Award-winning Gia Swanson performs with her synchronized skating team at the U.S. Synchro Championships this year. She is a senior at Shepard High School.
By Dermot Connolly
U.S. Figure Skating recently named Palos Heights resident Gia Swanson a recipient of the 2020 Athlete Alumni Ambassador award.
The scholarship program referred to as 3A recognizes skaters who have achieved figure skating excellence while actively volunteering. Gia, 17, a synchronized skater about to start her senior year at Shepard High School, certainly fits that description.
She was also one of only 12 skaters named DREAM athletes. The acronym stands for Determination, Responsibility, Education, Achievement and Motivation .
Her mother, Debbie Swanson, teaches math and serves as activities director at Richards High School in Oak Lawn. She is a Shepard graduate, too.
To earn a 3A award, skaters must have qualified for the 2020 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 2020 National High Performance Development Team Camp or the 2020 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships at the novice or junior level.
Gia, who has been skating since the age of 8, is a member of the Teams Elite Junior member based in Northbrook. She switched to synchronized skating at age 12, after starting as a soloist and making nationals in ice dancing. She was one of several candidates asked to submit an application detailing their volunteer work. The Athletes Advisory Committee selects one overall winner and one winner from each discipline — ladies, men's, pairs, ice dance and synchronized. The overall winner received $2,000, while Gia and the other four received $500, which can be used at the skaters' discretion.
“I would say I am definitely proud to get this award. It is a great honor,” said Gia. “I put my scholarship toward my college education,” she added.
In a video she submitted for consideration for the award, Gia explained how she organized a “Skate for Cystic Fibrosis” benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in March 2019 at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena. She brought her friends and family from the local community together with her friends from the skating world. Her synchronized team performed, as well as singles skaters, pairs and ice dancers.
“ We raised more than $4,000,” said Gia, who chose the CF Foundation because the grandson of Teams Elite president, George Mueller, has the condition. Coincidentally, Mueller is a graduate of Richards High School.
“ I have always loved volunteering and helping those in need and what better way than to showcase skating and bring the community together at the same time,” she said. “Skating has always been a big part of my life, and I wanted to share that with my friends and teachers,” she said.
“ I just think it was really amazing to see all the community involvement,” said Gia. “I planned to hold the event again this year in March, but it had to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope to hold it again next year.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she and her friend, Jenna Bader, who was a Shepard High School senior at the time, represented Team USA in the French Cup in Rouen, France, where they placed fifth. They then won silver in the Spring Cup in Milan, Italy, where their team won gold last year.
They were in Nottingham, England, preparing for the World Championships, when they were called back to the United States because of the pandemic. The Italian and Japanese teams left as well.
“ That was disappointing. The competition went on. But they did have a ceremony remembering the teams that couldn’t be there,” she said.
“ It definitely was a weird time,” she said. “When we came home, schools were closed and everyone was remote learning. And we will be remote learning again when school starts next week,” she noted.
Skating practice was also curtailed due to the coronavirus.
“ We’re back practicing now, but we can’t have connecting moves (where skaters touch),” she noted. “So we are working on our individual skills.”
These days, Gia is also looking at colleges. She plans to get a degree in biology, followed by a master’s degree in perfusion science. Her goal is to operate heart-lung machines during surgeries.
“ I plan to continue skating when I go to college. But I am working toward becoming a judge so skating will be a part of my life for a long time,” she said.