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Watching old pals compete bittersweet for Marley

Resilient teen coaches and choreographs, ponders return to the ice

Mary Beth Marley (left), pictured here with former training partners Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini, is very open about her past struggles.
Mary Beth Marley (left), pictured here with former training partners Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini, is very open about her past struggles. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/27/2013) - Watching former training partners Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini skate to victory in Thursday's junior short program at Skate Detroit was bittersweet for Mary Beth Marley.

"I'm here to support them," she said. "They work hard, and they deserve it. They always cheered me on."

Had this competition taken place in the summer of 2011, it's likely Marley and former partner Rockne Brubaker, the 2012 U.S. silver medalists, would have been one of the many top U.S. pairs competing. But Marley ended -- at least temporarily -- her own skating career last summer.

"I'm not OK with it," the 18-year-old said. "I honestly don't think I'm finished [with skating], not at all."

Marley is at Skate Detroit working as an assistant coach to Mary Alice Antensteiner, who teaches in Marley's hometown of Chicago. Marley's also working in Chicago as a choreographer, and created a short program for one of Antensteiner's top students, novice contender Paige Rydberg.

"I work with Paige a lot," she said. "I did her full short, a jazzy, sassy salsa. It's a big step for her."

Back in the summer of 2010, Marley took a big step of her own. After winning the 2009 U.S. novice silver medal and placing fifth in U.S. juniors the following season, she gave up her singles career to form a partnership with Brubaker, a former U.S. champion.

Under 5 feet tall and a solid jumper, the then 15-year-old was considered a hot pairs prospect. She rushed to pass all of the requisite tests, and then she, along with her mother and younger brother, relocated to California to train under Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Aliso Viejo.

The new pair quickly climbed the ranks: fourth in the U.S. in 2011, second in 2012 and 10th at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships.

"I don't think I fully appreciated everything I was doing," she said. "It was, 'Let's do this and do that' and bang, I had the U.S. team jacket."

Like many young skaters, Marley wasn't always comfortable with the pressure and demands of the sport. She ended her partnership with Brubaker about a year ago and returned home to Chicago.

"I struggled with an eating disorder for a long, long time," she said. "I finally had to stop skating for a while."

Despite the success she and Brubaker enjoyed, Marley doesn't regret her decision to take a break from the sport.

"I didn't always enjoy the experiences I had," she said. "Sometimes it was awkward. This year I've learned so much about myself.

"Mentally, I'm not in the same place," she continued. "I would like to explore skating more. Sometimes I say to myself, 'Wow, I just turned 18.' Jenni Meno, my former coach, didn't even start skating pairs until she was about that age. Alexa [Scimeca], same thing."

Fellow Chicago native Scimeca, the U.S. silver medalist with Chris Knierim, has been a big part of Marley's support system, as has two-time U.S. pairs champion John Coughlin. Someday, Marley hopes to re-join their ranks.

"If the route is there, I would love to do pairs," she said. "If I'm able to get in the right place and get ready, I would definitely want that. I found that out here, watching this competition.

"I feel like I'm not finished. I have other things to do."