Editor’s Note: Sarah Fuller and Jana Raisner have a lot in common. Both love to skate, both medaled at the National Solo Dance Championships and, most significantly, both have heart conditions. For Fuller and Raisner, skating from the heart takes on a whole new meaning as the sport they love is also an essential part of maintaining a normal life.
Skating from the heart takes on a new meaning for these skaters
By Kristin Zinsmeister
At three weeks old, Sarah Fuller, now 13, was diagnosed with a combination of congenital heart defects that made her arteries too small for her body. She is the only person in the world with this combination of conditions. In 2008, she underwent bypass surgery to increase the size of the arteries to her heart. She also had three balloon angioplasties to the arteries in her lungs and will require many more.
“The doctor told me that being an athlete increased my lung capacity and without it, I wouldn’t have made it.” Fuller said about her heart surgeries. “I love skating, but for me, even if I didn’t like skating, I would still do it because it strengthens my heart and I can’t participate in other physical activities.”
Fuller cannot participate in contact sports or anything that could possibly cause her to take a blow to the chest because of the delicate state of her heart. Luckily for her, she loves to skate and is on the ice six to seven hours daily, practicing and taking lessons from 1976 Olympic ice dancing bronze medalist Jim Millns at the Tampa Bay Skating Club in Tampa, Fla.
All her practice paid off when she won every qualifying event going into National Solo Dance Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo. At the national championships, she also won gold.
Although skating helps Fuller’s heart, she also loves the thrill of improving and competing. At her first test session, she passed seven tests and competed at regionals on the juvenile level last year.
When asked about her goals, Fuller is quick to respond, “I want to get stronger and make it to nationals,” she said.
Raisner, who began skating at the age of 10, suffers from SVT, a condition that randomly increases her heart rate while she is at rest. SVT episodes come on suddenly and can last from a few minutes to two days depending on the severity of the episode.
“My heart can go from resting to 290 beats per minute,” she said. “It feels like you’re on a roller coaster and your heart drops or skips a beat.”
Due to her condition, Raisner has had three heart surgeries and at one point, acquired a concussion that left her with a temporary learning disability.
However, Raisner is not about to let SVT stand in her way. Under the instruction two-time U.S. ice dancing bronze medalist Oleg Fediokov and two-time Ukrainian junior men’s and junior ice dancing champion Slava Uchitel, her skating career has flourished. She was ranked first on the East Coast heading into the National Solo Dance Championships and became the bronze medalist at the event.
“Solo dance nationals was awesome,” she said. “I’ve never been to that level of competition before and qualifying and being ranked first on the East Coast was the ultimate accomplishment for me.”
Raisner she is working toward a degree in exercise science at the University of Delaware and competes for the University of Delaware Collegiate Figure Skating Team, the reigning intercollegiate national champions.
“I love skating.” Raisner said. “I need to stay in the sport so that my heart stays strong.”
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