Dorchester's Van Berkel returns to the Junior synchronized championship
Monday, February 4, 2019
By Rob J. Ross
DORCHESTER - Emily Van Berkel will be skating with the world's best.
The 17-year old Dorchester resident is off to the ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating championships, in Neuchatel, Switzerland, March 14-16, with team NEXXICE, representing the country as Canada One.
NEXXICE is an under-20 team out of the Burlington Skating Club and they qualified for the world event winning their division at Winterfest, January 4-6, in Brampton.
"It feels pretty amazing. I've been skating since I was like two and it has always been for a long time my dream to skate with NEXXICE. This is my third year and I've been fortunate enough to go to worlds for all three seasons. It feels pretty cool to go again," said Van Berkel.
"Being able to represent Canada and to wear the Canadian flag on our jackets is a cool thing. When we compete at worlds we stay in a hotel with the other teams, so you get to meet a lot of people from all over the world and they share the same love for the sport."
In a tune-up for the world championship, NEXXICE performed at the Mozart Cup, January 18/19th, in Prague, Czech Republic.
Van Berkel made her NEXXICE debut in 2017 when the world championship was held in Mississauga.
"It was really special because worlds were in Canada. It was really cool and amazing to be in the building and it was incredible to skate in front of a home crowd," recalls Van Berkel. "We ended up in fifth and were third in the free program."
A year ago, in Zagreb, Croatia, NEXXICE placed eighth out of 21 teams.
"We had a fall in our short program. That bumped us down. Still, it was top 10 and we were really proud."
A memorable moment was seeing a teammate be healthy enough to skate in one of their programs.
"She was diagnosed with cancer, lymphoma," Van Berkel said. "The whole season her goal was to skate at worlds and despite everything she actually got to skate. It was really special regardless of where we placed."
Almost since the time Van Berkel could walk, she was on blades. Emily lives in Dorchester, with mom, Kristin, dad, Greg and younger brother, Noah.
"My mom used to skate and she first put me on the ice I think when I was two. I started taking lessons when I was four. It was singles for a little bit. When I was seven I started synchro," said Van Berkel. "I really liked it and wanted to continue. I skated with London for a couple of years. While in London, I met a girl and she eventually went to NEXXICE. I really looked up to her. NEXXICE is a really big name in the skating community, so it was always on the radar."
Now Van Berkel has a passion for the sport shared with her 19 teammates.
"I love the feeling that I get when I'm on the ice. Being able to be free and feel the wind in my hair. I love being on a team and learning the crazy things we get to do and the people have become my best friends."
These days skating fills much of her weekly schedule, traveling to the Burlington area three days a week, for practices and off ice training in dance, choreography and fitness.
"My mom always says she's an Uber," laughs Emily.
The sport of synchronized skating has changed over the years.
"It used to be very dance like and technical about turns and patterns. They're really intertwining free skate with dance. We get to do a lot more lifts and jumps. They're changes the rules to make it more interesting," Van Berkel says. "My coaches are very big on speed, aggression and attack. That's one of our challenges, being fast and also being able to execute all the things we do while being in synch."
At competitions, teams perform a short and long program, each with required elements, lasting from two and half minutes to three and half minutes.
NEXXICE's main rival at the National level is a Quebec based team.
"They're our biggest rival and it flip-flops whether they're Team Canada one or we're Team Canada one," says Van Berkel. "We go to worlds and we're on the same team representing Canada."
Russia is the reigning world champion, with Finland, Sweden, USA and Canada, rounding out the top five nations in the synchro skating.
Prior to worlds, NEXXICE will compete on day one of the Skate Ontario regional championships, February 8-10th, in Aylmer, followed by Nationals two weeks later, in Waterloo.
The Aylmer competition will give family and friends another opportunity to see Van Berkel. In December, the student at Lord Dorchester Secondary School skated in her hometown at the Bill Phillips Memorial Invitational.
"That was my first time (in Dorchester). I was more nervous for that than any other competition because it's easier to skate and perform when you can block out all of the faces in the crowd. There I knew everyone," said Van Berkel. "(But) it was cool to be at home."
Fellow Dorchester skaters at Winterfest
Several London and area teams competed in various divisions, with members of the North Dorchester Skating Club on their teams.
The Mt. Brydges Magic Blades led the way with the best area result, placing fourth in Pre-Novice.
London Synchronicity teams placed fifth in the Adult II division, sixth in Adult I, eighth in Juvenile (with Dorchester resident Teah Whitesell) and ninth in Pre-Novice (with Dorchester's Sarah Kipp).
Ilderton placed seventh in Adult I, 11th in Juvenile and 13th in Junior (with Thorndale native Ellen Major).
Jessica Christensen skates with Ilderton's intermediate team.