SHELTON, Conn. — To watch Juliet Melotto glide effortlessly across the ice at The Rinks at Shelton, you would think she just had a knack for skating.
But you would only be half correct.
The 17-year-old Orange resident practically lives at the rink, spending at least 90 minutes to two hours, six days a week, perfecting her jumps and spins.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s my determination to make my goals and really just skate for myself.”
Melotto reached a significant goal last month, as she passed her senior freestyle test, one of the highest achievements for an amateur skater, before a panel of three U.S. Figure Skating judges.
“They all passed her!” said Jolyne Kane, Melotto’s coach and grandmother, wiping away a few tears.
The scene is one that takes place every few months at the rink as hopeful members of the Laurel Ridge Skating Club move through the proficiency levels in three main ice skating disciplines: Freestyle, Moves in the Field and Ice Dance.
“These are the same tests that people who go to Worlds and the Olympics go through,” said Nancy Temple of Newtown, a board member with the Shelton-based club.
But the club is about much more than just testing. Members say the group, established in Ridgefield and Danbury in 1974, has become an extended family.
“I have some really great friends from this,” said Maggie Burns of Fairfield, who joined the club with her twin sister, Katie. “We tried every sport, but we’ve been skating as long as I can remember.”
Chris Hoelck, a Danbury resident and the club’s president, said he has heard similar stories from other skaters. Skaters tend to be a breed apart — bright, determined and goal oriented, he said.
Hoelck caught the skating bug when his daughter, Claire Tensa, took to the ice, becoming active in the 100-member club.
“I had this arc of discovery,” he said. “You practice and practice and train and then have an opportunity to test. I think it really helps them focus.
“And there’s a whole community, a social thing happening,” he said.
The sport offers more than solo or pairs skating, said coach Gianine Craw, a Monroe resident and Bridgeport native. Craw leads Dynamic Ice Caberet Ensemble (DICE), a theater-on-ice company that competes regionally and across the country.
Other skaters compete with disciplined synchronized skating teams.
Craw said those who are willing to put in the effort reap many rewards from the sport.
“I remember when I first stepped on the ice,” she said. “I felt such incredible freedom — the gush of wind, the freedom of movement. It’s fun to open up that world to my girls, too.”
Laurel Ridge boasts members from across southern Connecticut, including from Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Easton, Fairfield, New Fairfield, Newtown, Norwalk, Monroe, Ridgefield, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston and Westport.
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.