Before Alexandra Ortiz starts a performance, her coach, Jonathon O’Dougherty, usually says these words to her: “Be perfect like you usually are.” O’Dougherty, who is a renowned ice skating coach, admits, “The pep talk is not necessary with that kid.” That’s because Ortiz is no ordinary teen.
The San Benito High freshman is trying to qualify for the national championships in four different categories: solo, solo combined, shadow dance and ice dance couples. To achieve at such a high level, Ortiz wakes up at 3:30 a.m. everyday—no, that’s not a typo—leaves home from Hollister at 3:50 for the Solar4America Ice Rink in San Jose, where she practices for two hours.
Ortiz heads back home to Hollister by 7 so she can get ready for school, which starts at 8:30.
By the time most people leave for work, Ortiz will have already been up for 3 ½ to 4 hours and gotten in two hours of diligent, focused practice. If that sounds crazy to you, well, Ortiz gets it. When people learn about Ortiz’s schedule for the first time, she often gets similar comments.
“They’ll say I’m crazy, but that I’m also really passionate,” she said. “They always ask me how I can get up so early and maintain that schedule, but I can’t really answer that question completely.”
O’Dougherty, who was a former pro skater, was effusive in his praise for Ortiz on many levels, starting with her preparation.
“Alex’s biggest strength is how systematic and how well organized she is,” said O’Dougherty who has been working with Ortiz since 2012. “If I tell Alex to do something, she’ll write down notes and go over them to learn. As a result of the extra diligence, her learning curve and progression have been fantastic. … This is my 21st year of coaching, and I’m working with her because of her approach. With her dedication combined with her work ethic to training, you’ve got a winning formula.”
Ortiz’s discipline is rather amazing, as she aims to get in bed by 7 p.m. Of course, that isn’t always possible given Ortiz spends plenty of time studying as well. In her first semester at San Benito High, Ortiz managed to go 6 for 6—as in six A’s in six classes. On top of that, Ortiz managed to earn a spot on the school’s cheer team this year.
“Her schedule, advanced classes and grades are what really make this all amazing,” said Tami Ortiz, who is Alexandra’s mom. “She is so focused and such a hard worker.”
That might be the understatement of the year. Ortiz’s first experience on the ice was eight years ago at San Jose’s Downtown Ice, a seasonal outdoor ice rink that is placed in San Jose’s downtown every year for approximately two months. While Downtown Ice is usually teeming with kids—often resulting in a crowded ice rink—Ortiz came on a day when the crowd was unusually sparse. It was love at first skate.
“I remember how quiet it was, and no one was really there except my family and I,” she said. “So it was really nice, quiet and calm. The whole experience was really fun.”
Ortiz didn’t even fall in her first foray on the ice, perhaps a sign of her prowess in skates.
“I don’t remember falling at all,” she said. “My mom used to skate, and she was able to show me how to stay on my feet.”
Did she ever. After that experience at Downtown Ice, Ortiz began asking her parents for lessons. This is where Ortiz’s persistence paid off.
“She drove my husband and I nuts because she wanted lessons so bad,” Tami said.
Ortiz’s determination is evident today. One of the highlights in her burgeoning career came in the 2015 Solo Ice Dance Nationals, where she finished 10th despite competing with a broken toe. Ortiz had suffered the broken toe a week before the competition in a freak accident at home. Still, she would not be denied.
“I was kind of determined to do the competition because the year before I had a broken arm and missed out on nationals,” she said.
Ortiz also pointed to the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships last November in Spokane, Wash. This was the first major competition with her partner, Clayton Ramsey, who is a junior at Woodside High. Ortiz had competed exclusively as a solo figure skater until she started partnering with Ramsey exactly a year ago.
Ortiz wasn’t looking to compete in dance pairs until O’Dougherty asked her and a couple of other skaters to try out to be Ramsey’s partner. Ortiz and Ramsey clicked immediately, and the duo finished fifth in the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships, just one position away from earning a berth to the national championships.
“We had fallen on one of the dance (routines), and was just one place off to making it to nationals,” she said. “It was emotional. That kind of opened my eyes to how much I really wanted it. I’m kind of using that this season to motivate and push me.”
Ortiz competes in both the solo and pairs categories, as she enjoys the different aspects of both disciplines. Ortiz competes in the intermediate level, which is three levels below the senior level. For each level, skaters must pass a series of tests. It’s already quite an accomplishment that Ortiz has achieved the intermediate level, as it requires a high level of skating acumen and execution.
As Ortiz moves up every level, the length of her programs and required elements increases, and more challenging and intricate skills are layered on. However, Ortiz has proven she has the ambition, talent and drive to go far.
“I’m at least three years away (from reaching that level), but most likely it will take me a little longer,” she said.
O’Dougherty has no qualms that Ortiz will land on that stage.
“She is the real deal, absolutely,” he said. “If you put a check mark on all the boxes on what you want in a perfect ice skater, she checks them all. She’s great.”
Having such a disciplined routine is not easy. Sacrifices have to be made. Ortiz is always the first one at the rink. It’s in those moments when she’s all alone on the ice when she is truly free, pursuing her passion and excelling in it. When Ortiz’s skating career is done, she can look back and know she gave everything she had. In the end, she will be at peace.