An injury in a back muscle sustained while figure skating kept Ilana Sedaka, a Great Neck North High School student, off the ice for four and a half months.
Unwilling to risk the jumps associated with combined figure skating, Sedaka said, she focused her efforts on solo ice dance skating.
She said the injury turned out to be blessing in disguise, leading to her winning a gold medal at this year’s United States Figure Skating’s National Solo Ice Dance Finals.
“It was then I had a fear of jumping so I decided to devote my time to something else and that was solo ice dance,” Sedaka said. “Having my time devoted to one thing actually, in the end, was worth it because I won the whole event at nationals, which is something I’ve never done before.”
Born and raised in Great Neck, Sedaka had a natural skating ability from a young age, her mother, Traci Sedaka, said.
Ilana, a sophomore, said she began skating when she was 5 years old at the Great Neck Park District’s Andrew Stergiopoulos Ice Rink because a lot of her friends were doing it and it was a way for her to channel her “high level of energy.”
After receiving praise from one of the park district’s coaches, Traci Sedaka said, the family decided to sign her up for lessons.
“With all the positivity going into it, she just liked it and she was a natural at it from the beginning,” she said. “And she loved doing it.”
Wearing a red dress and skating to “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole, Ilana won her first competition at age 7.
“I didn’t have any expectations, I just went in to see how it would be,” she said. “It was my first competition and I won, so then I really thought OK, I could really be good at this.”
Ilana continued figure skating and in 2011 competed in the U.S. Figure Skating’s first solo ice dance finals.
Traci Sedaka said the road to competing in the finals is rigorous.
The country, she said, is split into three regions: East, Midwest and Pacific.
In order to qualify for nationals, a figure skater needs to compete in at least three regional competitions, Traci Sedaka said. Skaters get points for where they place in each competition and the top six performers in each region qualify for nationals.
Although this year was her first winning a gold medal, Ilana Sedaka won a bronze medal in 2013, a silver medal in 2014 and another bronze medal in 2015.
She said she accepts when she feels nerves, like she did before attempting to win her first gold medal, but finds ways to deal with the nervousness.
“You have to be nervous. If you’re not nervous, you don’t care,” she said. “I know that nerves can get the best of you so I try to cope with it by listening to music, stretching out or listening to what my coach has to tell me.”
Before her gold medal performance, she said, one coach told her that she had an “angry, fierce face” and even started growling at him.
“It was a very strong performance on the ice,” Traci Sedaka said. “So she just had to get into character and that was her way of doing it.”
Skating to “Cry Me a River” by Michael Bublé, Ilana put on a show and earned her first gold medal.
She said she “couldn’t believe it” when she found out she won and cried because she was so happy.
But the joy and happiness had to wait, as Ilana had to compete in the combined figure skating event a few hours later.
She went on to win the bronze medal in that event, and afterward the realization of what she accomplished truly hit her, she said.
Traci Sedaka said Ilana’s success was a testament to the hard work that she puts in on the ice and her love for the sport.
“In the beginning, she had it naturally,” she said. “As kids get older sometimes they start to develop other interests.”
“There’s a lot of times where you don’t feel like it and it’s natural,” Traci Sedaka added. “But you’re committed to your coach, committed to yourself and you know that there may be a competition where you’re not going to feel your 100 percent best, so you use those situations to strengthen you and use it as a learning tool.”
Ilana attributes her success to those surrounding her.
“I couldn’t have done it without my mom; driving me everywhere, letting me buy dresses, letting me compete,” she said. “And definitely, of course, the coaches. Without them guiding me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Ilana is currently coached by the former British Olympians Ken Foster and Sinead Kerr.
If Ilana decides skating isn’t her calling in life, she may have a career in entertainment.
After finishing second of 300 in a children’s acting competition in 2010, Traci Sedaka said, she performed in various on-screen productions, most notably the television documentary series “Celebrity Ghost Stories.”
As for right now, Ilana said, she’s focused on the things that are most important to her: hanging out with friends, shopping, getting good grades in school and defending her gold medal next year.