The Marshall plan

Hanging in there culminates in rousing success for champion skater

Maryville College senior Jessica Marshall performs her ice dancing routine at Knoxville’s Ice Chalet last month.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Maryville College senior Jessica Marshall performs her ice dancing routine at Knoxville’s Ice Chalet last month.

The force is strong with Jessica Marshall.

There’s compelling evidence his girlfriend is a licensed Jedi, Ben Conant said. She uses mind tricks on him all the time.

“Those are girl tricks,” Marshall quips. It has nothing to do with the Jedi.

Could be Conant is simply confused with the effortless way with which Marshall skates.

The Maryville College senior delivered a lights out performance at the 39th annual Mississippi Valley District Competition at Knoxville’s Ice Chalet last month. The event was Marshall’s 20th as a competitive ice skater. In fitting form, she blew through the weekend finishing first in five of her routines, second in two others. She would add a third-place finish for good measure.

Not bad for a once tiny tike who had to be coaxed out of her coat at her first competition at age 4.

“It’s on video,” Marshall said. “You can hear my mom saying: Why isn’t her coat off? Aren’t they going to make her take her coat off?’”

Marshall said it was simply too cold in the rink that day. Her long-time coach, the Ice Chalet’s Chandra Ernst, remembers it somewhat differently.

“She didn’t want to take her coat off for the competition because she was nervous,” Ernst said.

Marshall eventually shed the coat, and, with Ernst’s help, soon began to flourish.

There would be setbacks. A trained ballroom dancer, Marshall was a natural at interpreting music. It was translating it on the ice that took some work.

“She’s such a beautiful dancer, but she could never keep the beat when she starting skating,” Ernst said.

Frustration at getting her blades to sweep across the ice in time with the music led her to consider walking away from skating at 13, Marshall said. Ernst was able to convince her to stick with it, though. The end result is a trophy case now bursting with the spoils of her achievements.

“If I had quit, I never would have found out how far I could go,” she said.

It’s with a sense of fulfillment that she watches Marshall these days, Ernst said, but not because of her skating.

“Jessica is such a good, well-rounded young woman,” she said. “It just makes me so proud.”

Key in it all was the approach Marshall’s parents took when they first introduced her to the sport, Ernst said.

“They never pressured her,” she said. “They didn’t push her to be No. 1 or anything like that. They just wanted her to do her best.”

The rest was plain old hard work. No tricks, Jedi or otherwise.

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