By Janis Fontaine
In a rhinestone-studded skater’s dress, hair smoothed into a tight ballerina bun, Emmi Merhi uses long arms and legs to carry her with a luminous grace across the ice.
Emmi is performing her 2½-minute program of spins and jumps to the song Trampoline by indie pop trio Shaed at a dress rehearsal on her home ice before her first regional competition.
As the Boca Raton girl leaves the ice, her coach, Hyaat Aldawhi, tells her to finish every movement. “Every movement has its ideal ending,” she says. Emmi nods.
Emmi Merhi is 11 years old but at 5-feet-8 seems much older. Part of that is her height, but part of it is her poise and sure-footedness.
In early October, Emmi and three other girls from the Florida Gold Coast Figure Skating Club competed at the U.S. Figure Skating South Atlantic Regional Singles Challenge in Aston, Pennsylvania, one of nine regional competitions where skaters can earn points toward national rankings.
It was Emmi’s first time competing on a regional stage in a new division. Although she didn’t place among the top tier of the contestants, she found comfort in her achievement.
“I did good for me,” Emmi said by phone afterward. “My goal was to earn 25 points and I earned 24.77.”
More than 450 skaters from New York to Florida competed, and Emmi admitted to nerves — that’s part of the deal. She skated last in her group of 16 in the juvenile girls division, and said the waiting was the hardest part. “I’d rather go first.”
Emmi’s program contained eight elements, including a double lutz, one of the most difficult jumps because the skater must take off from the back outside edge of one skate, rotate twice and land on the back outside edge of the opposite skate.
The toe-pick-assisted jump is counter-rotational: The skater begins by turning one way and uses the toe-pick to rotate in the opposite direction (twice) before landing on the other foot. First performed in 1913 by Austrian Alois Lutz, the lutz still takes tremendous skill to master. For Emmi, the double lutz is one of her proudest achievements.
For the past four years, Emmi has been coached at the Rink on the Beach, a 40,000-square-foot facility on Federal Highway in Pompano Beach. Coach Aldahwi, 20, of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, forced to retire from skating because of an injury, says she found CrossFit and coaching and is optimistic about the club’s future.
About Emmi, she says, “She’s the funny one, the joker. And she’s the encourager.”
Emmi, a sixth-grader at Boca Raton Middle School, got her love of skating from her mother, who grew up in Alaska. Diana Merhi is a fitness model and the mother of three girls, ages 13, 11 and 4, and one boy, 2, with her husband, Elie Merhi, a sports trainer who owns and operates Elite Fitness in Boca Raton.
Competing on the next level has forced Emmi to make some hard choices. “On the weekends, my friends want to hang out and I have to tell them no. You have to be dedicated.”
Instead she spends Saturday doing cardio to build her stamina, but on Sunday, she might go to the beach or the movies with friends.
Now Emmi’s got another decision to make. She wants to try out for volleyball and she’s pretty sure she’ll make the team. So … what about skating?
“I’ll just have to skate in the mornings,” she says, sounding dedicated.