Liberty skating teams worship on the ice in annual Praisefest

The month of April has been a lively one for the Lady Flames figure skating team. Months of hard work came to fruition at the team’s national competition in Southern California April 16-18, where the ladies finished a program-best sixth out of 16 teams at the U.S. Figure Skating Collegiate National Intercollegiate Finals. 

Just one weekend later, the team had the opportunity to relish in its achievements while also ministering to the community in its annual “PraiseFest on Ice.”

“This started before the team even existed,” Flames’ figure skating Head Coach Dawn Harter said of the event. “It was just a synchro team, and an outside individual in the community that was helping with the synchro team came up with the idea with her own funds. She organized the first PraiseFest on Ice, and from there, we continued it on as a tradition and an end to the year.”

The community gathered at the LaHaye Ice Center on April 22 at 7 p.m. to witness the splendor of skating, where the athletes on the ice are not performing for a score, but rather for the glory of God. 

“Oh, it’s so much fun,” senior figure team member Olivia Walker said. “We have this pressure on us the whole season to be performing and have all these elements perfect. To be able to just cut loose and enjoy skating and be able to worship the Lord there, it is so much fun, and it’s just a great opportunity for all of us.”

The performance is the only night of the season when Liberty’s figure and synchronized skating teams have the opportunity to merge, putting on a show that speaks to the heart of what skating at Liberty is all about. 

The skaters spent the night performing their competitive routines from the season, while also presenting unique programs that they choreographed on their own. The presentation is also the only opportunity for spectators to see the skater’s competitive routines displayed on home ice. 

“This year, we did not have a home competition,” Harter said. “So, this is really (the community’s) only opportunity to see us skate … To see that whenever we’re on the ice, whether it’s competing or for an event like this, that we’re giving it to the Lord. All we’re concerned about is the audience of one, that we’re doing it for him. And there’s no mistakes that we can make. We’re just offering it in full submission.”

Every year’s PraiseFest bestows a different theme. The essence of this season’s production was “My Story.” 

Each of the skater’s programs incorporated a piece of who they are, as they shared with the audience prior to taking the ice how the performance relates to their lives. Liberty student and PraiseFest attendee Audrey Kries saw the skater’s stories as a touching element to an inspirational night.   

“I think it’s really important to hear their stories and understand the motivation of why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Kries said. “Seeing that it’s all done to glorify God is really unique to Liberty, and I think it’s really cool.”

In addition to the end of a successful season, the night also signified the culmination of multiple senior skaters’ performance careers. Walker was one of nine graduating seniors who took the ice for the final time as a Flame at PraiseFest. 

For Walker, sharing the ice with her teammates for the past four years has been an incomparable experience. The West Virginia native, however, has also played a critical role in the team’s spiritual development this season. She served as the team’s spiritual leader this past season, a role that has brought fulfillment for the senior. 

“I love being able to be there and encourage each other and be able to keep each other’s heads on straight,” Walker said. “Sometimes we get stressed out or just worked up, and we’re reminding each other, ‘Hey, the Lord’s still good.’ Or, ‘It’s gonna be okay, we’ll work through it together.’ We laugh together, cry together, pray together.”

The spiritual foundation has not only given the team the opportunity to minister to the community in a unique form, but also provided the ladies with a source of comfort as they walked through the trials of life. 

“We’ve had two verses this season,” Harter said. “One has been ‘created in His image to do good works.’ And the other one was in the Old Testament where we stand shoulder to shoulder. I think this kind of culminates everything that our team has kind of walked through this year. We’ve had different scenarios as far as health, family members, loss, grief. In that moment, it’s more than just a team competing on the ice. We become a skating family.” 

While PraiseFest may signify the end of a season and the completion of multiple seniors’ skating careers, the ladies have a forever home in Liberty figure skating.  

“All that they’ve inputted over the last four years, that just grows and builds. The program is forever, (and) it’s not going to stay stagnant,” Harter said. “New people come in and bring new life into it. It continues to move on and develop. It’s very exciting.”

Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter

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