Ice Network

Croatia chronicles: Rydberg blogs from Zagreb

U.S. skater shares experiences from last Junior Grand Prix of season
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Paige Rydberg (left) is traveling to Europe for the first time in her life. -Stefanie Mathewson

Paige Rydberg competed at the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) in Zagreb, Croatia. She kept a blog for icenetwork.

Saturday, Oct. 10

Today started with me shivering in my bed. I woke up, and the temperature outside was 47 degrees. I made it to breakfast -- my last one in Zagreb -- on time, and it was delicious. It's crazy to think I'm leaving today…this trip went by so fast!

I had a very good practice and then rested for a while. After eating lunch, I went over and cheered on the Team USA ice dancers. They all skated so well! Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons brought home the gold medal, and Gigi Becker and Luca Becker placed sixth at their first JGP event.

Free skate time

My coach and I walked over to the arena together. My free skate was not my best, but I am willing to work hard and get ready for my next goal: nationals.

Dance awards ceremony

Once the ladies event ended, the ice dancers had their awards ceremony. It was incredible to cheer on Rachel and Michael while they received their medals.

Off to Old Town/dinner

All of Team USA wanted to take a trip to Old Town, so we all hopped in some taxis and went there. We had a blast! We ate at this cute restaurant, and I ordered a delicious gnocchi dish. Ugh, I wish I could have it every day!

On our way back to the hotel, Luca and Tony Lu had some problems with their umbrella. It was funny to watch them try to figure out how to fix it.

Once at the hotel, everyone packed because we all had to be up at 3:45 a.m. to catch our 6:45 flight.

Well, I'm off to bed. Thanks for reading about my fabulous experience here in Croatia! Until next time…

Friday, Oct. 9

Finally, I was not woken up by an alarm; it was the first day this week I was able to sleep in. I slept so late that I missed breakfast, so I had to go out in search of food. I went into this little European market and bought some yogurt and, of course, juice. (I also had some other food in the room that I also ate.)

Official practice

Once I arrived at the practice rink, I decided to warm up outside because the inside of the rink was extremely hot. It was not rainy and there was a little breeze, so it was nice.

Lunch/Short dance

The hotel had a great lunch buffet today. It included gnocchi, grilled vegetables and this Croatian-style rice. It was by far the best lunch I have had since arriving in Zagreb!

Sarah [Nunez] and I headed over to the rink to cheer on Gigi [Becker] and Luca Becker. They were fantastic and are in sixth place. Rachel [Parsons] and Michael Parsons were also fantastic and hold a six-point lead!

Men's free skate

After resting for a couple of hours and eating a quick dinner, Team USA went to cheer on the junior men during their free skates. Every men's skater gave it his all; there were so many great programs. After each endured some difficulty on their opening triple axels, Tony [Lu] and Tomoki [Hiwatashi] fought through the rest of their programs. Tomoki placed third place overall and is bringing home the bronze medal for the United States! Tony placed seventh.

Tomorrow is the junior ladies free skate. I am off to bed. Laku noć!

Thursday, Oct. 8

My third day in Zagreb started off at 2 a.m. when I heard people chanting in the streets. Rachel [Parsons] and I wanted to get up and look out of the window to see what was going on, but we decided it was best to try to go back to sleep. After falling back to sleep for a couple more hours, I was up and ready for my 30-minute practice session before the ladies short program, which was set to start at 5:30 p.m.

I met my coach Mary Alice [Antensteiner] for breakfast. We each ate a good meal...plenty of fuel for competition day. I am so obsessed with the juices here in Europe. They are so pure and do not taste sugary.

Practice before the short program

After getting warmed up for my only practice before my short program, I put my dress and skates on and hit the ice. I felt so much more comfortable on the ice today knowing it was competition day. After practice, team leader Stefanie [Mathewson] had only kind words about my practice session; she is so encouraging and the perfect person to have cheering you on as you take the ice.  

Resting before my event

After my warmup, my coach and I walked back to the hotel and then went our separate ways. Mary Alice went for a long walk around town. I rested and took a couple-minute power nap, followed by a good lunch and fun times with some Team USA skaters. We were joined by a Canadian and French ice dance team. It's so cool to talk with athletes from different countries and hear their accents.

After a little time talking with friends, it was time to get in competition mode. I went to my room and watched some of the junior men's event.

Competition time

It was still raining in Zagreb on the way to the rink. Will it ever stop?

After arriving at the rink, I stopped to cheer on Tony [Lu] and Tomoki [Hiwatashi]. They both skated great! Tony landed a gorgeous triple axel, and Tomoki set a new season's-best score during his short program. Tony sits in seventh place, and Tomoki is in fourth.

While warming up for my short program off ice, I was feeling a little nervous but tried to stay as calm as possible. My six-minute warmup went pretty smooth and, soon enough, I was taking the ice to compete.

On one hand, hearing your name being called followed by "United States of America" is a great honor. On the other hand, it brings a new level of anxiety; you want to skate your absolute best for your country and yourself. I am learning to navigate through this process.

The draw for free skate

After the event was over, all the competitors gathered in the area where the draw is held. Sarah and I both ended up in the fourth warmup group. I drew 21st, and Sarah drew 22nd. The ladies have a day off Friday, and we will compete our free skate Saturday.

