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December 24, 2010 > Newark skater aiming for Olympics

Newark skater aiming for Olympics

By Gary van den Heuvel

There are many professional sports teams and recognizable athletes in the Bay Area. There are also many "faces in the crowd," those whose accomplishments have flown under the radar. One of those faces whom you may not be familiar with - though that might change in the near future - is Robert Przepioski.

Robbie is a 20-year-old Newark resident who is a nationally-accomplished figure skater. In January, Robbie and his pairs skating partner Janelle Unger will be competing in the Senior Nationals Championships in Greensboro, N.C.

Robbie started skating at an early age - roller skating, that is - which he did competitively starting at age 5. Robbie and his partner Amanda Ballard won the Nationals four years in a row, but moved from the wheels to the ice after his partner made the transition, and his parents felt there were better career opportunities in ice skating.

But in order to compete in the Junior Nationals, then 14-year-old Robbie would have to make the leap from a beginner ice skater to an advanced level. To do this, he had to pass 10 tests in six months. He accomplished this task and made the Nationals. Afterward, he and his partner went their separate ways.

"I thought I was done with skating after that," Robbie said, "but my friends, family and coaches said I had talent and pushed me to focus on my singles."

For three years, Robbie didn't find another pairs partner so he concentrated on singles, with impressive results: He was the Skate San Francisco champion in 2010, the Silicon Valley Open champion in 2009 and 2010, and a regular competitor in the Pacific Coast Sectionals since 2007. His path back to pairs skating began when he started working as a skating coach at Sharks Ice in San Jose.

One day, his boss Dave Delago - also a coach at Sharks Ice - asked if Robbie wanted to start pairs skating again; there was a young, talented skater, who Delago was coaching, who had seen Robbie on the ice and was interested in forming a partnership with him. Robbie was open to the idea and was introduced to his current partner, Janelle Unger, who is currently a senior at Willow Glen High School in San Jose.

Robbie has high hopes for his team, which include working towards a chance to compete in the 2014 Olympics in Russia. Despite the fact that they are a relatively new team, the duo's chemistry has helped them to compete with teams that have several more years of experience.

"Our supporters are always amazed how fast we were able to ad the more complicated lifts and movements to our programs. We love it when they tell us they can't believe how fast we have moved up in skating," said Robbie.

Robbie and Janelle have won their share of accolades, including the 2009 ISI world championship, the Silicon Valley Open title in 2009 (they got the silver medal in 2010) and the CCIA championship in 2008 and '09.

At home in Newark, Robbie lives with his parents Stanley and Christeen, and his two twin brothers Joshua and Andrew, who are a year older than Robbie. Having a pair of twin brothers a year older than him helped to hone Robbie's competitive instincts.

"We were always competitive against each other," he said. "They were always trying to make me better."

Robbie's dream is to be an Olympic-level athlete, and he has put a lot of hours into pursuing that dream.

"I spent my high school years getting up earlier than the crack of dawn so I could get a couple hours practice in before classes, only to return to the ice rink after school to work on my moves some more," said Robbie. "At first, I thought my only goal would be to try for the Olympics in singles and follow in the steps of some of my skating heroes, superstars like Brian Boitano and Evan Lysancek. Now my dream has gotten bigger as I hope to be the first to try and take a shot at winning or placing at the Olympics in both singles and pairs.

"Even after that," Robbie continued, "I would never imagine life without skating, as I coach the newer skaters and show my joy of performing at shows in the area."

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