Serious figure skaters begin their training early in life and early in the day.

Devotees of the sport wake at 5 a.m. to catch a session on the ice before heading to class at a local middle or high school. After school there is studying and more skating, often with a professional coach.

The investment of time amounts to almost a full work week spent on the ice, and the investment of money for ice time; lessons and other expenses often would be enough to buy the family a new car each year.

Leslie Shackelford, 15, is one of the most proficient Washington-area skaters. A member of the Washington Figure Skating Club-of which her mother is president-Shackelford recently won the junior ladies competition in the South Atlantic regionals.

With practice taking up 30 hours a week, Shackelford is a busy young woman. "I squeeze in time for going out and parties sometimes," said the lively, brown-haired skater. "And I squeeze in time for boys a little.

"The boyfriend I have right now is a soccer player. And I'm going out for track. He understands sports and I understand him so it's equal."

Kenneth Class, one of Shackelford's coaches at the Fairfax Ice Arena, says students are sometimes involved in other sports. "They're usually good athletes," he said. Also the best figure skaters are usually good students, too. Good in mathematics rather than English because it's logical. Figures are related to physics which is also logical. People who excel in freestyle are usually better in more abstract subjects like English."

Can he spot a good potential competitive skater? "Definitely. It's combination of a certain amount of natural talent real desire, and a certain amount of concentration."

But class finds his students' aspirations unrealistic. "It's remote that any of them would make the Olympics or even the Nationals," he said. "You can't tel them that though."

Audrey King Weisiger, another coach at Fairfax Ice Arena, specializes in the artistic work-arm movements and choreography-rather than techniques for jumps and spins. Weisiger believes that love for the sport is the main element in success.

"most people don't understand that figure skating for these kids entails getting up at an ungodly hour, luggin their body around the rink, etting yelled at by us (the coaches), falling down andgetting wet."

There are reasons besides competition for pursuing the nuances of loops and spins, jumps and perfect balance. For 13-year-old Michele Moffat, for instance, it was therapeutic. "I've been skating 2 1/2 years. I used to walk pigeon-toed and the doctor told my mom to take me ice skating."

Moffat enjoys the sport. "I'm working on my third test in figures. I can land a double-toe loop. I skate every morning - five days a week, that is, four afternoons right after school and friday nights."

The 4-foot-9, 80-pound Moffat says she budgets her time so skating doesn't interfere with her studying. "But my friends don't see why I devotes so much time to skating."

Time is not the only investment. Weisiger estimates that it costs families a minimum *6,000 a year to pay for a child's patch time, coaches' fees and skates. "Then ther are the ballet lessons, consumes, travel to u.s. competitions coaches, coaches8 tarvel expenses steak in the morning-a special diet, medical expenses."

To many families, though, figure skating has become a way of life.

Dorothy Dodson coordinated the ice exhibition that was scheduled for George Washington's birthday at Mount vernor District Park and Ice Rink. Due to snow , the exhibition of Washington's local figure-skating talent was rescheduled for March 16. Dorothy Dobson's son John is among the skaters in that group.

An 18-years-old freshman at the University of Delaware, John Dodson was a bronze medalist in the recent South Atlanctic senior men's competition sponsored by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

"John really wanted to skate,"said Dorothy Dodson. 'We started him a 8 in family session at the WASHINGTON coliseum and often got up at 5 in the morning to get a patch at Falls Church. When he was 9, we sent John to live with a family in Wilmington for a month during the summer so he could skated there.

"We joined the Wilmington club, went up on weekends, and finally bought a small house there."

John and his older brother went there to live, did the cooking, took care of the house and, naturally, skated.

"My older son is an ensign in the Navy air training program at Pensacola," said Mrs. Dodson. "He attributes his flying success to figure skating- the discipline, judging of speed, coordination and ability to perform in front of people." Dorothy Dodson is a former competitive skater herself, and her 14-year-old daughter is following the family tradition, too.

The Dodsons are not unique in their family-oriented approach to the sport several brother-sister pairs skate together, including Penny and Nick Perna. One advantage is a ready-made partner.

"when Cabin John opened," said Penny, "I got figure skates for Christmas and he (Nicks) got hockey skates. We skated around Mark Commons Pond in Rockville and I got him interested in figure skating.

"It's great, we rarely have bad arguments because we live together and know each other so well. In a skating pair from different families, one skater might move away, or go to college."

Nick is 19, Penny 17. "Nick's working when I'm in school," said his sister. "We'll wait until I get out of high school to decide about a college. It might sound funny, but it's almost like a marriage, a commitment we have. If one doesn't want to practice, we talk each other through."