Every day before she takes the ice for a competition, Tarah Kayne watches an episode of The Office. She’s gone through the whole show plenty of times, so she’s not usually picking up on anything new. The routine is a matter of comfort. It’s supposed to take her mind off the upcoming skate.
More than ever, Kayne has needed to find distractions this season. Her national championship defense alongside Daniel O’Shea hasn’t gone as smoothly as she has hoped because of a nagging knee injury. It has affected her practice and preparation, but more than anything it bothers her on the day of competition.
“Right now, it’s very mentally challenging to block out the pain and just try to focus on the task at hand,” Kayne said. “That’s more difficult than it sounds.”
It’s been almost a year since Kayne and O’Shea first broke through with the pairs title at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn. It earned them a spot at the World Figure Skating Championships in Boston and set them up as two of figure skating’s rising stars.
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Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Senior pairs Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay Joy Weinberg and Maximiliano Fernandez Cali Fujimoto and Nicholas Barsi-Rhyne Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan Junior men William Hubbart Junior pairs Elli Kopmar and Jonah Barrett Novice pairs Joanna Hubbart and William Hubbart
The opportunity for Kayne and O’Shea to continue their progress into the 2016-17 season never truly got off the ground. Early in the season, an awkward landing by Kayne during a jump in practice left her with pain in her right knee, which has since been diagnosed as tendinopathy.
The 23-year-old from Fort Myers has tried to skate through it with a training regimen partially provided by doctors at the United States Olympic Training Center with the strategy of being as close to 100 percent as possible when Kayne and O’Shea take the ice at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday in Kansas City.
Kayne and O’Shea are one of five senior pairs teams with at least one skater from Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club (SWFFSC) set to compete this week in Kansas City. Joshua Santillan and Jessica Pfund are returning after a seventh-place finish last year. Nathan Nathan Bartholomay and Deanna Stellato, two skaters competing together for the first time, have trained together at Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex since July. Joy Weinberg and Maximiliano Fernandez are making the leap from juniors, and Cali Fujimoto and Nicholas Barsi-Rhyne round out a deep field of skaters with Ellenton ties.
It will be tough to replicate last year’s pairs performance — SWFFSC won gold in senior, junior and novice — especially given some of the injury situations. Kayne and O’Shea, though, aren’t performing significantly worse than they were entering the U.S. Championships in 2016.
“This season’s been a rollercoaster, for sure,” said O’Shea, a 25-year-old from Michigan, “but we ended up with Grand Prix placements very similar to last year.”
Kayne and O’Shea’s best performance this year, a fourth-place finish in the 2016 NHK Trophy series, isn’t far from their best finishes during the 2015-16 season. They won the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and took third at the Golden Spin of Zagreb. Otherwise, they were hovering around the top five without ever consistently breaking through to the medal stand, and they were skating on a more consistent basis.
It makes it hard to underestimate the reigning champions, even if their training regimen has been cut down significantly. Kayne has only been on the ice twice a day instead of her usual three and even when she’s skating with O’Shea the duo is doing fewer repetitions on their jumps and throws.
“Some days we have to train really light. Some days we can’t really train at all. It just depends on my pain level,” Kayne said. “Last year we worked as hard as possible, doing as many reps as we could and this year it’s definitely a different path.”
Still, their past performance is enough to spark confidence in a repeat at the U.S. Championships. Five contributors to U.S. Figure Skating’s Icenetwork picked Kayne and O’Shea to finish in to the top three at the Sprint Center, and one predicted them to repeat as champions.
Before Kayne’s injury, this was the challenge Kayne and O’Shea expected to deal with — the burden of expectations. Their lives have changed since they became national champions a year ago, although they try not to think of themselves as the favorites.
For everyone else, the injury has provided an opening. The field is chasing Kayne and O’Shea, and if they can keep them at bay their unimpeachable resume will become even more impressive.
“It’s a little different,” O’Shea said, “but I think that we’re coming in with a lot of confidence and we’re going to keep showing people what we can do.”
Locals at nationals
The competitors representing the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club, based at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships which continue through Jan. 22:
Cali Fujimoto and Nicholas Barsi-Rhyne
Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay
Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan
Joy Weinberg and Maximiliano Fernandez
Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea
Elli Kopmar and Jonah Barrett
Joanna Hubbart and William Hubbart