Since she was three years old, Peoria native Shawna Ludy has donned a pair of ice skates.
In fact, she has spent most of her life at the ice rink, practically growing up at the Owens Center. If someone would have told her five years ago that she was going to be captain of the Haydenettes team—the 2007 U.S. Synchronized Skating Champions and 16-time national champions—she says she would have laughed. “But now I’m here and enjoying every minute,” Ludy said. “Hard work pays off!”
Ludy didn’t get into skating by accident; her father was a hockey player, and her entire family skates. While Ludy was first interested in hockey and even took lessons, her focus changed when she began skating with a private coach. At that point, she says, she knew figure skating was for her.
My first coach, Julia Tortorella, trained me to be a very wellrounded skater,” Ludy said. “She got me involved in everything. I would go to competitions and skate in every event. Not only did I do my own solo, compulsories, interpretive, footwork, dance and spotlight, but I talked my brother into doing pairs with me, my family into doing a family spotlight and one of my friends into doing couples and couples spotlight. I also participated in three different team events, including synchronized skating, team compulsories and synchronized dance. I got involved in synchronized skating because I wanted to do group numbers in the ice show.”
Of course, skating couldn’t be everything for a young girl. To maintain her time skating and still go to school, Ludy attended PALS Elementary School (now Praise and Leadership Academy), from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., where teachers provided her with support and instruction through independent study. She attended Peoria Notre Dame High School for two years, then transferred and graduated from Peoria Central High School.
Ludy has come a long way since her grade school days. Not only is she a captain of the Haydenettes, she’s also a member of the Ice Skating Institute, United States Figure Skating, Professional Skaters Association and the Hayden Club in Massachusetts.
A well-seasoned traveler, Ludy didn’t hesitate to share her favorite location. “The first year I was on the team, we went to Sweden for the World Championships. It was the most amazing place ever. Our hotel was connected to the ice rink and it was a beautiful place,” Ludy said. “The fans in Sweden are also very overwhelming, and the support for our sport is ever-present. It was a great feeling to see so many people there.”
Since Ludy frequently travels to unfamiliar rinks for competitions, the first thing she does is become acquainted with the rink. “The more familiar I am with the rink, the more comfortable I feel,” she said. “Being captain does not allow you to show any weakness; you have to be the most confident one. No matter how nervous I have been, I never let anyone see it. I always step on the ice for our first practice and look at the whole arena, from the ice to the top of the bleachers, and let everything soak in.
“I feel like I have come so far with every new place I go, that I become overwhelmed in that one moment. Then I know I have to concentrate on my skating. You only have one chance to prove yourself out there and I want to make sure that I am completely focused on that. I try to check on the rest of the team and make sure everyone is feeling confident.”
Right now, the most challenging part of skating for Ludy is putting her trust in 15 other girls on the ice. As Ludy puts it, no matter how talented one skater is, in synchronized skating the team is only as strong as its weakest link. Some days, she said, the team is as strong as their strongest link, and those are the days they end up on top. “Some may say that our sport isn’t that difficult. But I would like anyone to try to stand next to 15 other girls and match everything that they are doing head to toe and do it to music, while skating, and add facial expressions,” Ludy said. “It really is amazing what the girls on my team can do. It’s stepping on the ice and letting go of all the control I have and putting faith in the hands of my own teammates—that is the hardest thing to do sometimes.”
It’s a good thing the rewards outweigh the challenges. For Ludy, she appreciates the friendships and contacts she has made with skaters all over the world. “The only thing more rewarding than winning any competition is winning with 15 of your best friends by your side,” Ludy said. “Not only are those girls my teammates, but they are also my family.” And winning she has done, earning more than 100 medals in various aspects of skating. Since joining the team, she has received two national gold medals, one national silver medal and a Prague cup medal.
“Another more rewarding thing is having my little sister look up to me and making my family so proud of me,” Ludy said. “My entire family came to watch me at the World Championships—I had a cheering crowd of 18—and after I skated there were tears rolling down my mom’s face. It feels so good to know that I have succeeded in so much and made her so proud.”
Even in the off-season, she keeps on working—practicing five days a week for three hours at a time. Practice consists of two-and-ahalf hours on the ice and 30 minutes of warm-up and off-ice training. On her own, Ludy heads to the gym five days a week to train for stamina and strength. Unfortunately, reaching the Olympics is currently not an option for this athlete, because synchronized skating is not an Olympic sport. “We have all been working so hard to see what we can do to make it acceptable for an Olympic sport,” Ludy said. “There have been a lot of changes made throughout the years, and they are making many more. The most recent change was to cut the team from 20 to 16. Now they are talking about getting rid of the male skaters in synchronized skating. Hopefully soon we will be accepted into the Olympics; I would love to represent my country in an Olympic competition. That has always been one of my dreams.”
Her current coach, Saga Krantz, is also helping her reach her dreams. A native of Finland, Krantz spices things up for Ludy and her team. “There is never a dull moment on the ice with Saga,” she said. “I feel so privileged working with her. She has been working with us in the United States for two years now.”
Her team’s manager, Gail Hanson-Mayer, is also an inspiration. “She has been with this team for so long and has traveled everywhere with us. My first year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was so amazing to see her go through everything and come out more vibrant than ever,” Ludy said. “Ever since her diagnosis our team has participated in the Race for the Cure in support of her, as well as some other mothers involved in our club. No matter what I want to do with my future, Ms. Mayer has pushed me and given me the important contacts and information I needed to make me even more successful. Ms. Mayer has been our team’s biggest cheerleader, and when I’m upset and don’t know what I should do, I always talk to her and she helps me get through.”
Before she had her coaches to look up to, Ludy loved watching Olympic medalist and figure skater Michelle Kwan. Now, she looks up to her grandfather, Emil Ludy. “He would get mad if I told you how old he was,” Ludy said. “Let’s just say he’s old enough to be my grandfather and he’s still playing hockey and doing the things that he loves. He truly lives every day to its fullest, and that’s what I want to do with my life.”
Filling her free time with water wakeboarding, rollerblading, hanging out with friends and snowboarding in the winter, Ludy stays busy. She also focuses on being a role model, taking the position very seriously.
“I feel like it’s always the little girls looking up to us that are going to be the next national champions. You have to start when they are young and then you know that by the time they are our age, the team you skated on will be as strong as ever,” Ludy said. “I teach my own basic skills classes several times a week. I love working with the little kids. There is a sense of accomplishment when a skater in one of my classes finally passes a level he or she has been working very hard on. It’s like watching them win a national medal over and over again. Kids get so excited and it’s fun to join in their celebration.”
Currently majoring in sports science and minoring in sports psychology, Ludy said she plans to keep skating a part of her life. “It’s been so amazing that I don’t see any reason why I should change professions. The people who do what they love for a job are the luckiest people in the world,” Ludy said.
She also plans on coaching and working with children in the future and possibly starting her own team. “You bond so much with the kids while you are coaching them and you spend so much time doing something you and they both love,” Ludy said. “I just want them to enjoy skating as much as I did.” TPW