Peter and Barbara Buch are not your average college students.
While most University of Delaware students are actively involved in the normal routine of college life, this Silver Spring brother-and-sister team twirl, dip and glide across the ice under the eyes of Olympic Coach Ron Ludington.
Five or six nights a week, from 11 to 4 in the morning, with graceful movements synchronized, they take dance off the floor and onto the ice.
The Buchs, both pre-med students, say that after several years, this topsy-turvy existence seems normal. They view it as good preparation for postgraduate life as medical students.
The long hours of practice won them a place in their second World University Games, currently being held in Belluno, Italy. The only ice-dance team to qualify this year from the United States, the Buchs placed fifth two years ago in Bulgaria.
The Buchs' interest in skating started when their father, Fredric, a retired Voice of America correspondent, took then-10-year-old Peter and 12-year-old Barbara to a local skating rink for an afternoon of fun. Next came group lessons for Barbara. A doctor had warned that she needed exercise to prevent further deterioration of weak muscles.
"I took ballet like all the other little girls, but it just didn't do it for me," Barbara said. "We took to skating like ducks to water."
In 1976, ice-dancing was a competitive Olympic sport for the first time. Interest in the sport grew, and someone suggested Peter and Barbara become a team.
"At first I would have nothing to do with it," Peter recalled. "That would have meant holding her hand, and I would have rather died. The parents at the rink used to bet on how long we would stay on the ice each time before we'd get into a fight."
Peter was under a lot of pressure from schoolmates to participate in traditional male sports. "But when I brought home the first gold medal from a regional competition, the guys out there playing softball said, 'Wow, you really are a good skater.' After that, I was accepted," Peter said. "One little gold medal does a lot."
While attending Springbrook High School, the Buchs began making weekly treks to Wilmington, Del., to study with Ludington. "The first time it was like going to the top professor at Yale in a certain field. He was this skating god and there we were -- beginning skaters who didn't know what we were doing," Peter said.
They would skate whenever they could get ice time, which meant in the early morning and at night after hockey games on choppy ice.
Ilse Buch at one time worked three jobs to pay for the skating. "We all work to pay for our children's expensive hobby, but it's worth it," said the public relations executive.
"You don't do it for the glamour," Barbara said. "There isn't a whole lot of glitz and glamour for most people. There's only one champ."
There are sacrifices. Delaware is the fifth school Peter and Barbara have attended. They move wherever their skating dictates. They have never lived in a dormitory and do not have much time to socialize or make friends with other students. Both Buchs hope to graduate some time this year, but it has taken six or seven years to reach this goal.
They agree that it has all been worth it. "We have a goal to do something with our skating," said Barbara. "One thing I can say, I've never been bored. I've never had nothing to do. One day in high school, a friend asked if I wanted to go hang out at the drug store. I just looked at her. The concept had never occurred to me. It's just not part of our vocabulary.
"Sometimes we wish we could be 'normal,' but when we get the chance, we realize we like the way we are."