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Figure Skater Lorraine McNamara Balancing Education with Quest for Gold

By Dash Tischler

Lorraine McNamara was still a toddler when she first ventured out onto the ice. Today, the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) psychology student is a competitive ice dancer with an eye on a U.S. Figure Skating Championship medal.

“My mom—when I was little, when I was about two and a half—decided to start skating just as a hobby. You know, for exercise. When my siblings were at school, she would bring me to the rink while she practiced. And eventually, I started wobbling out onto the ice,” said McNamara.

She recounted her mother enrolling her in skating lessons in Germantown, Maryland. The instructors wound up being Elena Novak and Alexei Kiliakov, who eventually approached McNamara’s mother with the news that they were launching a developmental academy for young skaters, and they wanted McNamara to be part of it.

“This academy trained everyone to be ice dancers,” McNamara explained. “That's where I started, and I've been there ever since. So, I just kind of fell into the world of ice dancing.”

McNamara may describe it as falling into the world of ice dancing, but her trajectory in the sport is on the rise. With her partner Quinn Carpenter, she became a World Junior Champion in 2016 and came in fourth at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

But then Carpenter retired following the 2019-2020 season, forcing McNamara to search for a new partner. Fortunately, it was not long before she met Anton Spiridonov. They skated through many competitions, among them three national figure skating championships.

Recently, however, they, too, parted ways, driving McNamara to begin 2024 in a new quest for a skating companion. She continues to train at the ION International Training Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Even while McNamara studies at UMGC, she uses her out of class time to merge art and movement as an ice dancer. When she enrolled at UMGC last February, she and Spiridonov were competing using a free dance set to “Rain, In Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso, which Lorraine said, “really created a beautiful piece of art that just off the ice shined.” She thinks of the program as groundbreaking.

“Moving that onto the ice was something that just really hadn't been done. There's been contemporary and modern dance done on the ice but never to the extent that that program was for us,” she explained.

Spiridonov and McNamara found success skating to this program, earning a silver medal in ice dance at the 2023 Winter World University Games. McNamara said the remarkable accomplishment was made possible by the support of their team of coaches, trainers and a physical therapist.

“Throughout the entirety of the competitive season, we were continuously making these big steps in these big bounds of improvement,” she said of the ambitious program and aspirations of the skating team.

 Spiridonov and McNamara also competed at the Nebelhorn Trophy, where they placed eighth, and in early November, they competed at the 2023 Grand Prix de France, finishing in ninth place.

Off the ice, McNamara continues her studies. She describes UMGC as “really the perfect set up for [me] personally.” She said her positive experience as a student boosts her and, by extension, her performance.

"UMGC does a wonderful job at creating an online environment that feels interactive. There’s a bounty of resources to make me feel supported and guided even though I am not physically attending classes,” she explained.

She noted the extensive variety of course offerings and the convenience of online learning.

“I had heard compelling reviews of the flexibility and wide course range offered by UMGC and knew it would be the perfect fit for me,” said McNamara. “It is so important to me to be able to explore the academic world and pursue my goals in scholastics without sacrificing my goals and dreams on the ice. I am excited to be able to complete my degree and without being limited to a short list of available online classes.”

She said education is important to her because it helps to build her as a human being.

“Who you are on the ice is a result of how you grow both within and outside of your sport,” said McNamara. “Education plays a big role in that. It has always been important for me to not just become the best skater and athlete I can be, but to be the best well-rounded individual as possible.”

After completing her psychology degree, McNamara plans to pursue a master’s and to study movement therapy, which she said combines health, psychology, movement and art “in a really beautiful way.” Until then, she is continuing to combine art and movement in world-class ice-dancing performances.

Dash Tischler is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park, majoring in Arabic Studies.