Breakout

Photo: Susan D. Russell

Madeline Schizas, a talented, effervescent teenager from Oakville, Ontario, stepped out of the shadows last season and promptly announced her arrival as one of the top Canadian ladies. In her first year on the circuit, Schizas earned the honor of being the only one to claim a step on a senior international podium during the 2019-2020 campaign.

After finishing second in juniors at the Canadian Championships a year ago, Schizas worked hard in the ensuing months and set high goals for herself for the 2019-2020 season, two of which were earning a Junior Grand Prix assignment and a trip to the World Junior Championships.

She kicked off her campaign with a win at Skate Milwaukee in July. At her next event, Minto Summer Skate — the final opportunity to earn a Junior Grand Prix assignment — Schizas finished in third place. Her pre-season efforts ended with a victory at the NYSA Summer Skate in Toronto.

“The first half of my season was not nearly as good as the second half,” Schizas said. “Milwaukee went well, but I had a poor performance at Minto Skate. I was getting over being really sick so that was just bad timing. Then I did the summer event (in Toronto), which went really well. I was really looking to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix, but most of the spots had already been assigned. I hadn’t been named to the NextGen team, and the first people looked at for Junior Grand Prixs are NextGen team members.”

Originally coached by Ann Fisher and Paul Fisher (who are still part of her team), Schizas now works primarily with Nancy Lemaire and Derek Schmidt at the Milton Skating Club.

In November, Schizas was sent to her first international competition, the Volvo Open in Riga, Latvia. This was the final event designated by Skate Canada to earn a berth at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. A fifth-place finish left Schizas out of the mix, but she still considered her performances in Riga as “a good outing for my first international. My short was better than my long. I think I just got a little distracted.”

In the end, it all worked out. Not competing at the Youth Olympics cleared the path for Schizas to earn a trip to senior nationals. “On that one, it was really a win-win one way or the other,” she said.

Schizas headed to the 2020 Skate Canada Challenge in Edmonton, Alberta, in late November. Competing as a senior at the final qualifying event for the 2020 Canadian Championships she sat in fourth after the short program. Undeterred, the determined teenager laid down a solid free skate and ultimately finished in first place overall.

Heading into nationals her focus was not on placements, but on skating her best and putting out good performances. Schizas achieved the first part of her goal by placing second in the short. Skating last in the final flight of the free gave her the opportunity to watch the rest of the field, note their scores and assess her own prospects. She knew there was an opportunity for a podium finish — she just had to take advantage of it.

The double Axel proved to be her nemesis in the long program with all four attempts popped into singles. Fatigue in the second half of the routine also seemed to be a factor. “That was not my proudest moment. I don’t even know what I was thinking,” the Oakville native said of the Axel attempts. “And the fourth one was in an invalid combo, so there were some mistakes. I think it all comes with experience, which you cannot buy.” Schizas finished in third place.

“I am quite analytical and I knew I could fall anywhere between the podium and 10th place, depending upon how I skated and how other people skated,” she said in reflection. “I knew going into the free that I had a chance at being on the podium. I skated last so, after watching other people skate I kind of knew where I fit and that I could end up on the podium.

“Junior Worlds was 100 percent what I was going for at that point. Since the beginning of the season that was the goal. Senior Worlds was not even on the radar. I was hoping that a good skate at Canadians, coupled with a good skate at Challenge and also the Volvo Cup, would make some kind of difference in the decision.”

At the gala rehearsal the following morning, while Schmidt and Schizas were putting together an exhibition routine, he told her she had been assigned to the Bavarian Open in Germany in early February. “Oberstdorf is one of those places that I think skaters end up going to. Everyone has been there so I was excited that I was finally getting to go,” the 17-year-old said. “It is one of those places you would never go to if it weren’t for skating. I could not see myself knowing about it otherwise, but it is so beautiful.

“It was a really great experience. I was just happy to be there honestly. Coming off nationals I knew I could put out good performances. I had been skating really consistent programs at home, so it was really just about getting there and skating how I did in practice. The junior ladies were split into two age groups. I did not know many of the people competing. I had only competed against Elsa Cheng from the U.S. (who was in the younger age group) before. I did not know where I would place going in, but I just wanted to skate well.”

Schizas surpassed that goal by winning her group and captured her first international title. It was an exciting moment for the teenager when the gold medal was placed around her neck.

Less than two weeks later, she returned to Europe for the International Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands. This competition, her first as a senior on an international stage, was a major step up, with the likes of Japan’s Rika Kihira in the line-up. Sixth after the short, Schizas laid down a strong performance in the free and leapfrogged over three skaters to finish third and capture the bronze medal.

