With their oversized smiles and contagious glow, it's impossible not to get caught up in the pure joy that emanates from this winning team. After only eight lessons as a pairs team, Gabby Kaplan and Matthew Soifer won a silver medal at the Battle of the Blades US National Qualifying Competition in Fort Wayne, Indiana last summer.
As one of the only Jewish pairs teams internationally, they are making their mark on the skating world. Kaplan is an eighth grader at Wood Oaks Junior High in Northbrook, and Soifer is a senior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. They have both been skating since they were toddlers and have spent the bulk of their careers as singles skaters--until about six months ago, when the two, who shared a rink, decided to team up.
Kaplan's mom, Alexis, said she could tell something special was happening from the first time her daughter skated as part of a pairs team. After her first lesson, Alexis said, "she had this huge smile, and almost a twinkle in her eyes."
Both Kaplan and Soifer love the variety of both singles and pairs skating. "It makes me feel very free, and like I'm flying," Kaplan said. "When Matthew lifts me up and throws me, I feel like the spotlight is on us. I also like that, when I'm on the ice, I'm not alone. He's experiencing the nervousness and excitement, the same as me."
"I really enjoy being on the ice, and being able to express myself in a creative way," Soifer said. "When I had the opportunity to do pairs skating, it was just a different way to keep expressing myself through ice skating."
Skating at this level takes an enormous amount of work, commitment, and dedication--from
both the skaters and their families. Kaplan and Soifer each spend approximately 20 hours a week training for both pairs and singles skating, in addition to carrying a full scholastic workload.
"As a figure skater, not only do you have to know how to skate; you have to spend two to three times a week focusing on off-ice training," said Soifer's mother, Elizabeth. This includes strength training exercises, training for jumps, and attending either ballet or Pilates for stretching once or twice a week.
Kaplan and Soifer are "special" together because of their willingness to learn and work at it, said their coach Chris Knierim, a former Olympian and bronze medal winner.
"Both being talented singles skaters and having great body awareness has really helped them progress in pairs," Knierim said. "With a limited amount of training, the accomplishments they've made on the ice has been extraordinary."
Next up for the skaters is the US National Pairs Final in Tacoma, Washington in early November--just two days after Gabby's bat mitzvah.
To keep up with Gabby and Matthew, follow them on Instagram at:
@gkaps_skates and @Matt.soifer3.
Rochelle Newman Rubinoff is a freelance writer living in the northern suburbs of Chicago.