The inside edge with Sarah and Drew

McLaughlin, Brubaker were stars of the free skate

Judge Todd Bromley tests out a Segway back at the hotel.
Judge Todd Bromley tests out a Segway back at the hotel. (Lorrie Parker)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(08/11/2008) - We left the 2008 Indy Pairs Challenge on Sunday night and flew off in opposite directions. Here are some thoughts from the last day of the competition.

Deep-fried what?

Thanks to an Indianapolis Star photographer, we have some insight into a couple of the Indianapolis quirks we noticed this weekend. He explained the Segway-mania we noticed in town, saying that an international Segway convention took place last week, along with the Indy Pair Challenge. So that's what that was all about. We happen to know some judges got aboard one on Saturday night (see picture).

Also, along with the aformentioned deep-fried cheesecake, the Indianapolis State Fair is known for deep-fried pickles, deep-fried brownies, deep-fried Snickers bars, and, the photographer told us, deep-fried Pepsi. Really?

"Oh yes, we deep-fry everything here," said one of the Indy organizers. Well, OK then.

Senior free skate

There's no question that Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker were the stars of the free skate. Their new long program, set to West Side Story, was wildly energetic and sizzling. It suits them to a T, and they nailed every element except for a fall by Rockne on the second half of a triple Salchow combination. The crowd went wild throughout the program, and the ovation at the end was deafening.

Stephanie Kuban and Steven Elefante win the "Ready When You Are" Award after they had to deal with music delays at the start of their program not once, not twice, but three times! In the short program, they took their starting pose and... no music. The referee had them start again, and... no music. With a new CD, the third time was the charm. And then, in the long program, it happened again. Coach Dalilah Sappenfield broke into hysterical laughter as they held their starting pose, and held it, and held it... They've heard the phrase "Skaters, please relax," enough times for the rest of their careers.

By the way, Steven's mother sewed the bold strips of fabric onto their costumes the night before the competition. Skating is a family affair.

Dueling warriors

It was a battle of the gladiators in the junior free skate as Molly Aaron and Daniyel Cohen and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated back-to-back programs to the identical cuts from the motion picture soundtrack Gladiator. Funnily enough, Simon and Dani are good friends, having grown up in the Boston area, and neither knew that the other had chosen the same music until the competition.

In the senior free skate, we moved on to dueling Spartaci. Andrea Best and Trevor Young skated to Spartacus, then, a few skaters later, Jessica Rose Paetsch and our very own Drew Meekins included it in the middle of their program. They were followed immediately by Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, skating to... you guessed it -- Spartacus. At least there was only one Firebird the entire weekend.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend of skating. A month ago, we wouldn't have thought it was possible that Drew would have been competing here.

On with the season!

- Sarah and Drew

To contact Sarah and Drew, email

SATURDAY, August 9: Posted at 3:00 p.m. ET

Indy Trivia

Indianapolis trivia of the day: People here really love Segways. You can't walk downtown without seeing someone aboard one on his way somewhere. For some reason, we always imagine the riders wearing propeller beanies.

Sign of the day: "Deep-fried cheesecake on a stick? Indianapolis State Fair." You would have to pay us a lot of money to try deep-fried cheesecake!

Book club

Speaking of food, we went out for dinner last night with Keauna McLaughlin, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, and a few skaters too young to mention by name. (The youngsters spent the evening sending each other pictures on their cell phones). We talked about books. Caitlin and Keauna are both engrossed by Stephanie Meyers' teen vampire romance Twilight series. Caitlin can't wait to get her hands on the newest book, Breaking Dawn. John is skeptical. He just finished Orbit by John J. Nance.

"I loved it! Normally I get my ideas for books from my mom, who is a very literary person. Growing up, I read a lot of fantasy/science fiction."

"I'm a fantasy/romance novel fan!" chimed in Caitlin.

Probably because of the presence of a children's author (Sarah) at the table, John and Drew started reminiscing about Brian Jacques' Redwall series, which they both loved as kids.

Senior pairs

Oh, right, there's a skating competition going on! Since we were photographing (Sarah) and shopping (Drew), we can't share much insight into the novice pairs, except that they were all very good and very nervous. We missed the juveniles, but watched the intermediates with a group of senior men who couldn't help muttering advice to all the young guys during their programs. They couldn't have been more supportive and clapped enthusiastically for every element. It's interesting to watch the young kids and wonder who will be competing in the senior event some day.

The senior pairs short program today had 19 competitors, including the current U.S. champions McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker and the previous champions, Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski. The highlight of the event, however, was our dinner buddies, Caitlin and John. They skated a lyrical and clean program to Saint-Saëns' "The Swan," which had the crowd shrieking with delight.

"After the Broadmoor Open, where we had a rougher skate, we took what the judges said and re-ordered our program," said John. They moved the throw earlier and changed the triple toes to triple Salchows. "I think moving the throw earlier gave us some more speed, because, where we were doing it before, we were really struggling."

