|Dalia Rivkin skates at the Wollman Rink in New York City. Courtesy Rivkin Family|
When she was very young, Dalia Rivkin loved to watch figure skating on TV with her great-aunt.
“After watching it, I would try and jump like they did,” said the 11-year-old Teaneck resident, who on Dec. 18 became the 2011 United States Juvenile Ladies Figure Skating Champion. “Now I know I was jumping in the wrong direction.”
The diminutive skater – “She was always tiny for her age,” said her mother, Cheryl Rivkin – didn’t begin skating until she was 7 1/2.
“It was an unmitigated accident,” said her mother. “She was on a play date and they went skating. Her friend’s mother said it was unbelievable. She would fall down and get up, fall down and get up. Two hours later, everyone was watching her.”
“At first I was really scared and held on to the wall,” Dalia told The Jewish Standard. “But then I got the hang of it and could go really fast. I was zooming across the ice. It felt easy and it felt great.”
The young champion said that when she came home, she couldn’t stop talking about skating.
“I told everyone it was so cool. So my mom signed me up for once-a-week lessons and it took off from there.”
Her mother, however, was not so sure this was a good idea.
Taking Dalia and her older sister, Ariela, to skate in New York City, “I kept saying, ‘Please don’t fall and hurt your hands.'”
Her daughters, she explained, are excellent pianists, and she was worried that they might hurt themselves.
“Twenty minutes later Dalia had blade marks on her hand and the blood was dripping down. I wanted to go home, but she got right back on the ice,” Rivkin said.
Dalia had attended Yavneh Academy. But, said the skater, “that meant getting up at 4 a.m. Monday through Friday to be at the Hackensack Ice House by 5 a.m. for daily practice with my coach,” Julia Lautowa, a seven-time Austrian national champion as well as world and Olympic competitor.
This year, the youngster and her family have chosen home schooling so that she can focus more on her skating.
“My dad does the English subjects and my mom does math, history, and science,” she said, explaining that materials are provided by an online service.
“She asked for it this year to accomplish what she wanted,” said Cheryl Rivkin. And, Rivkin added, “she’s making the most of it.”
Dalia keeps up with her friends by texting, instant messaging, video chats, and Facebook.
“And it’s bat mitzvah season,” added Dalia, “so I see them a lot.”
Her father, Oleg, drops her off at the rink every morning, and her coach brings her home. Nor is skating all she does, said her mother.
“She runs, lifts weights, does ballet, Pilates, stretching – she’s a little girl who does one-arm pushups and crosses the jump rope three times per jump.” All this, and she’s only 4′ 5″, having recently grown 5 inches, according to her mother.
Dalia, a member of the North Jersey Figure Skating Club and the winner of dozens of competitions, entered the juvenile ladies figure-skating competition with a good chance of winning, said her mother, pointing out that in October her daughter had won the North Atlantic Juvenile Girls’ Championship.
Dalia’s success has involved a tremendous commitment on the part of her family.
“We’ve used every vacation day to drive her to competitions,” said her mother, stressing that since Dalia will not compete on Shabbat, the family sometimes has to drive long distances to find appropriate competitions.
“Dalia still has not competed on the Sabbath,” said Cheryl Rivkin. “Sometimes to find a competition may mean a six- or seven-hour drive and then staying over.” For her most recent competition, she said, Dalia walked to the rink on Saturday night.
“My mom arranges the competitions,” said Dalia. “She finds them on the Internet and sends them applications, checks, and e-mails. Sometimes they can switch [to accommodate Shabbat] and sometimes they can’t. Sometimes they don’t respond.”
For her part, Dalia acknowledges that family support is key to her success. On her website, daliarivkinskate.com, she thanks her parents, grandparents, brothers Naphtali and Binny, and sister Ariela, “with whom I share a room and whose sleep schedule I have completely ruined.”
Dalia has dreams of competing in, and winning, “two Olympics. If I win one, I’ll try to win another,” said the youngster.
While she would love to compete in the 2014 event, which will take place in Russia, she will be too young, said her mother, noting that participants must be at least 16.
“It would have been poetic because my husband came here as a refugee from the former Soviet Union,” she said, explaining her daughter’s desire to compete in 2014. “Judaism was illegal [there]. To go back as a strong athlete and strong Jew would have been a sanctification.”
Dalia now has her eyes on the 2018 Olympics, giving her even more time to prepare.
According to her mom, the most exciting thing is that Dalia didn’t just “win” the recent competition.
“She earned it, working tirelessly,” she said. “She really went after it. It is so gratifying as a parent to watch person after person congratulate Dalia not only on the victory but on her work ethic and tremendous joy in skating, which they have observed at the rink.”
For Dalia, hard work is not an issue.
“If you really enjoy it, it’s always worth it,” said the skater, who won the gold last Saturday night in Salt Lake City with a score of 52.46 points and says her favorite move is the double axel.
Her mom said she can’t believe her daughter has “a growing list of friends and fans. Girls smaller than Dalia actually come up to meet her and tell her they watch her videos every day on YouTube. We had no idea Dalia could accomplish so much in so little time, so we need to figure things out quickly. It is definitely a whole-family commitment.”
For videos of Dalia Rivkin skating, visit www.youtube.com/user/UncleFredNSpringtime#p/u