As well as earning the highest combined score of any Canadian lady last season (175.56), her podium finish at the senior level was the only one her nation enjoyed.

“I always say I did not want to peak too early. I was flying under the radar,” she replied when asked about her rapid rise. “In 2019 I was second in juniors at nationals and I had a pretty good season up until that point. I was hoping for an international after nationals, but my understanding was that they only sent those on the Junior World team. So I was kind of out of luck.”

Looking back on last season, Schizas is satisfied with what she achieved. “It was really successful. I think that is overwhelmingly how I feel about it,” she explained. “There were obviously disappointing moments but you get that with anything right? I am not going to dwell on the fact that I did not get to go to a Championship because it was a real breakout season for me.

“I think no one really took me seriously before last season, except for maybe my coaches. So, while it was disappointing not to be named to one of those teams, looking back there was not a time to complain about. No one gets through a career without a moment like that, so it is what it is.”

Former Canadian ice dancer Asher Hill choreographed both her programs last season (Alexander Borodin’s “Stranger in Paradise” for the short and selections from the musical “Miss Saigon” for the free). Schizas described Hills’ ideas for her programs as “out there, so very different. A lot of the time it is a challenge for me to step up — it is really challenging. I love the energy he brings and he always gets really creative, especially when the music has a story.”

Schizas normally trains from 12:30 to 5 p.m. each day. There is a dance studio at the Milton Sports Centre and she takes ballet twice a week. Since the lockdown, she has been taking ballet and creative dance classes over Zoom once a week. Her coaches have been running off-ice classes via Zoom for two hours every day. Schizas said she sometimes goes for a run, but has scaled back on that “because it is hard on your joints when you run on concrete all the time.” She is also doing extra stretching and core exercises to stay in shape.

Laurie Goulet, a Skate Canada judge, makes her costumes and Schizas does all the stoning. “I get very creative, and stoning the costumes is one of my favorite parts,” she said. “I have an eye for it I think. I sew a little and in collaboration with my mom and the dressmaker we pull things together.”

At this point, only one decision has been made about programs for the upcoming season. “I think my coaches wish I would get on it a little more aggressively,” Schizas said with a laugh. “We are going to keep the short because that was really well received this year but we are replacing the long. We were going to do that over March break but that obviously did not happen, so it has kind of taken a pause.”

As an accomplished pianist, Schizas has a solid understanding of music and has a lot input on the selections she will skate to. “My coach and I have very strong opinions so it usually takes a while before we come up with something we can both agree on,” she explained.

With respect to increasing the level of difficulty of her technical repertoire, Schizas said that before everything was closed, she was starting to train the triple Axel and the quad toe, “but obviously you can’t really learn them without being on the ice. I am training that stuff off-ice but it is not really the same.

“The plan was to be on the Junior Grand Prix next season, so that meant adding the triple Lutz. I was getting pretty consistent with it before we had to shut down. I started training the triple Axel and the quad in the spring of 2019 and I was getting the Axel out of harness, but then I took a really hard fall in June and that injury outweighed the benefits of training it.”

When asked if there was a particular country she would like to go to for a competition, Schizas said she has always wanted to go to Asia. A Junior Grand Prix event is currently scheduled to take place in Japan in mid-September.

Born on Valentines Day in 2003, the teenager is currently in Grade 11. She normally attends White Oaks Secondary School for an hour each morning and takes the rest of her classes online. Her course time has been scaled back due to COVID-19 and she now spends three hours a week on each one. “Three of my courses were already online — 12 math, nutrition and English — and that has not really changed. Now I take biology on a platform that the school board uses, so everything is in one place.”

Aside from skating, Schizas has two other passions in her life: Playing the piano and canines. “Dogs are like my favorite thing. I got a puppy in October — a Cocker Spaniel named Sebastian. I had been asking my parents for a dog since I was like 4, so it has been about 12 years. One day they were saying no, and it seemed like the next we were going to pick up a dog. I worked harder for that dog than anything else in my entire life. I love dogs so much we had to stop doing off ice outside in the summer. There would be dogs walking by and I would be just like ′Oh my God! A puppy.′”

Schizas credits her parents, coaches, and the club she represents for her success and said she cannot thank them enough for all the support she has received. As with everyone else in Ontario, she is now waiting for the lockdown to come to an end and is looking forward to getting back on the ice, resuming her training and most of all, competing.

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