Charlotte Ice Dancers have their eyes set on the 2022 Winter Olympics
While most of the world slumbers, ice dance partners Christian Bennett and Sabrina Foti awaken at 5 a.m. twice a week to train at the Pineville Icehouse.
Then, breakfast on the go and Bennett and Foti, both 13, are off to their respective schools.
An afternoon training session on the ice always follows.
More food and then bed.
Eat. Skate. Sleep. Repeat.
“That’s pretty much our life,” said Bennett’s father, Kevin Bennett, who with his wife, Starr, takes turns with Foti’s parents driving the pair to practice five days a week after school with the additional pre-school practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
The strict training regiment has paid off for Foti and Bennett, one of the region’s only ice dancing duo.
Foti and Bennett placed fifth in the juvenile dance division at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, in January.
That’s a remarkable accomplishment for the teenagers who have only been partners since 2015.
“I think going in, we had low expectations and coming out, we have high expectations for next year,” said Bennett, an eighth-grade student at United Faith Christian Academy, Providence Road, Charlotte.
“We were actually extremely happy,” said Foti, an eighth-grader at Grace Academy in Matthews.
The pair, whose families live in the Ballanytne area, will move up to the intermediate ice dancing division with their next competition this summer in Maryland, Bennett said.
Foti and Bennett spend between 10-12 hours per week training with professional figure skating coach Gary Shortland in Pineville.
“They walk in and they’re ready,” Shortland said, of the pair. “They know they’ve got a job to do. I think they’re starting to realize it’s not a hobby anymore. It’s a job where they know they can go places.”
Their potential isn’t lost on Bennett who began skating in 2013.
“I think everyone needs, you know, a sport that you’re good at,” said Bennett. “Something that makes you feel you have a gift. That’s how me and Sabrina feel. This is kind of our sport.”
Initially, ice skating was one of many activities Foti and Bennett tried separately. Bennett showed horses, played the violin and is a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do while Foti took ballet for many years, said Kevin Bennett.
But those activities are on the back burner now after their rapid success on the ice.
Shortland, himself an international ice dance champion, met Bennett after the mother of a girl Shortland coached mentioned that Bennett enjoyed skating.
Always on the lookout for potential male ice dancers — of which there is a shortage — Shortland contacted Kevin Bennett who wasted no time in introducing his son to Shortland in 2013.
Bennett and Shortland “clicked straight away,” Shortland said.
Although Bennett had skated recreationally, Shortland had to teach him to ice dance.
Within months, Bennett was dancing, Shortland said.
“He had speed, he had posture, he was already somebody to keep an eye on,” Shortland said.
Bennett went to the U.S. Figure Skating’s National Solo Dance Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2014 to gain competitive experience, Kevin Bennett said.
In 2015, Shortland paired Foti, a beginner skater, with Bennett.
“We’re kind of perfect for each other,” said Foti.
“We’ve always been really good friends on and off the ice,” said Bennett.
“They get on like they’re brother and sister,” Shortland said.
While Bennett is outgoing and confident, Foti is a bit shy but easygoing, said Helen Foti, Sabrina’s mother.
Good partners not only have to get along, they must be physically right for each other, said Foti.
Bennett is 5 feet 11 inches tall while Foti is five feet tall, each said. Foti’s petite size allows him to easily lift her in the air, Bennett said.
The pair is also well-suited to the demands of training, their parents said.
“Not one time will they say that they don’t want to go,” said Kevin Bennett.
“Otherwise I don’t think you could get kids out of bed at 5 o’ clock in the morning to do that,” said Helen Foti.
Bennett and Foti are only children and the two families have grown close to each other due to the demands of their training, Helen Foti said.
Helen Foti said she and her husband, Leonard Foti, will often carpool with the Bennett family to training and have dinner together after practice.
The two families, strangers before Shortland introduced them, live less than five minutes away from each other in the Ballantyne area.
“It’s almost like it was meant to be,” said Helen Foti.
During their off time, Foti and Bennett said they both love being outdoors while Foti also enjoys hanging out with her friends and shopping.
The expensive financial commitment of ice dancing is a worthwhile cost because Foti and Bennett have their eyes set on a grand prize.
“The next Winter Olympics, that’s our next goal,” said Foti.
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, is a possibility, Shortland agreed.
“They’ve got to get a bit stronger but they’ve definitely got a good chance and that’s our goal,” said Shortland.
Kate Stevens is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.