It’s 4.30am at Macquarie Ice Rink when Amber Hawkins laces up her skates for a rigorous 90-minute training session. On the ice, Amber, and her friend and NSW Ambulance colleague, Jasmin Fernando, join up to 20 others from the Australian Synchronized Skating Team (also known as Team Unity). Together they practise their routines until just before sunrise.
“What we do is quite similar to ice dance, except there are up to 20 skaters on the ice at a time – men and women,” Amber explained. “There are lots of elements and formations - lifts, intersections, jumps and spins.”
Amber’s willingness to train at such an absurd hour is driven by the goal of success at the upcoming World Championships at the end of March in Lake Placid, New York – host of the 1980 Winter Olympics. Amber and her team rely on out-of-hours access to the Macquarie facility, on the back of the closure to their previous home rink in Canterbury.
“We finish with enough time to go to sleep before work – that’s how early it is,” Amber explained. Evening training sessions go until after 11pm. Then there are two weekly sessions with a personal trainer, two Pilates sessions, and “off-ice” training on choreography, to make sure skaters’ artistic interpretation matches the music they’re skating to."
“Unfathomable,” was the word one colleague used to describe Amber’s training regime.
The discipline of “Synchro, as it’s called, is still in its infancy in Australia. In such a fledgling sport, competitors have more responsibilities than just training to shoulder. Amber is arranging a community fundraiser to help fund the team’s airfares, accommodation, and coaching. The team even have to pay for their ice time when training in the US. Veteran skaters are pitching in to help out. Getting together to stick crystals on Team Unity’s costumes is something of a pre-competition ritual.
“It’s a huge honour representing Australia on the world stage,” Jasmin Fernando told Sirens. “It’s something not many people can say they’ve done. “In our sport, we’re out there on the ice with 19 of our best friends. We’ve known each other pretty much all of our lives. We’re like one big family."
“When you’re out there and you’re competing and everyone’s literally cheering you on, it’s just crazy,” Amber added. “Every time you train, you ask yourself, ‘Is this really worth it?’ Then when you get on the ice at a competition, you tell yourself, ‘Yes, it is... We’re actually quite competitive too!”
It’s the 4th world championships Amber has taken part in. This time though, she’ll be without her bestie, Jasmin. The best previous finish by Team Unity at a World Championships was 15th. How competitive will Amber and her team be in 2023? Back in 1980, there was a famous “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid, when the amateur US Ice Hockey team beat the all-powerful Soviets.
Who knows? Maybe there’ll be another miracle when Amber and Team Unity hit the ice this March.