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Breaking the ice

by: Jamie Valdez, 
Nathaniel Fast, a sophomore at West Linn High School, and partner Madeline Heritage, of Beaverton, practice recently at the Lloyd Center iceskating rink.

Ice dancing champions Nathaniel Fast and Madeline Heritage and have formed a golden partnership.

After only four months of intense training together, the ice skating team performed all the right moves to dance its way into first place in the juvenile ice dancing division at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championship in Salt Lake City.

'How far they came in four months is impressive,' said Ikaika Young, who has been coaching Heritage, 13, and Fast, 16, since August.

He credits their success to their shared focus, passion for ice skating and determination to master required elements in their choreographed dances.

'For their age, they are very focused,' Young said.

Both Heritage and Fast have been skating since they were 4.

Heritage, a home-schooled seventh-grader from Beaverton, ice skates with the Portland Ice Skating Club, while Fast, a West Linn High School sophomore, skates with the Skating Club of Oregon.

For the past six years, Fast has focused his training on ice dancing and has competed at the national level with his previous partner, placing sixth at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championship.

Meanwhile, Heritage is a juvenile girls single skater, placing eighth overall in the Northwest Pacific Regional Championship, and placed 12th at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championship in novice pairs.

Because of the small ice-skating community in Portland, both skaters knew of each other, although they had never actually met.

A social ice dancing session at Lloyd Center on a Sunday morning changed that, when their mothers Barbara Fast and Lisa Heritage encouraged them to take the ice together.

'We had so much fun,' Madeline Heritage said. 'It worked out well and we liked it a lot.

'We kind of just clicked.'

The Beaverton girl admits she was a little hesitant about making the switch from pairs to ice dancing, but once she was in the arms of Fast, she soon realized she had met her match on the ice.

His love of ice dancing was contagious and the discipline proved to be more challenging than she had initially imagined.

'Nathan brings ice dancing experience and Maddy brings expression to the team,' Young said. 'They are like a puzzle - they fit together very well.'

Once the two teamed up, the hard work and long hours of training together on the ice began.

Heritage and Fast met six days a week for several hours in the morning. For nearly a month before the national competition, Fast missed his morning health, math and French classes to put in more hours with Heritage on the ice.

'For them to do so well is quite a feat and something to be proud of,' said Lisa Heritage, Madeline's mom. 'What they were able to accomplish together is pretty extraordinary.'

So what makes them work as a team?

'We're both Scorpios,' Madeline Heritage said. 'We have the same personality, and we're really good friends.'

'We get along really well,' Fast added. 'We have the same attitude - we both want to compete and do well.

'We want to win, and we are both willing to work for it.'

Their dedication to performing well and working hard paid off as they surprised the competition by placing first in both the qualifying and final rounds at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Junior Championship.

'It was overwhelming,' Heritage said of the experience.

'In the qualifying round we were in first by four points,' Fast said. 'We were the targets to beat, and it felt good.

'I didn't want to let that go.'

The field narrowed from 36 to 18 teams - many of which had skated together for several years - as Fast and Heritage advanced to the ice dancing finals.

The team placed fifth, 1.3 points from the first-place team, following the first compulsory swing dance.

'I was a little bit worried because our technical scores were low,' Heritage said.

She and her partner knew they needed to step up their game when they took the ice for their second 14-step compulsory dance.

'The 14-step is our better dance,' Heritage said. 'We like it a lot better and have a little bit more confidence with it.'

The duo pushed through every step of the military-like march, placing first for their second dance and second overall.

'Our coach was very positive and supportive,' Fast said. 'He was surprised in how well we did.

'We were happy to be in second and only an 0.8-point behind the team in first going into the free dance.'

Fast and Heritage felt confident going into their rumba/ cha-cha.

'We drew 15th and had enough time to warm up and watch some of the skaters before us,' Heritage recalled.

Then, it was their turn.

'Going into the competition, we didn't know what we could do yet,' Fast said.

'We were not sure what we were capable of,' Heritage added.

After surprising everyone in the qualifying round and moving into medal position, their confidence and determination grew.

'Their free dance was so technically higher than other teams that they had a lot of room to work with,' Young said. 'They performed it very well.'

Even with Heritage catching her toe-pick in the beginning and having her blade slip from her fingers in the last lift of the free dance, the team skated into first, nearly five points ahead of their closest competition.

'We had a moment when we looked at each other, but after a couple seconds, you forget about the mistake,' Heritage said. 'You have to let it all go.'

After watching three more teams perform, it was time to celebrate.

'It was nice being on the top of the podium, extremely nice,' Fast said. 'It was amazing.'

With the win still fresh in their minds, Fast and Heritage are already focusing on next year's competition in the intermediate division.

'Now that they are a ranked team, it's really important for them to come back very strong next year,' Young said. 'I'm confident that they will only improve from here.

'Their biggest strength is their speed. One thing I plan to work on is showing them how to harness that speed and apply it to their edges on the ice. We'll continue to focus on the quality of their skating.'

Fast wants to bring home gold again.

'That sounds good,' Heritage said.

'It's a whole different competition,' Fast added. 'I'm confident we can really do well.'

'We just have to keep moving forward to get there,' Heritage said.