Scott Hamilton, the men's figure skating champion in the 1984 Winter Olympics, once said, "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." My experience competing at the 2012 North Atlantic Regional Competition, which was held Oct. 14-18 at the Northtown Center in Amherst, can be summed up in that quote.

Throughout the competition and in the days leading up to the event I saw displays of sportsmanship and love for the sport no matter how a skater performed. The skaters who come to regionals have goals, and although these goals may vary, everyone wants to do their best.

Despite the tension of the competition, as I sat in the bleachers watching the juvenile girls' final, I saw a girl give a high-five to another skater whom she was competing against as she was getting on the ice to take her turn.

Figure skating can be so cut throat and demanding on skaters, coaches, parents and on clubs. My club at Niagara University has shown me that it doesn't have to be like that, but at the regionals I saw it on an even greater level.

The regional competition qualifies skaters from the North Atlantic region for the U.S. Junior Championships or the U.S. Championships, depending on the skater's level. North Atlantic is just one of nine regional championships that take place in the nation.

In order to compete at regionals, it has taken me many years of dreams, determination and dedication. Although I reached the right level to compete more than three years ago, I was too old to compete in the Juvenile level. I had to pass my next freestyle test to be on the Intermediate level in order to compete in qualifying competitions. Passing my intermediate free test was easier said than done. It took me four tries over a span of two years. It was May 2011, the end of my junior year in high school, when I finally passed. I knew I had only a year left in this area since I plan to go away for college, but more importantly only a year left to go after my skating dreams, which had always included competing in a qualifying competition.

Since the day I told my coaches, Don and Sue Mitchell, that I wanted to compete, the club supported my decision. I, along with two other girls -- Samantha Shea, 11, of Pendleton, and Katrina Copeland, 11, of Youngstown, began preparing.
I can't even properly describe the strain the past few months of skating have been. The three of us have been there almost every day, throwing ourselves into the air with double jumps, trying to learn new positions, trying to get our footwork down with precision and to skate our best.

At any regional competition there are numerous skaters on the same level. For me, there were roughly 80 girls at the Intermediate level. The 80 skaters were split into four groups; the top four in each group would make it past the qualifying round and be able to compete to move on to sectionals.

As I waited for them to call my name, I heard the scores of the girl who skated before me. That girl ended up winning my group.

As I took the ice, Don hugged me and Sue pulled me in and kissed my forehead: "This is your moment at North's. No one can take that away from you. This is your moment so enjoy it," she said. With that I skated out as they called my name and put on my smile as I went to my starting position on the ice. As my two-minute, 39-second program to Stravinsky's "Firebird Ballet" started, numerous things went wrong.

I didn't make it past the qualifying round, which was heartbreaking, but not because I didn't make it, I didn't skate my best. My scores were the lowest I had ever received competing with my program. I cried for a bit but I couldn't truly be upset. I had just competed at North Atlantics. That was more than I ever dreamed I'd be capable of when I laced my skates up for the first time.

As the day came to a close and my competing at regionals concluded, it was just beginning for the other two girls. Katrina placed seventh, and Samantha placed second, which put her past the qualifying round, which had been her goal all along.

After the scores came out, I witnessed another moment that made me think about how much my club is more than just a skating club. Samantha had made it, and Katrina hadn't. Samantha's mom walked right over to Katrina and kissed her head. We all support each other because we're more than a club -- we love each other.

I convinced my mom to take me to watch Samantha the next day in the finals. She didn't finish in the top four, but she made it past her goal.

My experience at regionals was unlike any other skating experience in my career. It was one I'll never forget, mainly because of the people who have been with me since day one and have helped me grow on the ice, not only as a skater but as a person as well. My club has helped me get this far and that's because we're more than skaters -- we are a family. At the end of the day, that's what's important.

Competing at the regionals proved to me what I've long known this sport is about and what my club is about. It's not about winning or losing, it's about our moments on the ice and off and how we use them to create a good attitude, and with that attitude, there's nothing we can't do.


Isabella Fagiani is a senior at Niagara Falls High School.