Ian Brown and Ava Mae Leslie

Two young ice skaters who learned their sport at Ice are preparing to leave for their first sectional competition as thousands flock to the rink for its Grand Opening on Thursday.

Ian Brown, 14, and Ava Mae Leslie, 13, first took to the ice – at Ice – when they were three. By the time they were seven, they were skating as a pair, and two years ago, they skated in the rink’s opening show. Now, they’re getting ready for the biggest competition of their careers: the Pacific Coast Sectional in Salt Lake City, which will take place from Nov. 13 to 17.

“They’re pure, homegrown, Ice at Santa Monica skaters,” said Ian and Ava’s coach, Randy Gardner, who runs the Randy Gardner School of Skating at Ice. Ian and Ava are the first skaters at the school to advance to a sectional competition, he said.

The two see the sport as a way to blend art and athleticism, and their approach to figure skating has become increasingly competitive as they mature. Before they set their sights on sectionals, they focused on smaller goals, such as completing a test or a competition, Ian said.

“Now that we’re older, I think we can understand more of the mental game that you need in ice skating,” Ava said. “We definitely have learned how to figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to achieve it.”

Ian and Ava’s other coach, Jennifer Don, said she and Gardner have seen an exponential improvement in the teenagers’ skill in the past two years. They were not yet competing at the juvenile level earlier this year and had to pass a series of tests to qualify, which meant Don and Gardner had to significantly increase the difficulty of their training program.

The pair have risen to the challenge, Ava said, and have continued to improve day after day on their way to sectionals. They both acknowledge the pressure is mounting, but their bond helps relieve the stress. Ava and Ian have known each other since Ava was born, and have been close friends ever since.

“When you’re skating on the ice alone, there’s so much pressure … but when it’s two people you can remind yourself ‘this is fun’,” Ian said. “We can just look at each other and smile and forget all the stress.”

This time of year is typically relaxing for Ian and Ava. When Ice is open, they don’t have to travel all over Los Angeles to find rinks for practice – Ian was born and raised in Santa Monica, and Ava lives just across Wilshire Boulevard’s Santa Monica arch. They know Ice’s staff and the people who skate there so well that they feel like family, Ian said.

“We practice all year and it gets really exhausting,” he said. “We come here and we’re still practicing, but it’s like a mental break.”

Younger skaters at Ice often ask Ava and Ian to show them how to do pivots or spins. Ava said one little girl who saw her perform in Ice’s 10th anniversary show told her she wanted to grow up to be just like her. The pair are happy to practice at a rink where they can serve as role models, Ian said.

For the person who comes to Ice a couple times each year to try their hand at skating, watching the pros practice can be daunting. But Ian and Ava encourage patrons to try jumps or spins, or even just skate away from the wall.

“As long as your skates are tight and your knees are bent and you’re leaning forward, you’ll have a solid base,” Ian said.

Both skaters have learned many new skills at Ice, from skating backwards to a difficult throw axel and they believe others can do the same.

“No matter whether it’s coming here to skate for the first time or learning how to skate competitively, it’s all a way to have the most fun you possibly can,” Ava said.


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