For Cheshire’s Kayleigh Mulligan, there is a special feeling when she participates in an ice skating competition. Whether performing by herself or alongside close friends, Mulligan takes pride in executing maneuvers that she has practiced countless times in her life.
“Performing is the best,” said Mulligan, a 2018 Cheshire High School graduate. “You leave the outside world when you step on the ice. It is a breath of fresh air for those four minutes. It is great to be with your friends for the best time of your life.”
As a competitor at Adrian College (Michigan), she has enjoyed pitting her skills against elite competition. On Feb. 11-12, Mulligan and her senior synchronized skating teammates represented Team USA in the 2022 Tissot Neuchatel Trophy event in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
As a figure skater, she has also earned first place on the national level.
“I’ve always loved being on a team and having that aspect with me,” Mulligan stated.
In synchronized skating, athletes team up to perform maneuvers and elements such as lifting on the ice.
“As skaters, we talk about why we do what we do. You reach burnouts and question why you do this,” explained Mulligan. “I skate for my teammates. The confidence that we give each other is special.”
Mulligan remembers being inspired at age 4 to skate after watching the movie “Ice Princess” with her grandmother. She started taking lessons in a Learn to Skate program at Northford Ice Pavilion.
“From the day I started, it came naturally to me,” reflected Mulligan. “One of the coaches asked my mom, ‘How many skating lessons has she had?’ My mom said that it was my first one and they couldn’t believe it.”
Showing potential at a young age, the staff arranged for her to work with Coach Stephanie Siclari, a former two-time national champion skater. Mulligan felt that her skills progressed quickly in practicing five or six days a week.
“It was pretty easy, especially having a private coach to lead me through the way,” explained Mulligan. “It took me about a year to pick up my moves.”
Synchronized skaters participate in the beginner, preliminary, pre-juvenile, juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior, and senior divisions. Since Northford didn’t have the junior one, that was the only level that Mulligan didn’t try.
“We test moves through the levels. You need to pass before you move up,” stated Mulligan.
She competed in synchronized skating through her graduation from high school. In Connecticut, she skated in six to eight events per year.
“I remember being excited to compete for the first time,” recalled Mulligan. “I didn’t get nervous until eighth or ninth grade.”
In a highlight as a novice skater, she helped her team reach Nationals in Michigan.
“It was awesome,” Mulligan stated. “The arena was much bigger than what we were used to.”
Growing up, she didn’t know that there were college synchronized skating teams, but one of her friends went to Adrian and told Mulligan about the program there.
“The coach saw me compete and asked if I wanted to do it there,” reflected Mulligan.
While choosing to leave Connecticut to attend school in Michigan, Mulligan felt comfortable knowing that she already had a friend at Adrian.
“As soon as I came here, it felt like home,” said Mulligan. “The girls and coach were so welcoming. It (the school) was a great fit.”
After her first season with the synchronized team, she decided to join the figure skating squad as well. She had participated in that sport as a youngster, but chose to stop at age 13.
“I didn’t do figure skating in my freshman year because I was worried about my class load,” explained Mulligan. “It felt good to pick it up again.”
In 2020, she looked forward to competing in her first national figure skating event, but due to COVID-19 breaking out in the US, the meet was canceled. The pandemic also led to her whole junior season being wiped out.
“It was very hard,” recalled Mulligan. “As a team, we had to stay positive during that time.”
When health restrictions were reduced last year, she was excited to return to competition. On Aug. 1, she arrived on campus and started a boot camp to learn routines and choreography.
“In this sport, your teammates and coaches become family,” said Mulligan. “I absolutely love that aspect.”
Last year, the Adrian senior synchronized skating team set their goal of representing Team USA in the 2022 Tissot Neuchatel Trophy competition in Switzerland. To qualify in one of three competitions, teams had to earn a combined score of 157 in two programmes. The short program lasts three-and-a-half minutes, while the free skate one goes for four minutes.
“Usually, you need to get monitored by international judges,” Mulligan stated. “This was the first time that they tried this format.”
On Nov. 5-6, the squad kicked off in the Diamond Classic in Ohio.
“We started out rough getting back in the competitive setting,” recalled Mulligan. “We had a bunch of new members.”
Competing on Nov. 20-21, Adrian came up just eight points short of making Team USA in the Boston Synchronized Skating Classic. Down to their last chance, the team stepped up to post a score of 169.00 and qualify while competing in the Porter Classic in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“We were super-nervous, but we felt that we had nothing to lose,” reflected Mulligan. “When you are skating, you can tell if you are doing well or not. We were doing good and had to just stay on our feet.”
While having earned their spot, the team still had to wait to see if the health climate would allow them to skate internationally this year.
“It was really up in the air,” Mulligan said. “People were skeptical about going overseas because, if someone got COVID, we may have had to quarantine.”
Even up to just before their flight on Feb. 8, skaters and coaches had to pass COVID tests, but they were happy to be allowed to make the trip to Switzerland.
“For (international) trips, we normally get there early to adjust to the time change, get our feet underneath us, and do some sightseeing,” Mulligan stated. “When we were there, we still had to be careful and wear masks.”
To get ready to skate, Adrian worked out at an outdoor rink and an Air Force Academy in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
“It was exciting to get to skate there,” said Mulligan.
For the event on Feb. 11-12, Adrian competed against senior teams from Russia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands at the Patinoires du Littoral ice rink.
“Teams from Russia and Finland tend to dominate the synchro world,” Mulligan stated. “It was great to compete against them because it made us raise our level.”
For their short program, Adrian performed to the song “Waloyo Yamoni” by Christopher Tin. Their free skate routine was called “The Butterfly Effect.”
Out of 10 squads, Adrian placed fifth (170.63) in the competition.
“Our short program had some kinks in it,” reflected Mulligan. “We could have done better, but we were proud of the performances that we put out.”
After competing with her team abroad, she returned to the US and achieved a personal milestone at Adrian. For figure skating on April 1 and 3, Mulligan won her first National Intercollegiate Championship in Juvenile Solo Free Dance. The three-and-half minute program includes a mixture of spins, swizzles, edge elements, and footwork.
“When I completed my routine, I knew that it was the best I had ever done. I could feel it,” explained Mulligan. “Judging can still be very subjective, so I didn’t know how it would go. My coach went over with me to get the score and when I saw that I had won, I broke down crying. I needed that for my confidence.”
For Mulligan, the championship meant a lot after she had fallen during a routine and busted open her chin back in February.
“I needed three stitches,” Mulligan stated. “I had anxiety about getting back out there, but it went well.”
To finish her synchronized season, Mulligan skated in the US Championship in Colorado Springs. On March 5, she contributed to Adrian finishing runner-up in the college division.
Mulligan also helped the senior team secure the highest finish (fourth place) in program history.
“It was indescribable,” recalled Mulligan. “We made this season about the seniors, who didn’t get to compete last year (due to the pandemic).”
Since her junior season was canceled, Mulligan is still eligible to skate for one more season at Adrian. She also plans to work as a teaching assistant, so she hasn’t decided yet about competing again.
“I’d like to make a decision in the next few weeks,” Mulligan stated. “I’m leaning toward skating, but I have a meeting on April 20 to find out what teaching will entail.”
Whether she skates again or not, Mulligan is appreciative of her family’s support throughout her career.
“It has been truly amazing what they have done for me. My parents have driven me so many places and paid for my lessons,” reflected Mulligan. “Growing up, my mom was our locker room team mom. She has always been my biggest cheerleader.”