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Updated 11:00 AM April 19, 2004
 

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Proving their medal


Two U-M health professionals chased their dreams of medaling at the U.S. Adult National Figure Skating Championships in Lake Placid, N.Y., April 15, and skated away with the bronze.

Paul Mata, an anesthesiologist technician supervisor at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, and Judy Sargent, a research assistant and doctoral student in nursing, were undefeated heading into the competition. They tied for first, but a tie-breaker based on judges' scores put them in third.
Paul Mata and Judy Sargent hope to move up to the masters classification before next year's national competition. (Photo courtesy Of Ledin Photo & Video Inc.)

"We'll start planning for next season," Sargent said after the competition. "We had not the greatest performance," including trouble with the overhead lift and throw axel.

The pair had taken the gold medal at the other four events they competed in this year, including regionals in Michigan and sectionals in Cleveland. Adding another victory to their winning streak in Lake Placid would have allowed them to accomplish their career skating goal: winning the gold medal in the top competition at this level.

Last year, Mata and Sargent, both 36, trained without a coach. Unaware of updated competition rules, Mata and Sargent faced major deductions for "illegal lifts" but still managed to place fourth, earning the pewter medal. This year they trained with coach Doug Haw, who has worked with Brian Orser (a silver medalist in the 1988 Olympics) and Jenny Kirk (a U.S. World Figure Skating Championship team member).

"Judy and Paul have endless amounts of energy, which sets them apart from other skaters I have worked with," Haw says. "They are like Diehard batteries—they keep going and going and going. Sometimes they practice as early as 6 a.m. or as late at 10 p.m."

During the past year of training and competition, Mata and Sargent have improved their "pair unison" and other performance elements, such as the height and distance of the challenging throw axel. "Their throw axel is as good as any of the pairs teams at the youth national level," Haw says.

They now will try to qualify for the more elite classification of masters, allowing them to incorporate more difficult moves into their routines and removing many of the restrictions placed on them now.

Mata and Sargent have been skating together for two years. They skate five days a week for three to four hours a day, practicing in the evenings and early Saturday mornings at the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club. And when they are not skating, they are hard at work at U-M.
"They are like Diehard batteries—they keep going and going and going."—Coach
Doug Haw

Mata, originally from Flint and now living in Manchester, adopted skating as a hobby at 24 after ending his 14-year career in competitive dance. Sargent, who resides in Ann Arbor, has been skating since she was 4, when her family moved to Minnesota and her mother encouraged the family to take up winter sports.

"Skating allows my mind to be free. Temporarily all of my other concerns are forgotten," she says. "I love the feeling of flying through the air with the throw axel, whirling around Paul's feet in the death spiral and the feeling of traveling across the ice high above Paul's head in our overhead lifts."

After internationals in France next month, "we will begin choreographing a new program for next year and working on some new elements," Sargent says. "We look forward to the challenges that await us."

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