Athlete of the week: McKenna Wilson, Zimmerman, figure skating: Whirling through life

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

McKenna Wilson found her destiny early, at age three, on a patch of ice in the family’s backyard. When her older brother and sister went out to skate one day in a flooded area at home in Livonia Township,  McKenna  climbed into her winter clothes and grabbed her sister’s skates and insisted on joining them, so her mom, Natalie, put her outside with them, with a stool for support.

“She has been skating ever since,” said Natalie. And how. Wilson at 16 is one of the most ambitious and accomplished skaters turned out by the Elk River Figure Skating Club. She recently earned double-gold status and will be competing in Seniors in 2011.

The 5-foot-3 Zimmerman High School junior  is a strong, explosive, daring, graceful skater currently tackling the triple jumps that separate the also rans from the champs.

McKenna Wilson is working hard on her triple jumps in preparation for competing in Seniors in 2011. (Straw Productions photo)

“I want to see how far I can go,” she states.

Wilson earned second-place finishes at state meets in Intermediates in 2008 and juniors in 2010 and now looks ahead to the top rung of competition.

Another highlight so far is placing sixth among 22 skaters at regionals this past October. “That’s like at the Olympics, where the top skaters get to be in the last group and make it on TV,” she said.

Wilson earned her “Moves-In-The-Field” gold at age 12, which is akin to learning the scales when you play piano.

The big hurdle is the free skate test, in which she captured her gold status in November at St. Cloud.  In a four-minute skate before three US Figure Skating Association judges, you’re required to rattle off a a series of double-revolutions (axel, double salchow, toe loop, flip, lutz) and two combination doubles, along with three variations of spins, while showing precise edges and turns in your footwork.

Actually, grinned Wilson, it was a little easier than her competition skates, and she was quite confident.

“McKenna blew it away. She was awesome. No mistakes,” said her ERGSC coach Sandra Johansson. “She has never failed a free skate test.”

Wilson is the fourth club member over the years to earn double gold, following her sister Ashley, Michelle Green, and Rachel Halverson, who joined the Disney on Ice tour this year.

Johansson said Wilson is the first member to attack all the triple-revolution jumps — salchow, toe loop, loop, flip, lutz, and axel. Wilson is ” breakthrough skater for our club” showing the younger kids what can be done.

Wilson is landing her triples two-footed and striving for one-footed landings. She skates three days in Elk River each week and two days in Blaine are spent with coach Tom Incenteloupo concentrating on triples. She’s been training with him since fall.

“We’re working on the toe, sow (salchow) and lutz,” said Wilson, “because those are the (triples) he thinks I can do best … My goals are to get my triples consistent and, hopefully, make it to sectionals and possibly nationals.”

Looking ahead to a challenging year, Wilson will also engage a Russian coach, Svetlana Kulikova, starting in January, for choreography.

Johansson notes that while most serious skaters are home-schooled, Wilson is “a normal kid — she goes to  a high school, and doesn’t get out early to skate, and has a boyfriend. But she is busy. Her days go  from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.”

Actually, Wilson would prefer to be home-schooled (“That would things a lot easier!”) but her mom  says it would be too tough on both of them. So, instead, Wilson attends ZHS classes, hurries home and changes clothes, heads for the rink, does homework in the car and on breaks, and collapses into bed at 10.

While she’s now strictly a skater, Wilson played softball, too, through 2009, as a pitcher and outfielder on Team Chaos in the summer, until a buildup of nagging injuries from her two sports took a toll. She played one season of hockey, in sixth grade, where she skated so fast she got called for offsides a lot.

She currently skates five days a week. She used to skate 11 to 7 on weekends, too, but Incenteloupo insists that she needs two days of recovery.

Her daily ritual includes three sets of 35 pushups, and three sets of 85 situps.

“You need a lot of upper body strength,” Johansson explains, “to break the centrifugal force in your body when you are spinning in order to make the landing.”

Wilson says she “never gets tired of skating.”  So, what’s the appeal, why all this effort and focus on one activity, for all these years? Simple, she explains: The flying. I love the feeling of flying.”

The Wilson scorecard

McKenna Wilson

Personal file — Age: 16 … Family: parents Natalie and Jeff; sister Ashley; brother Ty … Sport: figure skating … Academics: mostly A’s … College plans: two years away, but thinking U of M

Favorite stuff — Class: German, math, photo … TV show: “Bones” … Movie: “Pride and Prejudice” … Music: Maroon 5 and 303 … Meal: Granite City raspberry lemonade, chicken wrap & fries …. Drink: Culver’s root beer … Athlete: nobody in particular … Kickback activites: broomball … Place she’d like to visit: tour Europe

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