Silver Spring skater, 15, dreams of competing in Olympics

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's early morning, and Robert Korycinski is frantically finishing an English project, sketching drawings to accompany poems he wrote.

Functioning at this hour is difficult: He's still tired from figure skating practice the night before. But homework that isn't finished late at night has to be finished in the morning or, occasionally, in the few minutes between classes. If Robert's grades drop -- he's on the honor roll at his Silver Spring high school -- his parents will make him skip practice. And every skipped practice is a step backward from his dream of competing in the Olympics.

"I'm still not sure what I want to be after I'm a skater," said Robert, 15. "Most of my life is at the rink."

Every high school has a few students who have already dedicated their lives to a skill: aspiring pianists who dream of playing at Carneige Hall, swimmers aspiring to the Olympics, football players eyeing collegiate or NFL careers.

Such dedication is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the child is the driving force behind the passion, and parents realize that a child's interest or success might be short-lived, said Madeline Levine, a child psychologist and author who helped found Challenge Success, a Stanford University project that examines how society defines success among youths and pushes for more realistic standards.

Students who are "profoundly talented" at something often hit a point where they are unstoppable, Levine said. "If your child is happy and engaged and involved . . . it's okay."

For Robert, being an Olympic skater is a dream for the future. He said he won't know whether he's good enough for a few years, after several more rounds of regional and national competitions, and after his parents have invested tens of thousands of dollars more in his passion.

Girls are able to assess their future skating careers much earlier than boys, said Denise Cahill, Robert's coach and director of the Chesapeake Skating School. Girls usually peak in their skating soon after puberty, but boys don't begin to build enough strength for complicated routines until their late teens or early 20s.

That means boys have to endure being an up-and-coming competitive skater through middle and high school, years in which it is difficult to be a guy who would rather dance on the ice than score goals. Teasing is inevitable.

Working toward his goal requires Robert to skip nearly all of the high school rituals that aren't strictly academic: clubs, traditional sports, football games, homecoming, parties. And his dreams could end instantly with a painful fall.

"They wish, wish that they could do everything," Cahill said. "They don't want to miss stuff, and they miss a lot because of skating."

Robert attends James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring because it has dance classes, allowing him to avoid home-schooling or skipping some of the school day to focus on skating.

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