Carving her future

White applies lessons learned on skates to pharmacy career

On April 23, 2013

  • Sophomore Alexis White has used her experiences from and passion for figure skating to her advantage. White, who suffered two back fractures in the summer of 2007, was sidelined from figure skating. After completing months of physical therapy, she returned to the ice and medaled in the category of ice dancing. Although she does not skate competitively any more, she is on to bigger things as she pursues her education in pharmacy. Courtesy of the White family
  • At 4 years old, White would wake up at 5. 15 a.m on her own to be to the rink for a 6 a.m. practice. She would ask everyday if it was time for her to go to practice. Her passion for figure skating earned her national and professional rankings.
  • “Ninety-nine percent of the other girls would have quit and thrown in the towel,” said Jessica Rosewell-Lauria, who coached White. “I was really, really proud of her because even though she was off the ice, she got right back on when she was ready.”. Courtesy of the White family

Alexis White could not comprehend what the doctor had just told her.

Her eyes were wide but her stare was blank. She felt numb as she listened to the clock.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

She could not imagine worse news.

White had suffered two back fractures, and for the next six months, she could not do the one thing that made her feel liberated:

Figure skating.

White, now a sophomore pre-pharmacy major at UB, grew up skating in Western New York. She traveled as far as Texas to compete against the country's best.

Though she no longer participates in skating, she remembers the smell of a crisp sheet of ice every time she breathes in the cold air on a winter day. She remembers what it felt like to express herself, her innermost desires, on an ice skate.

The ice was her canvas, and the 1/8-inch blade was her paintbrush.

At the age of 8 years old, she would show off her skills for the neighborhood kids, skating circles around them on her roller blades during neighborhood street hockey games.

She was fascinated by skating. It brought about a sense of independence.

Her passion for figure skating and enthusiasm for tackling obstacles - like landing any type of edge jump with a panel of judges watching - transcended into her everyday life.

Her AOL screen name was even sk8rgurl1993.

Today, in Clemens Hall 103, White sits in the middle row of her public speaking class. She shows up 10 minutes early and, as the teacher begins to lecture, White is engaged in learning like she was once engaged in sticking her landing on her skates.

Whenever the teacher highlights a valuable piece of information, she jots it down in her notes. She knows it could be the difference between getting an 'A' or a 'B.' This habitual occurrence is something that was developed through figure skating.

At 4 years old, White would wake up at 5:15 a.m. for practice once a week to make it to her ice time at the Pepsi Center at 6 a.m. for practice.

White craved the rink, the feeling of freedom. She constantly asked her parents if it was the weekend yet - the time she would practice.

Today, she craves knowledge. She constantly asks her professors when assignments are due and does everything she can to get ahead in class. She's pursuing her dream of becoming a pharmacist.

She learned discipline from figure skating and even brought it to elementary school.

In second grade, White was a part of the gifted program at Maple West Elementary School in Williamsville, just 10 minutes from UB's North Campus.

"Lexi would come home with problems that, honestly, you and I would look at and go: 'What the hell are we doing with this?'" said her father, Bob White. "She is a special girl."

She learned to exceed expectations through figure skating.

In figure skating, you go through beginner levels and once you complete those levels, there are eight more. From that point, you have to test each time to move up a level.

For the average skater, it takes roughly 10-12 years to complete the ice dancing national ranking test. For White, it took just over seven years.

White was most successful her freshman year of high school at Williamsville South. She was moving relatively fast through her tests, completing three performance tests a year - two in ice dancing, one in freestyle skating.

But while White practiced her routine, she felt a constant pain in her lower back - like something was stabbing her.

"I would get spasms in my back that would literally put me in tears," White said. "I have a high pain tolerance. I would have to lie flat to stretch and make [the pain] stop."

She refused to succumb to the pain and her love for figure skating kept her from looking into the injury; she was afraid she would lose that liberating feeling she loved.

 It was when the pain brought her to tears that her mother, Val White, decided it was time to take her daughter to the doctor.

"I kind of felt bad as a mom because when you skate, you always have aches and pains," Val said. "She was skating at the time and also dancing at the time. It wouldn't hurt her all the time, but it got progressively worse. She would say her back hurt and I would say: 'Oh, it's probably what you did today.' But when [the pain] brought her to tears, maybe something else was going on." 

White was sidelined from figure skating for six months. In that period of time, she was not able to do anything involving physical stress. She was forced to wear a back brace for a few months.

But she soon realized she was not prepared to lose figure skating.

In Oct. 2007, her freshman year of high school, after not being active for three months since the injury in August, she began her physical therapy. She would have to regain the strength in muscles that an average person doesn't use on a regular basis.

"I felt so weak," White said. "All the muscles I had my whole life from skating, I felt were deteriorating. I would do a [movement] that was so basic and it would hurt. Muscles I was so used to using were gone, and I didn't know how I was going to build them up again."

For the next three months, at Excelsior Orthopedics, she worked her hardest toretrain her muscles and build endurance to return to the ice.

In Jan. 2008, she was ready to pick up where she left off.

She had a goal: a gold medal in each of her events, freestyle and ice dancing.

With just eight dance tests left in ice dancing and three in freestyle, White was ready.

"Ninety-nine percent of the other girls would have quit and thrown in the towel," said Jessica Rosewell-Lauria, who coached White. "I was really, really proud of her because even though she was off the ice, she got right back on when she was ready."

For the next two years, White passed multiple tests. And in two years, she finally passed her test for ice dancing, completing one of her goals. She was ranked professionally.

Her back would force her out of competition once again, however, as she struggled in her final test for freestyle. The arching of her back and constant stress were too much for her. The injuries kept her from completing her final goal.

But she is content looking back on such an event knowing that she at least medaled in one of her respective events.

"I tried three times and just couldn't complete it," White said. "I had to stop, and I tried my best given the situation so I could do nothing else."

Today, White has developed two fractures, two bulging disks and two swollen joints all in her back, but that hasn't stopped her from chasing her other dream of being a pharmacist.

When she doesn't have her head buried in a chemistry textbook cramming the night before the exam, she is serving the Williamsville community in the pharmacy at Wegmans on Sheridan Drive, hoping to develop experience to be a pharmacist.

Although she has four more years left of school and a hefty workload, she is accustomed to difficult scenarios.

Nothing compares to training her muscles to properly throw her body in the air, spin around multiple times before coming down on the right edge.

She learned her life skills on a 1/8-inch blade.



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