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Wexford native wins international figure skating event

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:29 p.m.
Figure skater Leah Keiser, who grew up in Marshall Township, recently won an International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating event in Turkey. Submitted
Figure skater Leah Keiser, who grew up in Marshall Township, recently won an International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating event in Turkey. Submitted
Figure skater Leah Keiser. Submitted

Figure skater Leah Keiser, formerly of Wexford, is off to an impressive start in her first year of international competition.

Keiser, 15, won the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series event last month in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I've been working hard on (skating) for a lot of years,” said Keiser, a U.S. novice champion in 2010 and a U.S. juvenile champion in 2008. “I'm in a great training environment with really good coaches.”

A member of the All Year Figure Skating Club in Ontario, Calif., Keiser moved to Southern California about five years ago to train with coaches renowned for producing world-class skaters. Her training partners have included 2010 Olympic men's champion Evan Lysacek and 2012 national ladies champion Ashley Wagner.

“We were surprised Leah won,” said John Nicks, her coach since June, who has advised skaters at 11 Olympics and 37 world championships. “She's still very young. It was only her second international competition.”

After placing third in the short program, Keiser won the overall competition with a strong free skate that included six triple jumps. She finished with a combined score of 156.33 points.

“Her jumps are flawless — she's close to being one of the best I've seen,” said Christa Fassi, who helps coach Keiser.

In its 16th year, the Junior Grand Prix consists of seven international events, with a skater eligible to score points in any two. The top six scorers advance to the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in December in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Nicks said there are intangibles Keiser must learn in order to improve.

“She has to play up to the crowd more,” he said. “Audience reaction can play a big part in influencing judges' scores.

“With maturity, those things will come. She takes instruction very well.”

In her international debut, Keiser finished first at the 2012 International Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, in March. She was 12th at the U.S. National Championship.

A sophomore, Keiser is enrolled at a public high school in Placentia, Calif. She lives in Mission Viejo with her mother, Betty, and sister Emily, 13, who has competed as a novice skater.

Her father, Tony, a financial adviser, still lives in Wexford.

Keiser isn't the only standout athlete in her family — her half-brother, Thomas Keiser, is a defensive end with the Carolina Panthers of the National Football League.

Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.

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