it all is second nature. This week, as bedazzled athletes jump, twirl, and land triple toe–loops in PyeongChang in hopes of Olympic gold, here at Penn, 40 students are struggling to get recognition for their sport. 

For the last two years Penn Figure Skating has fought and failed to gain funding from the University. As both a student club and competitive sports team, Penn Figure Skating must receive recognition and funding from Student Club Council (SCC), a branch of Penn Recreation, before registering with Student Activities Council (SAC). Yet for the last three years SCC has been unable accept to new clubs. As a result, Penn Figure Skating is stuck in limbo. 

Chiara Bettale (C’18), the club’s president, revived Penn Figure Skating two years ago. When she first came to campus no one was meeting at practice times and there were no regular board meetings. Now with over 40 active members, the Penn Figure Skating is making its mark on campus as both an inclusive community for all skaters and powerhouse of extraordinary talent. 

Last September Emma Jang (E’21) represented Taiwan in her eighth international skating competition, the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Croatia. “Last semester I would practice four to five times a week on ice. Now I’m down to three times a week if I’m lucky. It’s tough with scheduling classes around ice time,” says Jang. “I bring all my gear to DRL and bolt over to Class of 1923 rink between classes.”

Emma was able to compete in Croatia with partial sponsorship from Taiwan and by paying out of pocket. Unfortunately for most members of figure skating club competition in college is no longer an option.  “We can’t pay for registration fees or the transport to compete against other club skating teams from schools like NYU, Cornell, Dartmouth.” explained Chiara. 

Alicia Lu (E’21) started skating when she was nine, trained three hours a day for nine years and competed nationally for five years.  Last year she was awarded  prestigious membership to the US Figure Skating National Honors team for outstanding athletic performance and academic achievement.  

“It’s an incredibly difficult sport that people don’t know enough about” says Alicia. “I’m excited to share it with Penn, despite the funding difficulties.” 

Her family friend and skating rink partner Nathan Chen is now competing for Team USA.  

Without funding the club is unable to meet as a group for practice, let alone compete against other college clubs. Renting out the rink costs $400 per session. Practice is confined to limited freestyle sessions during Monday and Wednesday afternoons which often conflicts with class schedules. When skaters can practice they must pay $10 per session, making regular skating inaccessible for some members. 

Despite the odds, Penn Figure Skating is still going strong. “I’m optimistic about the freshman on the board. I’m really proud of taking the club to where it is today” enthused Chiara. They’re planning to hold free lessons for those learning to skate and public screenings of the Olympic Games in the High Rises.

Sarah Hughes, a former Olympic figure skating medalist and current Penn Law student is also a member of the club. “She ordered one of our Penn Skate jackets!” Chiara told me. She’s hoping Sarah will also make an appearance at their upcoming show. Right now Sarah is at the Games in Pyeongchang South Korea, as part of the Presidential Delegation for the Winter Olympics. 

Mark your calendars, Penn Figure Skating’s first show is March 24th.


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