• Aly Leia Wein

Meet Eliana Gropman



Eliana Gropman is one impressive young lady who excels at anything and everything she puts her mind to. For over a decade, she has risen through the ranks of the extremely cutthroat world of elite figure skating, namely the even more competitive discipline of ice dance. She's won medals at the US National Championships at every level that she has competed at, put forth a strong showing at Junior Worlds, and represented her country (and herself) with pride at over 50 international and domestic competitions since 2009. Off the ice, she's equally - if not more - impressive: fluency in three languages, awards for extensive volunteer work, straight A's, involvement in her Jewish community, and to top it off, admission to one of the nation's most prestigious schools, the University of Michigan. I could go on all day about the myriad of commendable accomplishments this Maryland native has acquired over her short lifetime, but I'll leave it at this: Eliana is simply incredible, so read on to learn more about her journey, her goals, and how everything happens for a reason.


QUICK FACTS


Birthday: February 5th, 2001 (18 years old)

Born: Washington, DC, USA

Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

Currently: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA (soon: Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA!)


Job Titles: Future college student at University of Michigan, former Team USA ice dancer

Boots: Jackson

Blades: Riedell Eclipse Dance


Then and now


QUESTIONS


Q: How did your figure skating journey begin, and when did you realize that ice dance was what you specifically wanted to pursue?

A: I stepped onto the ice for the first time at four years old. My parents - who grew up skating on lakes in the winter in the Boston suburbs - wanted me to know how to skate, so they signed me up for group lessons. At first, I hated it. I made a deal with my parents that I would finish the rest of the session, and then I would never have to skate again if I didn’t want to. However, something changed. I started skating again a year later, and this time fell in love with it.


Eliana skating to "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid in 2008


I was taking group lessons when one of the coaches from WISA (Wheaton Ice Skating Academy) approached me and told me about the program. I thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a shot. It was in this program that I fell in love with ice dance. I had always loved watching ice dancing in the Olympics and was captivated by the beauty and elegance of the sport, so as soon as I started to learn how to do that myself, I knew it was right for me.


Q: After you joined WISA, located outside of Washington, DC, you were teamed up with Ian Somerville prior to the 2009-10 season. What was it like training at WISA and being around so many other talented ice dance teams?

A: The training environment of WISA was a unique opportunity to train with some of my biggest competitors - they were always pushing me to do my best. It was a great opportunity to see the potential ahead of me, demonstrated by older and more experienced teams. Growing up watching their success, I always hoped to follow in their footsteps.


Eliana and Ian skating the Dutch Waltz pattern dance at the Cherry Blossom Invitational in April 2009


Q: In 2012 and 2013, you and Ian became national champions at the juvenile and intermediate levels, respectively. At that young an age (10 and 11), what did that kind of success mean to you, and what factors do you think make an ice dance team succeed or not?

A: The success was very inspirational to me - it was my first real-life example of hard work paying off, which I believe is an important factor to success in anything in life. It was also a humbling moment in my career because I learned that while success is important, you need to use that as motivation to work even harder, instead of letting success get to your head. I think determination and a good work ethic are important factors to success in ice dance, along with being able to take criticism and understand that it helps you improve.


Q: In the years that followed, you moved up to junior, competed for Team USA internationally, and stood on many, many podiums! What were some of your best memories during that time?

A: It was always an honor to compete internationally and be able to represent my country, however my best memory is standing on the podium in Bratislava. This was my first JGP (Junior Grand Prix) medal, and it meant so much to see the US flag being raised and have the medal placed around my neck. This experience felt very surreal, and nothing else quite compared to it throughout my career. I have very fond memories from all my international competitions and have been able to explore so many cool cities in Europe and all over the world. I've made so many amazing friends at competitions and have great memories with all of them. It was also pretty cool to be in Australia and be able to hold a koala bear and feed kangaroos out of my hand!


