Christalyn Trimilove was about 6 years old when her father, Paul, took her skating at the Benfield Pines Ice Rink in Millersville, a once-popular local facility that has since closed.
Trimilove, a lifelong resident of Severna Park, has mixed memories of that first time on the ice.
"What in the world are you doing to me and what is on my feet?" she recalls thinking. "After that, he took me to some more public sessions and signed me up for group lessons. I kind of fell in love with it."
Within about six months of those first lessons, she had won a gold medal in a low-level competition against some other young girls.
"Then she was hooked," says her mother, Theresa.
Fifteen years later, the 21-year-old Trimilove has achieved a modest level of success as a figure skater.
Since returning to the sport in 2012 on a competitive basis — she took off a few years while she attended the University of Maryland — she has competed in several events, most recently finishing fifth overall in the Central Pacific Regional Competition in Northern California last October. She missed qualifying for sectionals by one spot.
Trimilove considered quitting as a competitor after that near-miss at regionals — she's at the high end of the age bracket for top U.S. skaters — but last month began training again, five days a week, at the Ashburn Ice House in Northern Virginia, where she lives in an $800-a-month basement apartment during the week and comes home to Severna Park on weekends.
Her new goal is to qualify for the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships next January in Greensboro, N.C.
Trimilove hopes to get to the nationals with the help of Ashburn, Va.-based coach Andrey Kryukov, a former pair skater who competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics for Kazakhstan.
Kryukov was in Russia this past week — he's the coach for Isadora Williams, who is representing Brazil in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. He'll continue working with Trimilove and other skaters when he returns and said he has high hopes for his Maryland student.
"Christa has a nice style and presents on the ice. She is a very good spinner and [her] jumps, which she lands, are very good quality," Kryukov said in an email from Russia on Tuesday. "It will help her to learn the rest of her triple jumps and triple/triple jump combinations. If she will be able to connect those jumps, spins and presentation in both programs, she will be able to qualify for nationals and place well.
"All U.S. girls at nationals are very strong," he said. "I won't predict what place she can get, but just qualifying for nationals in senior level would be a great achievement."
After she studied kinesiology at College Park, Trimilove returned to the ice and trained at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. "The four years I took off … both of my grandparents passed away, and it was a tough time for me personally," she said.
At one point the 5-foot-2 skater weighed 156 pounds — unheard of for female skaters at her level and height. She remains motivated by a comment a former coach made one day, telling her she was "fat" and was wasting her time and money training to be a high-level skater.
"That was her driving force," says her mother. "More than anything, she did Christa a favor."
Trimilove has since lost more than 30 pounds, and after changing coaches more than once, decided to go with Kryukov.
She said she first encountered Kryukov when he was coaching other skaters at an event at the Gardens Ice House. Trimilove liked the way he interacted with his athletes and did a trial skating session with him before making the switch to Ashburn, about 70 miles west of Severna Park.
"It was like starting fresh since I took so many years off," she says. "If I went to Laurel, I felt like I wouldn't improve. [Kryukov] is consistently on the ice with the skaters. ... If we are working on a jump and if I am doing something wrong with my upper body, he will show me what to do instead of tell me."
Besides challenges on the ice, Trimilove she also faces an uphill battle away from the rink, including the fact that figure skating is an expensive sport. Her current bill for ice time each month is $315 to $365, and another $350 to $500 per month is spent on personal trainers.
"We've had to reduce lessons from her main coach from 45-minute lessons five times a week to 30-minute lessons three times a week. ... Ultimately we would like to get her lessons back up to at least 30-minute lessons five times a week," wrote Theresa Trimilove on her daughter's website.
It hasn't helped that Trimilove's mother, a longtime nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center, has had neck pain and is on disability after back surgery last year. Her father worked as a technician for Northrop-Grumman in Linthicum before retiring and is contemplating going back to work to help pay her skating bills. Trimilove has begun an online fundraising program to help offset some of her costs as she aims for the nationals. She has a goal of $5,000.
Trimilove dabbled in other sports as a young girl, including soccer and gymnastics. She's a big fan of the Ravens, and her cellphone has a greeting from kicker Justin Tucker, who taped the message during a public appearance about a year ago when he met Trimilove. Tucker and Ravens' tight end Dennis Pitta have each signed one of her skates.
She attended St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park for elementary and middle school, then was home-schooled in high school.
Now she's trying to become at least the second notable female figure skater who graced the ice at the old Benfield Pines before it closed in 2005. Another presence at Benfield Pines was Dorothy Hamill, a U.S. Olympian in 1976 who rented space there in 2004 as she prepared for the Champions on Ice tour.
"I met her a few times," Trimilove says.
She plans to genuinely thank the coach who made the "fat" comment when — not if — she qualifies for the U.S. nationals.
"That was a big turning point for me," she says. She hopes there are even more pivotal moments to come.