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Former skater strikes a pose on runway

Analeigh aims to be "America's Next Top Model"

Analeigh loved figure skating but is now very excited about <i>America's Next Top Model</i>.
Analeigh loved figure skating but is now very excited about America's Next Top Model. (Jim DeYonker /The CW. © 2008 The CW Network LLC. All Rights Reserved)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(09/11/2008) - The promos for Season 11 of America's Next Top Model, the deliciously snarky and campy Tyra Banks' competition for the best young Glamazon, promised a former figure skater would be among the contestants. Of course, the suspicious mind of one intrepid icenetwork.com reporter caused her to doubt the skater had any real ice cred. Turns out she does. Analeigh (no last names allowed for the contestants), a 19-year-old student from Sacramento, Calif., has actually competed at the national level. Shortly after the first episode of the season aired, she graciously answered some icy questions.

icenetwork.com: Please tell us about your skating background.
Analeigh: Where to even begin? I grew up in Minnesota, where taking ice skating lessons was as common as learning how to swim. I started when I was only 2 1/2, and from there I became involved in the Lake Minnetonka Figure Skating synchronized team and started competing individually at 7 years old. At 8, my family moved to Sacramento, Calif., where ice skating is a foreign and rare sport.

For a few years, my mother -- the woman is Super Mom -- dedicated her hours to driving my sister and me all over Northern California, training at different ice rinks. I competed in four [U.S.] Synchronized Skating [Championships] -- at novice and junior. But I wanted to be more competitive, so I began pair skating. By this time, I was home schooled and spent the majority of days training. My pair partner and I became two-time regional champions and competed at the [U.S.] Junior [Figure Skating Championships] twice. In 2001, we came in seventh in juvenile pairs.

Once my height skyrocketed and I could no longer compete in pairs, I focused on singles, even living with my coach, who became my second mother and best friend. As much as I loved artistic competition, my jumping ability was not so hot. I tested up to my senior moves-in-the-field, to my novice freestyle, through my novice pair and my bronze dance.

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to attempt a "normal" teenage experience and retired from competing. However, I did continue to skate in charity ice shows for AIDS foundations. Now, since I've been living in L.A, I skate from time to time recreationally. It's in my heart and always will be. My soul belongs to the ice.

icenetwork.com: Who was your coach?
Analeigh: I had so many coaches! There were choreographers, dance coaches, moves coaches, jump, spin, off-ice, etc. My pair coaches were Elena Leonova and Andrei Khvalko (two-time world professional pair champions). However, my primary coach for most of my skating career was Juliana Kenny. She was my second mother and best friend, and she inspired me everyday to keep pushing!

I did the national competitions, but my favorite competitions were during the "offseason," when artistic competitions went on. I loved the dramatic category. When I competed in artistic, I could just lose myself in the music and choreography.

icenetwork.com: You are model height (5'9"), so you were probably quite tall for skating. How did you incorporate your height into your skating?
Analeigh: Haha, not easily! When I fell -- and I fell a lot -- I had a long way to fall! My coach used to call me Bambi because I have these long, clumsy limbs and big eyes, like Bambi. My height added some grace into my skating -- I was great at long lines -- but for jumping and pairs it was quite difficult to manage. I may be one of the tallest pair skaters yet!

icenetwork.com: At what age did you start modeling?
Analeigh: I began modeling around 17, but there wasn't much to do in Sacramento. When I got down to L.A., I started trying it more. People in the modeling industry, like the makeup artists and the stylists and hair dressers, remind me of people in skating, so it was comforting to be around.

icenetwork.com: Do you feel your training and discipline as a skater helped you in modeling?
Analeigh: I remember training until my back was bloody and my hips were completely bruised from falling. Figure skating definitely toughened up my character, and, physically, I have a good understanding of how my body moves and what looks elegant. I try to think of modeling as a skating program. I just imagine I'm on the ice and I find some pretty unique poses.

Overall, skating gave me great discipline. I still train with a personal trainer five times a week to stay in shape, and I eat really healthy, like any dedicated athlete.

icenetwork.com: What made you want to try out for America's Next Top Model?
Analeigh: I was actually recruited to audition. The recruiting team found me through MySpace! I never, ever imagined I could be on America's Next Top Model, so I was flipping out! I went to the huge casting in Los Angeles, and I ended up being in final 14! I still feel like I'm living in a dream.

icenetwork.com: Do you feel competitive skating prepared you in any way, such as understanding the nature of competition?
Analeigh: In skating, I always tried to compete with myself. I knew how good I could be and always strove to beat my own personal best. In America's Next Top Model, I'm competing against 14 other girls! It was actually really different for me because I don't like to see other people not do well. It took a lot for me to finally be like, "Okay, I'm here to win. I'm here because this is my dream, and I need put my heart into it and not let other girls get to me." So in this way, skating did prepare me because I could focus and dedicate myself passionately, like in training and competition.

icenetwork.com: Since this season just began to air, and we can't give away any results, let's just focus on the first episode. What was it like to suddenly be there and in the middle of it?
Analeigh: It was so hectic! I've never felt normal or like I fit in because of my skating background. It gave me such unique experiences! So I felt so out of place. All the girls were yelling and talking over each other. Everyone wanted to be noticed.

At first, I felt like I wouldn't stand out, but then I remembered, I don't have to be anything like that. I'm going to smile and be me. My story and my heart are colorful enough without having to force anything. I never sacrificed who I was and what I am made of, even in the craziest times. I'm a figure skater for goodness sakes. I've seen it all!

icenetwork.com: What is the elimination part like?
Analeigh: The elimination was so nerve racking! My heart felt like it was going to jump right out of me. My stomach was ugh, my hands were in a constant cold sweat and I couldn't stop shaking! Panel was intense because we never knew if they were going to love our picture or hate it! We can be cut so quickly, so feeling "safe" is never an option.

icenetwork.com: Do you still keep in touch with any of your friends from skating?
Analeigh: My skating friends will be my friends for life. They are my biggest cheerleaders and support team. The people that I have met through skating are the most incredible group of people, and they have touched my life in so many ways. I am who I am today because of skating through my life, because of my coach, Juliana, and my friends. Figure skaters have something rare and different about their personalities, and I'll forever be searching for the "skater-character" in people I meet!

icenetwork.com: What do you hope to get out of your America's Next Top Model experience?
Analeigh: Besides striving to become "America's Next Top Model," I hope that this experience will make me a stronger, more outspoken individual. It's a once in a lifetime chance, and I will use it to the fullest and then beyond. Modeling is temporary -- we all get older -- but transforming as a person and experiencing life stays with us forever. That is something I hope to achieve. So, skate on! You can do incredible things by just following your heart.

America's Next Top Model airs on Wednesdays on the CW Network. Go to www.cwtv.com for more information.