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Skating stars inspire Spoletini or Spoletini takes her skates to stars

The skates are a size 10 on the kids' scale, and they've now become one of Tianna Spoletini's most prized possessions.

The skates are a size 10 on the kids' scale, and they've now become one of Tianna Spoletini's most prized possessions.

They were the blades she wore when she started figure skating at age 3 and they now bear the signatures of some of the sport's biggest names.

There's Jamie Sal, David Pelletier, Kurt Browning, Steven Cousins, Jeffrey Buttle and one of Spoletini's all-time favourites, Joannie Rochette. Spoletini met them all on Sunday at CN Centre behind the glare of the spotlights at the Holiday Festival on Ice skating show. Her connection to Rochette, the Olympic bronze medalist, goes back five years when she saw her at a summer camp in Edmonton.

"It was overwhelming, I just loved it," said Spoletini. "I brought Joannie Rochette flowers and told her she was amazing at the Olympics and an inspiration to me."

Her backstage encounters with the stars came at a perfect time for Spoletini, a Prince George Figure Skating Club (PGFSC) skater, as she prepares for this weekend's Cariboo region StarSkate competition in Quesnel.

Just watching them, you want to strive to be that good, and it just inspires you to try harder and do better," Spoletini said. "Watching how they skate, they enjoy it all the time. They still make mistakes, they still fall, but they still also do triple jumps and I just applaud them."

Last season, Spoletini entered the competitive stream of figure skating for the first time, which exposed her to the cream of the crop of the province's skaters. She passed her pre-novice test and competed at the section championships in Richmond, but finished a disappointing 60th out of 62 skaters.

"It took me a few tries to get my test and I wanted to try it one year, just to know I could make it, and it was a big step," said Spoletini, who turns 17 next week. "It showed me how the mental game is so much different. If you let it get to you, it can just blow a whole competition and that's what happened to me.

"Sometimes I put too much stress on myself and there's no need for it. If I'm relaxed, my programs and my jumps are more consistent and it just happens, it's not so forced."

Now competing at the highest StarSkate level - gold triathlon - she's heading into her second competition this season and feels good about her chances of making the cut to the Pacific StarSkate championships, March 4-6 in Cranbrook. The top four regional skaters in each category will advance.

Spoletini has been practicing triples but has been mainly focusing on refining her double-Axels and double-Lutzes - the bread-and-butter leaps that will make or break her outcomes in the competitions ahead in the next few months.

She now practices eight hours every week as opposed to 10 hours per week when she was in the competitive group. As a Grade 12 student at Prince George secondary school she has plans to study dentistry. It's a tough job juggling schoolwork with skating and her waking hours are precious. She still finds time to hold down a part-time job at a food store and also plays soccer through the winter months as a goalie for a women's indoor team and in the spring for the PGSS Polars outdoor team.

While the later teen years are typically the age group many skaters quit, Spoletini has no such plans to desert a sport she started as a toddler.

"Everybody thinks that because it's my last year of high school I'm going to stop skating but I don't ever want to stop skating," she said. "It's my heart and soul. I just hope my hard work pays off."

The triathlon consists of a freeskate, a creative skills event and an interpretive program. Spoletini's fitness level is to a point she can easily get through a 3 1/2-minute freeskate performance.

"She's in phenomenal shape - she makes it look easy and it's really difficult," said PGFSC coach Andrea Ludditt. "There's more consistency from her and she's doing quite a bit more than she was last year. It was good for her to (be a competitive skater). She always knew it would be difficult and she just wanted to prove she could past the test and go there for that experience."