It's been a long day! Good night from Zagreb.

Wednesday, Oct. 7

I woke up this morning to see that it was raining. The weather here has been a little cloudy and rainy, but hopefully as the week goes on it will get a little more pleasant. 

Good morning, Croatia

I slept right through the night and woke up ready and energized. After gathering my stuff for the rink, I went down to eat breakfast. I knew I was in a foreign country because the style of breakfast was different. For example, they served pastries, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal and eggs. The food here is so tastes so fresh! 

First official practice 

My coach, Mary Alice Antensteiner, and I met down in the lobby around 9:15 to walk to the rink together for my first official practice session. It was raining, so we had to share an umbrella. That proved a little difficult, so I decided to buy my own. Now, we both have new umbrellas.  

My first practice was at the main competition rink. The rink is very nice, with a ton of space and two awesome sports shops inside!

Short program draw

The short program draw for the ladies was shortly after practice. Sarah [Nunez] and I both arrived early so we could have front-row seats next to each other. The draw is cool because you get to see the different countries' team jackets!

The first country to draw was chosen at random, and it happened to be Australia -- the first country in the alphabetical list of countries competing. The last country to draw was the United States. I drew fifth and Sarah drew third out of 30.

After the draw, coach MA (Antensteiner) and I headed back to the hotel to grab some lunch before official practice number two.

Second official practice 

My second official practice was held at a rink that is about 15 minutes away, so we had to take a bus. That practice went very well; I got a lot accomplished, and I felt good and ready!


Around 7, when the dinner room opened, my roommate, Rachel [Parsons], and I met the other Team USA athletes in the dining room. We all got to try some new foods we had never heard of before, which was kind of fun! Everything was delicious. After we all chatted and shared social media usernames, I decided to go back to my room and rest up for my short program Thursday.

Tomorrow is the first day of competition, kicking off with the men's short program. Good luck Tomoki Hiwatashi and Tony Lu!

Laku noć!

Getting to know Team USA

Question: What is your dream vacation?

Luca Becker: Skiing in the French Alps  

Tony Lu: Anywhere tropical  

Michael Parsons: Heli-skiing in British Columbia  

Rachel Parsons: Greece  

Gigi Becker: Bahamas  

Sarah Nunez: Spain  

Paige Rydberg: Paris  

Monday, Oct. 5/Tuesday, Oct. 6

Travel day

Hello, everyone! I am so excited to blog for icenetwork as we leave for JGP Croatia. 

Today is a travel day, and my day started like any other day. Coach MA (Mary Alice Antensteiner) picked me up at home, and we headed to my training rink (Darien Sportsplex Ice Arena) for two hours of skating with my training mates. I wish them the very best of luck as they compete this weekend at the 2016 Upper Great Lakes Regional Figure Skating Championships.

We are now at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago waiting to fly to Amsterdam, where we will change planes and connect to Zagreb, Croatia. See you on the other side of the pond.

We have reached the other side of the pond!

Finally, after a 7 1/2-hour flight to Amsterdam, we were able to walk around the airport and grab a quick bite to eat before we flew to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia. When we landed, a bus took everyone on the flight to customs and baggage claim.

The anticipation of waiting to see if your bag made it to its destination is always worrisome. Fortunately, everything went as planned; all bags made it, and four of the eight Team USA skaters at the event were off to the hotel.

The drive to the hotel was interesting: It gave us a little taste of Zagreb, from seeing some cool downtown areas to viewing the amount of people that take public transportation.

Once I checked into the hotel and chatted with team leader Stefanie Mathewson, I got my room key and met my roommate, U.S. ice dancer Rachel Parsons. I am super excited to get to know her better as the week goes on!

Currency exchange

This trip is my first time traveling overseas to Europe. I have never had to exchange currency before; that was a new experience for me. After trading our money, my coach and I went across the street to a local grocery store and bought some water and essentials for our rooms.

Goodbye, jet lag

Being in the air for 10 hours is always hard on an athlete's body. In order to get my legs underneath me, I decided to go to the gym in the hotel and loosen up a little by doing some of my daily warmup exercises and some light jogging on the treadmill. I ended with some nice stretching.

Team meeting/dinner

All Team USA athletes met in the lobby around 6:30 p.m. to take a picture and walk to this delicious pizzeria right by our hotel. I do have to admit it was better than Chicago pizza, and that is coming from a Chicagoan! We all bonded and got to know each other better. Sarah Nunez, Gigi Becker and Luca Becker received their gold Team USA pins, given to skaters competing in their first JGP events. We all also received fabulous spirit items from Stefanie!

Off to sleep

After a long but fun travel day, I am ready to call it a night. Sarah Nunez and I have our first official practice tomorrow morning at 10:55 a.m. We will be well rested and ready to hit the ground running!  

Getting to know Team USA

Question: What is your favorite splurge food?

Luca Becker: French fries 

Michael Parsons: Bob's Burger Palace 

Gigi Becker: Milk chocolate 

Rachel Parsons: Vanilla soft serve ice cream with rainbow sprinkles 

Sarah Nunez: Sushi

Tony Lu: KFC

Tomoki Hiwatashi: Chocolate

Paige Rydberg: Ice cream