The partnership of figure skaters Cate Fleming and Jedidiah Isbell started about six years ago with a spin demonstration by Fleming at a practice at the Skating Club of Boston.
Then came a first season that included starting a routine in the wrong spot and skating their program backward, leading to an 11th-place finish at the Youth National Championships in North Carolina.
But now they are in Lausanne, Switzerland, representing the United States at the Youth Olympics, a quadrennial competition for athletes under 18 modeled after the traditional Olympics. Fleming, who is 14 and from Brookline, and Isbell, who is 18 and from Derry, N.H., compete in pairs figure skating.
“In the beginning, we were just doing what our coaches told us to do,” Fleming said. “But now that we’ve been with each other for almost six years, we know what each other does on the ice and how to help each other.
“It’s nice to have someone else on the ice when you’re working through things.”
Fred Palascak has worked with the pair over the duration of their time together.
“That first season was definitely not stellar,” he said. “They struggled to do certain elements and didn’t connect well in the beginning.”
In the year that followed, Fleming and Isbell improved their performances and chemistry enough to place third at the next Youth National Championships, and have been working their way toward the Youth Olympics ever since. However, Fleming’s trip was in jeopardy because of a concussion she suffered early in 2019, the third one she has had in her skating career.
“When Cate had her concussion, they both had to work [through] personal issues,” said Palascak. “For pairs skaters, the individual elements are often weaker, but it’s actually one of their strengths. They’ve spent six seasons together and really developed a strong bond.”
The injury forced Fleming to miss several competitions, including the Skate Detroit event in July that has become a premier showcase for the nation’s youngest figure skaters.
“My family, my coaches, and my partner were all really supportive through it,” Fleming said. “I worked with a great medical team and I was back working pretty quickly to how bad the concussion was.”
Fleming recovered in time to compete in the first US National Qualifying Series in the junior pairs last summer, and she and Isbell finished third to qualify for the Youth Olympics.
Fleming started figure skating at age 2 and began competing at age 4. Her grandmother and mother were both figure skaters — although not as competitively as Cate — and influenced her to get started at such a young age.
“When I got older, it was kind of everything I did was around school and skating,” Fleming said. “If it wasn’t in my life, there would be a void I need to fill.”
Fleming is a freshman at Brookline High, and she got ahead on her schoolwork during Christmas break and received permission to take her midterms when she returns.
She is excited about the Youth Olympics, which run from Thursday to Jan. 22, but also nervous. It is her first trip to Switzerland, and she is most looking forward to meeting competitors from around the world across all different sports.
“It means literally everything to me,” Fleming said. “It’s such a big deal and I’m so grateful for US Figure Skating for giving me the opportunity. I’m pretty nervous about it, but I just want to go try my best.
“I have lots of friends who are skaters, but meeting all these other people who are going through the exact same experience is going to be really cool.”
Palascak, who has been coaching and competing professionally for the better part of the last 25 years, said this marks his greatest accomplishment as a coach.
Among his accolades are a top 10 finish at the 1996 national championships with his wife, skating partner, and fellow coach Melanie Lambert, as well as winning the lone season of ABC’s “Skating with the Stars” alongside actress Rebecca Budig in 2010.
“Experiencing it with Cate and Jedidiah, this is it,” Palascak said. “This team together has accomplished the most and has persevered through a lot of adversity.”
Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.