Underneath her wispy, bright blue skating skirt and camouflaged by her heavy, tan tights, Audrey Culver has scars up and down her legs.
But she doesn't really mind them. In fact, looking at the scars brings back memories.
"Most of my scars on my legs are just from getting kicked, falling or getting stepped on," said the MSU synchronized skating club member. "The thing about the scars I still remember the year, the program and how it happened. In a weird way, it's like a scrapbook from the teams I've been on and the hard work I've put in."
On the downside, having this unique memory book can limit wardrobe choices.
"You don't see too many skaters wearing short dresses," the accounting senior added. "I can tell you that."
The most serious accident Culver has been in was during high school when she skated over a teammate's hand.
The other girl had surgery, physical therapy and eventually was fully healed.
"You learn very quickly never put your hands on the ice," Culved. "You're so close together, so many things can happen so quickly. I've been lucky in that my injuries have been fairly minor. With a sprained wrist here or there, you just put on some bandages and take it with a grain of salt."
Since they've been skating practically since the age of 4, not even sprained wrists, sliced hands and scars can deter Culver and the rest of the MSU synchronized skating team. They know bumps and bruises come with the territory.
Culver who competed in Sweden and Croatia during high school crossed over from figure skating to synchronized about nine years after her debut on ice. She has been a convert ever since.
"What started my interest in synchro was I'm a size 8, and I'm never going to make it to nationals in singles," she said. "This let me continue and allowed me to get to a level I never would've been able to."
Culver figure skating is more of a lone sport that involves intricate jumps and spins. Synchronized skaters enjoy the team effort and the sport's focus upon larger formations and dance steps.
"Synchronized skating is a totally different sport," said club President Stephanie DeMeester, an advertising senior. "I mean, we always wear our Michigan State synchronized skating apparel, and people are like 'What is that?' I can describe it as Rockettes on ice or synchronized swimming, but on ice. But you have to see it before you understand."
DeMeester began skating later in life than other competitive skaters when she was 10. She chose to attend MSU because of its synchronized skating club, as it has been a national medalist for six years in a row.
While many of the other girls had already known each other from skating together in their hometowns of Chicago or Detroit, DeMeester didn't know anyone because she's from Indiana.
"I have 30 friends automatically," she said. "I love, love, love competing. There's 19 other girls with you at the same time, and you look at each other when you skate. You forget you're competing in front of hundreds of thousands of people and just go with the moment. It really motivates us all."
This camaraderie easily can be observed when watching the tight-knit team's practices. While skating, the girls are quiet and concentrating on their moves. But during breaks, they can't help but burst into chatter the familiar, jovial kind that can only be perpetuated among close friends.
They also coordinate practice outfits. Whether they're wearing matching baseball T-shirt jerseys and black pants or identical black fleeces and stretch pants, they make an effort to match, as it helps their coach observe everyone's movements as one unit.
Friendships are sustained outside the rink as well. In the fall, they bond over hayrides and caramel apples. They skate between periods during MSU hockey games, work at concerts to raise money for their club, which is not funded by the university, and even collect old ink cartridges and cell phones to contribute to their nearly $5,000 in expenses.
During recruitment season in April, they invite high school students to spend the night in the dorms, giving them tours of MSU, eating at the Union and attending a cappella concerts. On any given night, the girls can be seen simply hanging out or dining at restaurants.
In fact, this affability seems characteristic of many synchronized skaters whether they're on the same team or not. At the Mid-America competition in Fraser, Mich., last weekend, teams ranging from the elementary to collegiate levels erupted into whistles and applause when their favorite teams clad in flowing, brightly colored costumes took the ice.
"There are eight different levels and hundreds of different skaters," DeMeester said. "Girls were cheering for their old teams, and little girls were cheering for the colleges they liked. We handed out our tattoos to little 7-year-old girls they're already thinking about college."
At this competition, the MSU synchronized skating team placed second out of three collegiate contenders. In two weeks, they'll travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the national championship to compete against 12 college teams for the ultimate national honor.
Though the actual competition isn't until Feb. 24, the team is arriving early to adjust to the elevation change the city is 6,000 feet above sea level as this can negatively affect their breathing at first.
The hours before the competition will be spent resting, mentally visualizing the routine, putting pounds of makeup on their faces and spraying gobs of hairspray in their tightly pinned locks, which are complemented with matching headbands. The entire makeup-application process takes about an hour and a half, as they wear six different eye shadows, along with bright red lipstick, blush and foundation, for starters.
Right before they skate onto the ice, team members perform a good luck ritual.
"We stand in a circle and do a hand squeeze," DeMeester said. "Once that's done, we always sing the fight song before we get on the ice."
This year, the club's theme is "The Dukes of Hazzard." Team members are skating to four and a half minutes of a country medley, while being decked-out in one-piece costumes of coral pink and royal blue halter tops embellished with a band of silver stars and delicate, knee-length, flowing blue skirts.
Although coach Erin Bridge ultimately picks the costume and songs, club officials collaborate with her during the process.
"The costumes are kind of a spin off the Daisy Duke CD cover," said Vice President Michelle Manery, a kinesiology junior. "The costume puts the whole package together. It impacts the girls because if they don't feel confident, it could impact their performance."
The current trend in costumes is wearing form-fitting tops with sleek, longer skirts that give the illusion of speed and movement, Culver said. When she first began skating, however, big, puffy sleeves with layered chiffon skirts were all the rage which may or may not have had something to do with the outrageous '80s fashion trends.
Choosing the performance song also is an important decision, Bridge said, as they must be tunes that enthuse both the skaters and coach. The level of enthusiasm the melodies inspire will affect their ratings.
When her team isn't competing, Bridge judges as well, which helps when making song and choreography decisions as a coach.
"I looked for something that was upbeat that the team would get into and enjoy," she said. "I picked country this year because I thought it would be something I would enjoy choreographing. Because I enjoy it, I can get the team to enjoy it."
Elizabeth Swanson can be reached at email@example.com.
Members of the MSU synchronized skating team practice Jan. 28 at Munn Ice Arena. The team will be competing in the national championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.