“My grandmother gave me a book about ice skating when I was little,” Zoe said. “That’s what made me want to start.”
Fast forward eight years and Zoe, now a fifth-grader at St. Andrew’s, has earned multiple gold medals and a silver in her first-ever ice dancing competitions. But before her current success, Sensenbrenner had to overcome defeat and take on new challenges to find her niche on the rink.
Zoe started with skating with group lessons, but soon added private lessons. She was invited to join the synchronized skating team at Cabin John Rink, where her mother, Rebeccah Sensenbrenner, got her first glimpse of Zoe’s competitive spirit.
“She loves it. I saw that the first time she did a synchronized competition,” Rebeccah said. “I was worried she would be worried and anxious, but she had this look in her eyes that [said] she’s going for the gold. And wow, they did – they all got gold.”
After performing with the team for several years, Zoe was ready for a higher level of competition, but synchronized skating was no longer the right fit. She wanted to be more expressive on the ice and transitioned to freestyle skating.
“Solo skating is very competitive – lots of little girls are doing it,” Rebeccah said. “She was getting last place the first few times, then started to go up and get better. She worked really hard and started to improve and put more time in. The more you do it, the better you get.”
The hard work culminated when Zoe started taking lessons at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy and was invited to skate with a partner for WISA. Ice dancing proved to be the perfect fit for performance style.
“The feeling of gliding on the ice is cool,” Zoe said. “I like how you do a lot of steps in ice dancing. In freestyle there are spins and jumps, but in ice dancing you do more steps.”
Her first ice dancing competition with partner Matthew Sperry was in July at Lake Placid, New York. They earned a silver medal, placing ahead of nine couples and missing the gold by only one point.
In September they won gold in two events at a competition in Philadelphia, and in November they scored another gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Association's Pacific Sectionals Championship in Spokane, Washington.
“It gives her more drive, this success – it’s feeding the effort a little bit,” Rebeccah said. “When she succeeds, she wants to go back and work harder and do it again. For me that’s been fantastic to see.”
Rebeccah said her family appreciates the support they’ve received from St. Andrew’s, ranging from flexible deadlines to early dismissals to accommodate Zoe’s practice schedule.
Zoe said she hopes to compete internationally one day. Rebeccah said no matter how long Zoe is competing, she hopes her daughter will see skating as her sanctuary.
“Wherever she goes in the world, whatever stage of life she’s in, she can stand on the ice rink and have a Zen moment and be centered,” Rebeccah said. “If she’s having a bad day, she can go to an ice rink and just relax, even when she’s in her 40s or 50s. To give her a place that’s home in the world wherever she goes – if she can find an ice rink, that’s home.”
Zoe will next take to the ice during New Year’s weekend at the U.S. National Championship – the highest level of domestic competition for juvenile skaters – in San Jose, California.