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Competitive skater Deanna Stellato

Sidelined for 16 years by injuries, Deanna Stellato returned to competitive skating with a bang, earning a U.S. bronze medal last year and setting her sights on the 2022 Olympics.

A highly successful return to professional ice skating after a 16-year hiatus is not something Deanna Stellato ever envisioned.

“It’s definitely not something I thought I would do,” says Stellato, 35, who with her skating partner Nathan Bartholomay earned a U.S. bronze medal last year.

Stellato, a native of Illinois, competed as a junior until the 2000-2001 season. She had suffered multiple injuries and was having a hard time recovering from her last one, so she decided that if she couldn’t make the 2002 Olympics, she might as well retire and “be a normal person,” she explains.

She was perfectly content working at a plastic surgery office in Chicago, or so she thought, until a work retreat exercise that required answering a random question. “The card I got was, ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’’ she says. “I had a knee-jerk reaction and said, ‘I would win an Olympic gold medal.’”

She was stunned at her own answer, having no idea such feelings were buried deep. She talked to her mother and husband, and two weeks later she strapped on her 17-year-old blades and went to the skating rink. “I was able to nail my doubles on the first try. A lot of stuff just came back, muscle memory is an amazing thing. Also, I was in shape.”

She started training three days a week before work and within three months, she was hitting her triple jumps, she recalls. She then sought the opinion of her old coach, Cindy Watson-Caprel, who had moved to Florida and who gave her encouragement.

On her second trip to Florida, Stellato ran into a U.S. Figure Skating official who told her that Bartholomay was looking for a partner. “It was very serendipitous,” she says.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The two became a team in late June 2016, and Stellato quit her job and moved to Florida. She sees her husband as much as possible, and he travels a lot for work anyway, she says. “We both know this is just a moment in time,” she says.

Transitioning from singles to pair was a big adjustment, she says. At first, Bartholomay was the leader of the team and almost a coach for her, which she appreciated and needed, she says. “It slowly evolved. This season I finally feel like I have an input.”

She and Bartholomay work hard and are strong both mentally and physically, she says. They practice every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. including an hour of warm up off the ice. They also run their program in front of a mirror, because they can’t see each other while skating, she explains.

Outfits are “super important,” she says, because they help set the mood and tell a story. “I don’t want to look childish. I want to look ladylike and pretty, not immature. It’s kind of a fine line that younger competitors can get away with.” Bartholomay also has a say on her outfits, which should never impede his movements, she adds.

As for the music, generally it’s a group decision taken with the coach, she says. “That’s the biggest bear, to figure out what you are skating to.”

Stellato and Bartholomay are training to make the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. “After that, we’re going to kind of reassess and take it from there,” she says.

Stellato says she has a strong attachment to her 100 percent Italian heritage. Her father’s parents were from Calabria and her mother’s from Abruzzo. “We grew up strongly Italian. We had Italian shirts, the Italian flag … everyone always had something Italian. And I do speak some Italian.”

She also credits her “strong genes” — her father was an all-American wrestler — with her comeback. “People say, ‘How are you able to do this?’ I say, ‘I’m sure it has to do with being Italian.’”

The above appears in the March 2019 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She is a reporter for the Daily Herald in the Chicago suburbs and has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.