Alannah Binotto and Tony Lu are both engineering majors and time management experts
University of Delaware students Alannah Binotto and Tony Lu will be competing in the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Friday-Sunday, Jan. 25-27, in Detroit, Michigan. Both in UD’s College of Engineering, Binotto is studying mechanical engineering and Lu is interested in chemical engineering.
Finding out they would be competing brought a mix of emotions to both skaters. This is Binotto’s first time competing at the national competition.
“I’m excited,” she said. “It’s going to be intimidating, but it will be fun — I hope.”
Lu’s reaction was similar.
“I’m pretty excited about it, but it’s also intimidating,” he said. “All the best people are at senior nationals, so everyone you see at the Olympics will be there.”
Binotto and her ice dance partner, Shiloh Judd, are scheduled to perform their Rhythm Dance routine at 3:50 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 25 and their Free Dance routine at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26. Lu is scheduled to compete in the senior men’s short program which begins at 11:36 a.m. on Jan. 26 and the free skate starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27.
NBC will be broadcasting the competition. Some performances will be aired live, some are broadcast at later times and some performances may not be shown at all.
To compete in the national championships, skaters had to place in regional and sectional competitions. Based on the results of the national championship, skaters may be placed on one of the U.S. teams — the World Figuring Skating Team, World Junior Figure Skating Team or the Four Continents Figure Skating Team for 2019 — and have a chance to compete in the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February in Anaheim, California.
The High Performance Figure Skating Center (HPFSC) is part of the UD athletics complex (two rinks, the Fred Rust Ice Arena and the Gold Arena) on south campus and is part of the state of Delaware’s figure skating ecosystem, which has long attracted some of the world’s top skaters for training. Johnny Weir and Suzanne Semanick-Schurman trained at HPFSC. Other high profile skaters who trained in Delaware include Ashley Wagner, 2014 Olympics silver medalist who trained at the Skating Club of Wilmington, and Tara Lipinski, who trained in Delaware a few summers before becoming the youngest woman in her sport to win an Olympic gold medal in 1998.
In 2006, more than 30 figure skaters with connections to the University competed in the national championship in St. Louis, Missouri that year. Ron Ludington, who first coached at the Skating Club of Wilmington before launching the program at UD, is often credited with building the skating reputation in the state.
Coaches for Binotto and Lu are among this pool of successful skaters. Binotto’s coaches include Semanick-Schurman, Anastasia Cannuscio, Alexandr Kirsanov and Colin McManus.
Binotto and Lu are unusual in the skating world because they are attending UD as students.
Originally from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, Binotto was introduced to the ice when her older brother began playing hockey. By seven, Binotto competed in her first competition. As she got older, her focus shifted from freestyle skating to ice dancing. Despite struggles like trouble finding a partner and drama at her local rink senior year, she decided to continue to skate in college.
Last spring, Binotto finally found her partner Judd after a successful search. Originally from Virginia, Judd moved to Delaware to begin training with Binotto. He currently works, but plans to attend school in a couple of years.
Although it can be tricky to balance skating and school, Binotto said growing up as a skater taught her a lot of discipline. During a typical day in the fall semester she would get to the rink by 5:30 a.m. to practice for a few hours before attending classes throughout the day. By 5:30 p.m. she would hit the gym for some additional training before studying at night.
She never gave up skating because she loves it.
“Even though it’s a stressful thing, it’s the one time where during the day I don’t have to worry about everything else,” Binotto said. “Whenever I get to the arena, I could have all these problems going on, but I get there and all those problems seem miniscule and I’m having a good time.”
Her coach, Cannuscio, said she is proud of Binotto for keeping up with such an intense level of skating while in school. She estimates the pair practices between 25 to 30 hours each week.
“To see where they’ve come from since the spring to now is huge — especially with Alannah being a full-time student,” Cannuscio said. “She’s been really committed to it. I know it’s a lot of work and stressful for her.”
As for Lu, this has really been a period of intense transition as he just completed his first semester of college. In high school, the district allowed him to attend school on a modified schedule so he had the afternoons to skate. He set up a similar schedule this past semester, so he could have classes in the morning, skate midday and study at night.
“I think that’s helped me a lot since I got here,” Lu said. “Time management is so important.”
Lu trains with Priscilla Hill at the Patriot Ice Center in Newark and is a member of Team USA. Hill, who coached Lu most of his life, said they had to make adjustments. During his first semester, they decided to cut his training from about 25 hours a week to about 15.
“It was tricky for both of us, because it was brand new and he was up late studying,” said Hill, who also coached Lu when he went to nationals as a novice skater. “He’s in the engineering program, that’s not just your basics. So I know how hard he studies.”
In addition to their already hectic schedules, both Lu and Binotto also participate in extracurricular activities. Lu rushed the engineering fraternity, Sigma Phi Delta, and plans to join the UD Figure Skating team. Binotto is already a member of the team and serves as the treasurer. (The UD Figure Skating club team is composed of full-time UD students.)
Lu said this experience helped him to learn more about himself.
“Getting through all of that, plus getting to nationals proved to me that I’m capable of more than I know,” he said. “It’s definitely been worth it.”
Since so much uncertainty surrounds a skater’s future, both Lu and Binotto plan to see how far their skating careers can go. Neither is certain of what type of job they’d like to do after skating.
“I’m very impulsive, so I can’t really think about the future that much because it’s not here yet,” Binotto said. “I will do what I feel like doing at that moment and just stick with it.”
Lu choose engineering because of his interest in math and science. The one thing he is certain of, is he does not want a desk job.
For each of them skating has meant a lot of time, effort, sacrifices and money. It is rare for skaters to go to school full-time because skating is such a big time and financial commitment.
“It’s not a cheap sport,” Binotto said.
Lu’s family was not sure if they could afford both college and skating. This burden was lessened when he was awarded financial aid from UD, because of his high test scores and grade point average, and the Buch Family Academic Scholarship from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Lu began skating at age five and competed at age eight. Overcoming injuries along the way – sports hernia took a year of recovery – Lu has stayed with skating and retained his sense of humor. He has several thousand followers on Instagram, where he posts short clips of jumps gone wrong.
Erica Bateman, UD alumna who specializes in teaching and analyzing figure skating jumps, is among the local followers hoping for a clean program.
“We’re proud of him,” Bateman said.
More skaters with local connections
Skater Gloria Xia who trains at UD is competing at nationals in the Intermediate Ladies portion. Two of Hill’s other skaters, Emily Zhang and Joseph Kang, are competing as well.