Alissa Czisny practices at the Detroit Skating Club. The Bowling Green State University sophomore is thought to have a good chance of making the U.S. Olympic team after winning Skate Canada and finishing second at Skate America.
When Alissa Czisny was 10, she told The Blade her goal in figure skating was "to win the Olympics."
A Bowling Green resident, Czisny competes this week in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Louis for a chance to do just that.
Thanks to a breakout year, Czisny is thought to be one of a handful of contenders for the final spot to travel to Turin, Italy, for the Winter Olympics next month, assuming Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan wrap up the other two.
This fall Czisny, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, won Skate Canada and finished second at Skate America. She was the only U.S. skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Toyko last month, where she finished sixth.
Now that the Olympics are within view, Czisny, 18, said the prospect is just another step in her plan.
"For me it's probably not much of a surprise, because I've always been capable of it," Czisny said.
A stellar season has Czisny on this stage, but more than a decade of dedication brought her this far.
It's not hard to see how Czisny formed the rigorous habits that include three-a-day skating sessions and earning grades good enough for an academic scholarship to BGSU, where she is a full-time student. Watching her mom and dad give up things for her when she was growing up made it easy for Czisny.
Bowling Green's Alissa Czisny, left, her coach, Shelly Bressler, and her twin sister, Amber, pose at a send-off celebration.
Czisny, her mom, Debbie, her dad, Mark, and her fraternal twin sister, Amber, have lived in the same three-bedroom apartment her entire life. Paying for skating for the twins made purchasing a house impossible.
Debbie Czisny, a former medical technologist, gave up her career to home-school her children. The original reasons included teaching a Christian background not included in public school curriculum, but it evolved into giving the Czisnys the benefit of training at out-of-town rinks.
The twins first put on skates at 18 months when their mom took them along to her lessons. When the twins were 8 their choreography coach, Betsy DeWitt, determined she couldn't teach them any more at the BGSU Ice Arena.
First they traveled to Cleveland once a week for two years. In that span both girls first placed in the top six in regional competitions, and then Alissa Czisny won regionals.
For the past eight years, Debbie Czisny has driven her daughters 1,000 miles a week to two rinks in the Detroit area. In the car the girls studied, often listening to French and Spanish language tapes that led to Czisny choosing to major in international studies at BGSU.
In their entire schooling career, Debbie Czisny took only three sick days and gave them one snow day. She encouraged the twins to work on school in the summer, enabling them to finish 7th and 8th grade in one year.
"You do have to make sacrifices, [but] I think most parents do make sacrifices for your children," Debbie Czisny said. "We've done the maximum we can do for them, and they have to take it from there."
At 13 Czisny finished second at junior nationals, vaulting her into her first international competition in Slovenia, which she won. She qualified for the U.S Championships the next year and has competed in them since, her highest finish seventh place last year.
On the ice Czisny is known for her spins, spirals and grace. Part of her success this season she credits to a strategy her coaches derived to make practice more like the real thing after she had trouble in a competition. On occasion, Czisny will practice in her competition costumes and her coaches will gather anyone who is around the rink to make noise while she skates.
This fall The Learning Channel followed Czisny around to several events for a segment on the show Ice Diaries airing this month. That experience also helped her to stop being camera shy.
"I've never competed that well, [but] I've learned to put it out in competitions, and be more confident," Czisny said.
It was never an option for the twins and their mom to move away from their dad, who is a manager for a manufacturing company in Northwood. The closest they came was this past summer when the three stayed in one room in an extended-stay hotel near the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., because of highway construction.
"We decided to keep our family together through this," Debbie Czisny said. "I know a lot of sports families, especially figure skating families, do try to split their families.
"It's been a goal all the way through."
Czisny takes mostly night and online classes to fit it all in. When BGSU's winter semester starts this week she'll already have work to make up from her trip to St. Louis.
She credits her family for the opportunity of a lifetime that's in front of her.
"If they hadn't made that commitment, I wouldn't be where I am now," Czisny said.
"All this is what they've given me."
Contact Maureen Fulton at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.
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