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The City Journals

The Star Lit Blades: Synchro in Cottonwood Heights

Jun 08, 2016 10:45AM ● By Sarah Almond

By Sarah Almond  /  [email protected]

Cottonwood Heights - What do you get when you combine the essence of a drill team with the skill and technicality of figure skating? 

Synchronized skating. 

Visit the local rink at the Cottonwood Rec Center and you’ll get to see this spectacle firsthand from the Star Lit Blades. Though this sport is still fairly new to the Utah area, synchronized skating has been a dignified discipline for over four decades. 

In 1956, Dr. Richard Porter of Ann Arbor, Michigan, created the Hockettes, America’s first synchronized skating team. This group, which operated with the precision of a drill team, grew in popularity and eventually began performing for spectators during intermissions of the University of Michigan men’s hockey team in the 1970s.

Today, the sport’s growing popularity has swept across the globe with international teams in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Hungary and more. Miami University even founded a school-sponsored team that competes in championships across the nation.

Here in Cottonwood Heights and surrounding areas, the sport is also growing in popularity. Ellie Karamati Nielsen, one of the head coaches and directors of the Star Lit Blades, says that the program has expanded a decent amount in the past few years. 

“We had little teams here and there, but we really started serious teams up around 2007,” Nielsen said. “But 2012 and 2013 was really our first competitive season. We started out with just one team and now there are four teams that practice at Cottonwood Rec.” 

Nielsen got her start with synchronized skating with the Ice Angelzz in the early 2000s after losing interest in individual figure skating. 

“Skating can get a little bit hard to compete in when you become a teenager and unless you’re really, really good, skating competitively sometimes isn’t fun anymore,” Nielsen said. “But skating with other people, and being on a team and getting to travel together, that was a way for me to keep skating and being competitive while also having fun. And that’s what we really want to offer the skaters of Star Lit.” 

Nearly 50 girls and four boys are spread across four different teams. In synchro, these teams are commonly referred to as levels. 

“Each level has different requirements, and then those requirements have different levels of difficulty,” Nielsen said. “So for instance, we’ll do a circle formation and our lower-level teams stay connected the whole time by holding hands or shoulders and they’ll travel their circle down the ice. Our older team skate their circle disconnected and move it down the ice without being connected but maintaining a solid circle.” 

At Cottonwood Rec Center, Star Lid Blades’ preliminary, open juvenile, and intermediate levels all practice more than two hours each Friday. The group also has an open adult team, with skaters ages 18 to 36, that typically practices on Sundays, but are currently in their offseason. 

“The skaters need to maintain their shape and choreography so it’s clear to the judges what they’re doing,” said Nielsen. “It’s difficult. It’s pretty hard to do all of that stuff while you’re gliding across the ice and you’ve got a little speed going into it, so practice is definitely important.”  

Each January the Star Lit Blades travel to Portland, Oregon, to compete in sectionals, a competition in which all of the western teams and teams from the Pacific Coast gather to compete for the overall title. Though the Olympics has yet to adopt synchronized skating as a sanctioned sport, the synchro community is pushing hard for officials to welcome the sport to the roster. 

“There’s a hashtag, #Whynotsynchro, that people are using to push for synchro to be in the Olympics,” Nielsen said. “And they’ve been doing a lot of rule changing recently to make it an Olympic-level sport, so hopefully it will happen.” 

Under Nielsen’s leadership and with continued hard work, the Star Lit Blades continue to grow and improve as a team. Perhaps when synchro finally does become an Olympic sport, the Cottonwood Heights community will have several homegrown skaters to cheer on in the big times. 

To learn more about the Star Lit Blades, visit, like them on Facebook at Star Lit Blades Synchronized Skating or follow their Twitter handle @StarLitBlades.