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Hard work, dedication pays off for Otto

Whitnall High School freshman masters double-axel, achieves goal of going to nationals

Dec. 6, 2011

Greenfield - Day after day, as months rolled into years, Nicole Otto was out on the ice, bravely pursuing two goals that seemed sometimes tantalizingly close but also proved elusive.

One was to successfully complete the double-axel, which is widely considered to be the most difficult jump in all of figure skating. The other, which was inextricably tied to the first, was to qualify for the United States Junior National Championships in her category of Intermediate Ladies.

The 14-year-old skater from Greenfield worked almost every day for three years with coach Janel Wamboldt on the double-axel, which she likely needed to perform successfully to qualify for the national meet.

She encountered many setbacks and endured many doubts but kept pressing on, and her resolve was strengthened even more when she missed qualifying for the junior national meet by just .3 points in October 2010.

But finally, one day….

"She worked so hard on it for the next six months," Wamboldt said, "and then in February, she finally hit it."

Otto said, "It was so tough for me. It took 2½ to three years. Any skater will tell you that the double-axel is the hardest jump to get. That was true for me. I certainly had my doubts, but I couldn't imagine my having a skating career without doing a double-axel."

Her mother Jennifer took great pride in that moment.

"Other skaters don't get (the double-axel) for a while, and then they start wondering if they ever will," Jennifer said.

Nicole did not stop there - instead, she began working on perfecting it.

"Now she's one of the best at it," Wamboldt said. "She gets such joy out of doing it, because at times, she thought it was never going to happen. It was such a good lesson for her and for me. She never gave up and I never gave up."

Jennifer said Nicole learned from those struggles.

"Everything had always come so easily for her," her mother said. "She has a high grade-point average and actually took the ACT in seventh grade, scoring a 23 on it. (While practicing the double-axel), she learned to develop a work ethic. That was her first roadblock, and to see her overcome it has been amazing."

Having accomplished that goal, Nicole set her sights on the second - reaching the national meet - and in October, she nailed that one too.

Competing in a regional meet at St. Paul, Minn., she finished second out of 100 competitors in Intermediate Ladies, earning a spot in the national meet, which will be held this weekend in East Lansing, Mich.

"For so long, since I was 11 years old, I wanted to make the nationals," Nicole said. "It took me years to get there, and it was so much work. It is just amazing to have a shot. (At the regionals), I told myself I would not leave the competition knowing I had left anything out there."

She knows skating against the nation's best will be another stiff challenge but feels well-prepared since she took part in what she thought was one of the toughest regional competitions in the country.

Besides, she is someone who thrives on challenges.

"She is extremely bright and has realized success in other areas besides skating," Wamboldt explained. "She knows what it feels like to be on top. She made a decision to be successful at skating, and she is strong-willed and determined. She just said, 'I'm going to do this,' and she won't settle for anything less. She was absolutely determined to go to nationals."

Her work ethic and desire are clearly shown by her practice schedule, which consists of 1½ to two hours daily for six days each week, taking off only on Sunday. She trains with Wamboldt at the Rink Side Ice Arena in Gurnee, Ill., which adds about an hour of travel time each day.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, she receives an early release at 1:20 p.m. from Whitnall High School, where she is a freshman, and heads to Gurnee for a 2:15 p.m. session.

The schedule is even more demanding on Thursdays, when she takes the ice at 5 a.m. That means she rises at about 3:20 a.m. and leaves the house at about 3:45 a.m. with father Mike or brother Ryan driving. That gets her to Gurnee on time for the session, and afterward, she heads back to Whitnall for the school day.

Previously, when her session began at 6 a.m., her grandparents took her to Gurnee.

"I could not do this without everyone's help," Nicole said. "(Skating) is something I love to do, and yes, it's difficult (to get up so early), but everything in life that is worth something is difficult."

Nicole has skated competitively since she was 3 years old.

"She and Ryan did just about everything: swimming, basketball, gymnastics, whatever," Jennifer recalled. "They wanted to find something they were good at doing.

"They took skating classes through the YMCA at the Pettit Center. When they both got on the ice, they found they could skate well. They even competed as a brother-sister ice dance team and went to nationals twice. Nicole was interested in a lot of things, but really became dedicated to skating in recent years."

Nicole said, "I'm an artistic person, and you can't show that at school except for art classes. In skating, you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to do."

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