At 5 feet 6, dressed in gray sweatpants and sporting a baseball-style cap, Michael Weiss looks like any unassuming 14-year-old. But when he steps onto ice, he is spectacular.
He put on his first pair of skates a little over five years ago, and since then has won 10 medals in figure skating competitions nationwide. He holds the record as the youngest male to compete in the senior division of competitive figure skating, doing so at 13.
He will defend his gold medal in the senior figures division at the National Figure Skating Championships Feb. 10-17 in Minneapolis. It will be his fourth appearance in the national championships, which feature the top 12 skaters in the novice, junior and senior levels. He will continue to compete in the novice division of the freestyle event.
But all this hasn't come without a price. While most 14-year-olds are at home getting ready for school, he is on the ice at 6:30 a.m., putting in his first 3 1/2 hours of practice. At 10 he begins his abbreviated high school schedule at W.T. Woodson. At 2:30 he's back on the ice for another 1 1/2 hours of training. Evenings are devoted to homework, done at the rink where another "skating mother" teaches him math, usually on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday or Thursday evenings Weiss either works out on weights with his father, takes a jazz class or plays ice hockey, "just for fun."
Aside from the obvious negative aspects of getting up early and the expected aches, pains and monotony that come with training, he enjoys his hectic schedule. "I think that every day kids go to school in the morning and they come home and do their homework," he said. "Then they just lie around the house and watch TV all night. I think if I did that for about a week I'd get so bored because I'm always moving. I only spend about an hour at home every day and then I sleep here."
His accomplishments over the past five years are due in part to his method of setting realistic goals and learning how to measure up to his expectations. He has learned to set different goals for each year. "If I accomplish the yearly goals," he said, "then eventually I'll advance to seniors and maybe, hopefully, even to the Olympics." This year he'll include a triple Lutz, a triple-toe loop and a triple salchow in his nationals program.
Weiss's success is also due in part to the tremendous amount of support and encouragement he receives from his family. In fact, if there was ever a court case to determine whether athletic ability is inherited, the Weiss family could provide the closing argument.
Michael's father Greg is a former Olympic gymnast who competed for the United States in the 1964 Games in Tokyo and was an all-American at Penn State. Margie Weiss, Michael's mother, is a former national gymnastic champion, also an all-American gymnast and a longtime coach of the sport. The Weiss athletic legacy continues with daughters Genna, a national diving champion, and Geremi, a member of the U.S. international figure skating team.
Greg and Margie also realized, however, that sometimes training, dedication and natural ability are not enough. Athletics are expensive. The family sold its house in Silver Spring a couple of years ago and moved across the street from the Fairfax Ice Rink where Michael practices. The house in Silver Spring used to have the family gymnastics camp, indoor pool and trampoline.
According to Margie, skating for the two children cost approximately $50,000 last year even though she tries to keep the costs down by doing the off-ice conditioning and trading her conditioning classes for jazz classes for Michael.
For instance: Michael's new skates cost more than $700, and he needs two pair. One of his skating outfits "costs about $200," said Margie "and he needs two costumes for competition and other ones for practice. You have to look nice all the time because the judges are always watching the total picture at the competitions."
Yet with all they've done to nurture Michael's athletic ambitions, or their two daughters', they say nothing has been a sacrifice. "Our life is very children oriented," says Greg. "Our family revolves around the kids and that's the way it should be, because Genna is already gone and Geremi and Michael will be gone in a few years. There's just no better way to spend your time than with your kids."
According to Michael's coach, Audrey Weisiger, a former nationally ranked skater, his final skating destination is up to him. "He's a great competitor," said Weisiger. "He loves to compete and knows how to pull it all together when it really counts. But face it, skating is a slippery sport. The rut in the ice or one split second of lost concentration can change an outcome and a lot of years of work. You can't live for just that one moment."