Perks of competing internationally! Eliana pictured exploring Australia (right and left) and Slovakia (center) during Junior Grand Prix Brisbane and JGP Bratislava


Q: Not only did you accomplish a lot as a skater, but you also accomplished a lot as a student - you won the Athlete Alumni Ambassador (3A) Award for your volunteer work, you were a two-time National Spanish Examination silver medalist, you became fluent in three languages, the list goes on and on... so my question is, how did you balance skating with school and manage to truly thrive in both?

A: One important life skill that I learned from skating was how to compartmentalize. My education has always been a priority to me, but so has my skating career. I am very dedicated in everything that I do, and I don’t like doing anything without giving it my full effort. I wanted to give my all in both skating and school, however, I knew that I needed to pace myself and be able to compartmentalize in order to be able to thrive in both.


I learned how to separate the two in my mind, and I wouldn’t let one section cross over into the other. For example, if I had a big test I was worried about, I would separate that in my mind from skating, and I wouldn’t let myself get distracted by the thought of it during practice. I wanted to have a well-rounded, balanced life, and it took a little while to figure out the best way to achieve everything I wanted to, but I am grateful that I’ve been able to accomplish so much.


Eliana and Ian's Argentine Tango rhythm dance at the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships


Q: Speaking of academics, you also went to a Jewish day school and are fluent in Hebrew. Is Judaism a big part of your life? How has it shaped you into the person you are today?

A: Judaism has definitely always been an important part of my life. I have taken Hebrew for 12 years and have learned about the history of the religion and all its values year after year in school. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 13, and even though I don’t necessarily celebrate every holiday by the book, the values are very important to me. One value in particular, the sense of community, has always been an important part of my life. Whether it had been my classmates and friends I had gone through middle and high school with, or the skaters I trained with, I always valued the community around me.


Eliana at her Bat Mitzvah - I'd give this (chair) lift a solid +5 GOE


Another important value that has shaped me into who I am today is called “Tikkun Olam,” and it means giving back and repairing/improving the world. On one hand, this means appreciating the beauty of the world around us and treating it well, but this can also apply to the people around us. If everyone is a better person to those around us, then the world will in turn become a better and more accepting place. There are multiple different levels of beliefs and practice in Judaism, so everyone can truly find their place. I believe this is important, as self-discovery can be a difficult process, but it is crucial to find an accepting environment.


Eliana and Ian's Mozart l'Opéra Rock free dance at the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships


Q: At the end of this season, it was announced that you and Ian, who you skated with for over a decade, had ended your partnership - may I ask what exactly happened? And what advice do you have for other skaters who go through a non-mutual split?

A: After Junior Worlds, I met up with the rest of my senior class on our senior trip, touring old Jewish quarters and concentration camps throughout Europe. After the trip, I returned home and went back to training to find that everything had changed. That night, my mother received an email from Ian’s mother, and I learned that the partnership was over. No discussions or anything. I learned that while I was away, the decision had been made, and Ian was already skating with a new partner. This came as a shock to me, and it took a little while to process.


While I hope that no other skater has to go through a non-mutual split like this, my advice for them is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and realize that you may be better off. It is important to not feel guilty and that you are to blame, because you can’t really be responsible for a decision made without your input. It is important to realize that a non-mutual split like this can open up more opportunities for you than ever imagined. My high school required students to apply to both in and out of state colleges, so I applied to several local schools and a couple of out of the area schools. After receiving my acceptance letters from both Maryland and George Washington, my plan was to go to GW (where I received an academic scholarship) and continue training and competing with Ian at WISA. A few days after the email ending the partnership, I received my acceptance letter from the University of Michigan. I realized that while it was unfortunate that a successful partnership of over 10 years had ended, so many doors had just opened up for me.


When one door closes, another opens


Q: Do you think you'll continue skating in some way - collegiately, recreationally, or even competitively - or are you taking some time away from the ice for a bit?

A: I don’t know exactly what the future holds just yet, but I don’t think I’ve stepped onto the ice for the last time.


