Doctor on ice

05/12/2014 4:49 PM

05/12/2014 4:50 PM

Ana Margarita Duarte’s cheering section let out a collective scream last month when her name was announced at the National Adult Figure Skating Championships in Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Duarte screamed back in acknowledgment.

As soon as she let loose, however, she looked at her Russian ice dancing partner, Sergei Yury Pospelov, who was mouthing: “Oh, my God.”

The judges weren’t impressed. Skaters are supposed to skate — not yell.

The lapse didn’t stop the pair from winning gold at the Nationals, following the gold they won in March at the Adult Sectionals in Wayne, New Jersey. Later this month, the two will compete in the International Adult Figure Skating Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany.

It has been quite a ride for the 52-year-old Miami grandmother who took up skating just three years ago. Her day job: She is a physician at Miami Children’s Hospital, director of its Division of Dermatology and the owner of the Children’s Skin Center.

“It’s a juggling act,” Duarte says. “It’s run, run, run.”

More than 600 skaters are expected to take part in the international competition, but few, if any, have risen as rapidly as Duarte.

“I have never seen someone go from beginner to [adult national champion] in three years,” said Martha Edmonds, one of several coaches who trains Duarte and Pospelov. “I teach a lot of adults her age who took up the sport at about the same time, and they struggle just to glide across the ice.”

Both Duarte and Pospelov, a 45-year-old Russian defector who has been skating for four decades, have made fascinating journeys to get to this point in their lives.

From Russia With Skates

Pospelov, a native of Moscow, has been skating since he was 5 years old. He won four men’s figure skating national championships in Russia before defecting to the United States when he was 21. Seeking to get away from the Soviet Union, he broke away from his team while in New York in 1990 as part of the “Moscow on Ice” show. He didn’t speak any English.

“I lived in a bus terminal for a week,” he said. “Then I found out how to make a collect call, and I phoned friends I had met two years before that, and they came and got me.”

Pospelov eventually became a U.S. citizen. But for that first week in the bus terminal, he slept on chairs and stretched seven dollars a long way for meals.

“I’m pretty easy to survive,” he said.

Pospelov initially worked as a busboy and then as a waiter before becoming a skating instructor. He now lives in South Miami, is divorced and has a 15-year-old daughter, Sophia, who lives in Alabama.

His body has endured a lot of wear and tear from skating, including three knee surgeries and various broken bones. He had always skated alone until he met Duarte at the Kendall Ice Arena.

Initially he was her coach, but a year ago he asked her to consider becoming his ice-dancing partner. They were compatible in size: Duarte is five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds while Pospelov, who is five-foot-seven, weighs 150.

“He is not too much taller than her, but enough to make them look really good together,” Edmonds said. “When they skate, all their moves mirror one another. They skate with speed and grace.”

Pospelov said he recognized Duarte’s potential immediately.

“When I saw her skate,” he said, “I wanted to skate with her. She is built like a skater. The engine was there. The body was there. She is perfect for skating. She is petite, she’s beautiful. When someone says, ‘Imagine a skater,’ she is what you imagine.”

Pospelov said Duarte, who trains with him almost daily, is like a “princess” on ice.

“You could see the flame in her eyes,” he said. “When she skates, she transforms into a different person. When you see that — even from someone like me who has been skating most of my life — it inspires me.”

Pospelov said that had Duarte been skating as long as he has, she would have been “a superstar” by now.

“She would have been on Dancing with the Stars,” he said.

Balancing act

Duarte, who is of Cuban descent, was born in Venezuela and raised in Miami since she was 6 months old. Divorced, she has a son, Matthew Gutierrez, a daughter-in-law, Giselle, and a grandson, Joshua, who recently turned 3.

They are among Duarte’s legion of fans, who also include her patients and co-workers at Miami Children’s Hospital. Duarte, who received her medical degree from the University of Miami, is also the founder and CEO of the Children’s Skin Center.

Having her own medical practice makes finding time for skating a challenge, but Duarte and Pospelov skate early in the morning to accommodate her doctor’s hours. Since they are training now for Germany, they are practicing three hours every morning.

“There’s no prize money in this,” said Duarte, who lives in Coral Gables. “But I don’t want to say it’s just for fun. We take it seriously. There’s a lot of training, a lot of dieting and exercising.

“Sometimes you can’t go to this party or that trip because you have to train. But the glory is in doing well in the competitions.”

Skating can be expensive. Duarte and Pospelov have to pay for their various coaches, costumes, skates, ice time and, on trips, hotels, cabs and air fare.

“The trip to Germany will cost us about $5,000 each,” Duarte said. “But it’s the biggest competition for adults [classified as age 26 and up]. If you are serious about the sport, you budget for it and go.”

Duarte and Pospelov are not a couple off the ice, at least not definitively. Asked whether they are dating, Duarte paused for a few seconds before saying: “Well, we are very good friends.”

Pospelov added that dating and skating can be a bad mix because of tensions brought from home life to ice rink.

Their on-ice pairing is working. Duarte, who did some ballet and gymnastics as a child, went skating three years ago when a friend invited her for a fun skate. She fell in love with the sport.

Duarte said her colleagues and bosses at Miami Children’s “embrace” her skating career, and hold it up as an example of what one can accomplish later in life.

Skating photos of Duarte line the walls of her office. “Little boys and girls are completely mesmerized — ‘Wow, that’s you? My doctor?’ ” she said.

“I dress in pink scrubs, and that and the skating humanizes me for the kids.”

Duarte insists she has a “ton” still to learn about skating, but enjoys the challenge.

“I love to learn, and I love to win,” she said. “It’s exhilarating to be on a huge sheet of ice with all the focus on you. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer, but I feel like this is my time now.”

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service