The coaches are tough on them—the
kids are, after all, hoping to one day
make it to the top.
“It’s a long way away, but we truly
believe Luca and Gigi can reach the Olym-
pics,” says Kiliakov, a former skating cham-
pion in Russia, who has been coaching for
20 years. By “a long way,” he means 2022.
“Both of them have a natural gift. You can
tell them what to do and they do it.”
When her kids skate, Ugel says she pre-
tends to be unconcerned. But “I’m actu-
ally biting my nails and pulling my hair
out.” She once found herself trying to calm
Gigi, who had been cut by another skater’s
blade and needed 43 stitches, while assur-
ing Luca that his sister was all right.
The ice skating started by accident.
Ugel’s friends signed up their kids for lessons through the county at the Cabin John
Ice Rink, and she decided to go along. She
figured it would be nice for her children to
know how to skate at birthday parties.
Ugel put Gigi and Coco in lessons
first; Luca played ice hockey and soc-
cer. When the lesson times at Cabin
John didn’t work with her schedule, she
moved the girls to the rink in Wheaton.
The Wheaton Ice Arena is home to the
Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA),
one of the best training programs in the
country. (Practice now takes them to
three separate ice rinks.)
“Elena Novak, one of the renowned ice
dance professionals, happened to have
been Gigi’s coach for county lessons and
invited Gigi into this academy,” Ugel says.
“I was like, ‘OK.’ I had no idea what a life-
changing moment that would be.”
Ugel knew nothing about ice skat-
ing—and didn’t have any star athletes in
the family. Gigi, it seemed, was a natural.
“Something that might take the average kid four or five lessons would take
her one,” Ugel says.
When Ugel brought Luca to the rink one
day, the coaches encouraged her to enroll
him, too. That way Gigi would have a built-
in partner. “The idea of them being in the
same sport was nice because they would all
be together after school,” Ugel says.
Four years later, Luca and Gigi
became the U.S. national champions in
intermediate dance. And after moving
up to the novice category—two levels
from the top—they were ranked fourth
in the country in 2013. Coco, a solo
skater, competes nationally, as well.
They look grown up on the ice, with
their fancy outfits and one-foot turns
(aka “twizzles”), but they’re still kids. The
girls’ bedroom wall is covered in pictures
of Taylor Swift; Luca’s is filled with Dal-
las Cowboys signs. They’re supposed to
watch what they eat—if Luca can’t lift
his sister, they can’t compete—but Ugel
catches them cheating. There’s an argu-
ment before every competition. “She puts
makeup on me,” Luca says. “Girl makeup.”
If Gigi stays at a friend’s house, Luca
asks her if she got enough sleep for prac-
tice. When they mess up on the ice, one
often blames the other. Gigi will pinch
a life on ice
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