Figure skater Madellena Conte Thornton thriving out of her comfort zone

Cindy Chew/Special to The ExaminerMadellena Conte Thornton's coach has gone from calling her "Baby Giraffe" to "Gazelle" after taking on a new style this season.

This year’s figure skating season was a breakout one for 16-year-old San Franciscan Madellena Conte Thornton.

Rather than give up the sport — her passion since the age of 8 — after a frustrating 2010 season that left Thornton questioning her skating future, she upped her commitment, increasing the physical, emotional and financial investment.

One decision that paid high dividends was promoting Don Corbiell from secondary to head coach. Corbiell instituted a training program that included a personal trainer, nutritionist and Pilates instructor.

The coach’s skating program for Thornton’s season included Broadway show tune “Le Jazz Hot,” a “sexy and sassy” piece that she initially resisted.

“It was one thing stepping out of my comfort zone to become a classical, graceful skater,” Thornton said. “But this one topped it, because I had to be a performer. I wasn’t just skating my jumps and spins.”

Thornton came to embrace the new program. Coach Corbiell’s nickname for his “exquisite” skater changed from “Baby Giraffe” to “Gazelle.” She had become an entertainer, as well as an athlete.

“It was an amazing transformation to watch,” Corbiell said. “When she fully invested herself in it, it was like watching a flower bloom.”

Thornton’s performance at the Intermediate Ladies Regional Championships in Santa Rosa earned the skater a step up from the intermediate to novice skill divisions for the 2012 season.

“She improved with every single competition,” Corbiell said. “Regionals was her personal best, her best skate and her highest score of the year.”

Thornton doesn’t stray far from the ice rink, even in the offseason. Her family’s downtown San Francisco home is walking distance from the Yerba Buena Ice Skating Center, where she’s on the ice most days by 6 a.m. After school, the junior at San Francisco International School returns to the rink for another 90-120 minutes, practicing her
double lutzes and flips.

“We’re working on a bunch of harder elements that are very new to me,” Thornton said. “Soon, we’ll be choosing my program for next year, perhaps a tango piece that will push me even farther out of my comfort zone.”

Thornton hit the ice during Thanksgiving vacation as she and her family flew to New York, where she could perform her rendition of the Broadway show tune for her grandfather. “Pappy” became a figure skater at 65, and he cajoled young Maddy to take a lesson. She was immediately hooked, and the two have spent nearly every summer since skating together at Lake Placid. 

On Friday and Saturday, Thornton will be entertaining local skating fans in what may be her final performance of “Le Jazz Hot” at the Center’s annual holiday show.

 

Showtime on Ice

WHERE: Yerba Buena Ice Skating Center, 750 Folsom St, San Francisco

WHEN: Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m. both nights

SKATERS: Various styles and abilities, from beginning to expert

INFO: www.skatebowl.com, (415) 820-3521

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