Q: You contributed so much to the skating world, and now it's almost time for your exciting new chapter: college! What made you choose Michigan, and what are you thinking of studying? #GoBlue

A: I first toured Michigan because it was definitely a school I had only heard good things about. There are so many alumni, all over the world, and all of them have only amazing things to say about their time there. Also, so many skaters have attended Michigan, so it had always been a school I had my eye on. Not only are the academics at Michigan amazing, but there is also a fun-loving, enjoyable side to it. For one, there is a Squirrel Feeding Club, where students just go around and feed the friendly squirrels around campus - that is something I didn’t find anywhere else!


On my tour, I fell in love with the beautiful town of Ann Arbor and the campus of UMich, but what was most compelling was something my tour guide said to me at the end of the tour, “You can make a big school feel small, but you can’t make a small school feel big.” This really stuck with me because my entire life, I had gone to small private schools, and the biggest class I was ever in was maybe 25 - 30 kids. Everyone in my grade was friendly, and not only did I know all of them personally, but I knew things about them like their parents' names and their passions. While a school as big as Michigan definitely seemed daunting, I knew that I would be able to make it feel small and personalized through things like people in my major, clubs, and sororities I would join, and just my friends in general.


Blue and Maize forever! Who here is a Wolverine?


Throughout my college process, I had always looked at Michigan as a reach school, one that I was not guaranteed admission into. When I saw the email from Michigan with my admission results, my entire life turned around. The news came during a difficult time in my life, as a few days prior, my partnership with Ian had ended. When I saw the first words of the email - “You’re In!” my heart soared. I never believed I would actually be able to get into Michigan, and I was at a point in my life where I was embracing change and knew that Michigan would be the best decision for me to thrive, both educationally and as a person. Go Blue!


I am still thinking about what I want to study, but I am passionate about genetics and psychology, so right now I am thinking about neuroscience or biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience on a med school track.


Q: Reflecting back on your 13+ years on the ice, what are some of the biggest lessons you learned that you hope to take with you throughout your entire life?

A: I have learned so many lessons from my years on the ice - discipline, determination, perseverance, time management, compartmentalization, work ethic, patience, and confidence. These are all important life skills, and I am thankful that I was able to learn all of these skills so early on in my life, and I believe that this will benefit me greatly in college and beyond.


Skating prepared Eliana for any challenge that may lie ahead


LIGHTNING ROUND


Go-to karaoke song?

"The Climb" by Miley Cyrus.


If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be and why?

I would want to become an expert in interior design to know how to make the best use of space in my small dorm!


Favorite time of time?

When I can go to the gym after my internship at the NIH (National Institute of Health) and just be able to unwind and listen to music while focusing my energy on strength training and pushing my limits.


Who makes you the happiest?

My best friends and family never fail to make me the happiest.


If you were a season, which one would you be and why?

I think I would be spring - spring is always a cheerful time, because after a long winter, flowers are starting to grow, and the sun is warm and shining again. I always try to be positive and encouraging, and look on the bright side of things, so I feel like spring suits my personality. Spring is also all about new beginnings, so it is fitting for my life right now too!


Springing into a new chapter!


Favorite country you've ever visited?

Australia, hands down (…or should I say down under) !


What would your dream house look like?

My dream house would have a white architecturally beautiful exterior, it would have an infinity pool in the backyard, a huge balcony overlooking the pool, a marble spiral staircase, and a huge walk-in closet.


What city is on the top of your bucket list to visit?

Oia, Greece (on the island of Santorini).


Favorite way to end the day?

Listening to some calm and peaceful music.


Quote to live by?

"Nothing is impossible. The word itself says, 'I’m possible!'" - Audrey Hepburn


Eliana by the sea in Dubrovnik, Croatia earlier this year


KEEP UP WITH ELIANA


Instagram: @eliana.gropman


Eliana's future is so bright - and it's just getting started! Be sure to follow along on social media to see all the wonderful things this brilliant young lady does next.


All other photos courtesy of Eliana Gropman