Tomorrow, Caitlin and John will skate their new long progr1am, to music from the motion picture soundtrack Dracula.

"I love vampires," said Caitlin. "And I love the movie, but coaches in the past always told me that I was too blonde to skate to something so dark!"

Drew and Jessica not only made their competitive debut as a pair today, but Jessica made her senior debut as well. They had a slightly rocky outing, including a stop in the middle when Drew's pant-strap came undone. Drew says it's the first time he has ever had to stop in a program in his "forty" years of skating. In any case, today was his and Jess's 19th day of skating together. With two new programs, including new costumes, and one competition under their belts, it's on to the free skate tomorrow!

We're off to watch the junior pairs now, so we'll have more news and pictures soon.

-Sarah and Drew

To contact Sarah and Drew, email

FRIDAY, August 8: Posted at 1:15 p.m. ET

Shake shake shake

First of all, either the former-train-station hotel still has a train running through it, or there are a lot of earthquakes in this part of Indiana. The white statues of ghostly former travelers dotted about the interior seemed unperturbed though.


The entire Broadmoor contingent went out for pasta last night. Coach Dalilah Sappenfield presided over a big table of moms and still watched over the table of skaters behind her with the eyes in the back of her head. With every mom getting a separate check for herself and her child who was not sitting with her, it took longer to get the tab sorted out than it took to have dinner, and we felt deep sympathy for the waiters.

Milkshakes are all the rage this season with pair skaters, by the way. We can't seem to go anywhere without running into someone ordering another milkshake. Oreo and vanilla with caramel are big favorites.


All the skaters from the Broadmoor take a picture together at Indy each year. We assembled on the Plaza, where, along with the official photo (by Sarah), the moms took about a thousand additional pictures. Caitlin Yankowskas' mom, Tricia, had several cameras hanging off each arm as she took shots for absentee parents.

After the photo shoot, an energetic game of ultimate frisbee broke out. This is something of a tradition as well -- Chris Knierim, the 2008 U. S. novice champion, remembered last year's game as the highlight of the competition.

"And all the girls got to watch," said his partner, Brynn Carman. "We were the water girls."

What?! Why didn't the girls play too? "There was a girl who played," said Chris, "but the little girls just watched. It would have been dangerous for the little girls to be out there with us." We took pictures of today's game, and it did seem quite vigorous and sweaty.

Brynn and Chris are adding lots of new content to their programs in their first season as juniors. "We put a triple twist in our long, a carry lift, and we have new side-by-side spins and new footwork," said Chris. Their new short program is set to Hungarian folk music, a Czardas.

"We love it," said Brynn.

"We have new costumes, too," said Chris, "They're cool -- yellow, purple -- they're great!"

Long trip

2008 U.S. novice bronze medalists Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir had a nightmarish trip getting from Boston to Indianapolis last night. They drove from Boston to Providence, R.I., but a problem with the flight meant they would miss their connection in Philadelphia. So they made a mad dash back to Boston by car, and after more delays, they caught the flight they needed and finally arrived in Indianapolis well after midnight. And they were on the ice practicing at 10:30 this morning! Practice went well, but Simon doesn't recommend that kind of trip as good preparation.

Marissa and Simon made an unusual junior debut at the Liberty Open last month, finishing last in the short program and first in the long.

"It was totally my fault," said their coach Bobby Martin. "We tried to smush three minutes and ten seconds of program into two minutes and fifty seconds, so they were just racing around and didn't have time to set things up properly. It was a choreography issue. It's all sorted out now."

We're off to watch the novice pairs compete now, so watch for photos later today!

Sarah and Drew

THURSDAY, August 7: Posted at 7:05 p.m. ET

It has been a complicated and exhausting month for both of us, but we're excited to be in the same place at the same time, and at a skating competition, no less -- the 2008 Indy Pair Challenge. It's Sarah's first visit to Indianapolis, and Drew's sixth. And for the first time since we started this blog, Drew will be competing!

We're going to send as many photos as we can. Today was the first official day of practice for the novice, intermediate and juvenile pairs, but the juniors and seniors were out there as well, "unofficially," but at full strength. Check out today's backstage pics -- more on the way! We're staying at a hotel near the rink, which seems to be haunted. Also, it's in a train station (See photo). Interesting.

Here's Drew's take on his first competition:

After just about our three-week anniversary, Jessica Rose Paetsch and I are going to compete together for the first time. Our short program is set to the balcony scene from the Romeo and Juliet movie, and our long is to Masquerade Waltz and Spartacus. It has been an insanely busy three weeks. In preparation for Indy, Jessica and I managed to cram in her senior pair test (on our third day together) and choreograph both our programs in under a week! We still found some time to get our costumes finished, and, not to mention, train! We are both very excited to compete this week. The 2007 Indy Challenge was the last time I took the ice to compete, and after exactly a year of waiting, and many, many big changes, I am very eager to cover myself in velvet and crystals once again, and take my starting pose!

More tomorrow,

Sarah and Drew