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Scotties' tennis player rises to the top

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 5:15 p.m.

When Southmoreland senior Lindsay Skovira started playing tennis for the Scotties four years ago, veteran Southmoreland coach John Ciarimboli ranked her No. 35 out of 35 players.

By the midway point of her junior year last fall, Skovira had climbed the team rankings to play at No. 3 singles, and switched to No. 1 doubles at Ciarimboli's urging. This season Skovira finds herself playing in the No. 1 singles position.

Not bad for a former No. 35.

"Out of all the girls I have coached, she started out her career as the lowest on the team and has risen to the highest," Ciarimboli said. "As a freshman, she was raw. She did not understand the game but was eager to learn the techniques. She pushes herself."

Ciarimboli has seen Skovira, ranked No. 1 in her class academically, push herself in the classroom as well.

"She does homework every spare minute, even when she has some extra time at practice," he said. "Southmoreland has a rigorous academic program, and to be No. 1 at Southmoreland is a real honor. There is intense competition."

The challenges Skovira faces on the tennis court and in the classroom are nothing compared with the challenge she faces every day. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder midway through her junior year.

The disorder, said her mother, Michelle, "was spiraling out of control."

When healthy, Skovira's weight had fluctuated between 108 and 110 pounds, but at one point during her recent bout with anorexia her weight dropped to 93 pounds.

At the beginning of the season Skovira, 17, was not in any physical shape to play. Her summer lessons and court time gave way to treatment for the eating disorder.

"Hers is an inspiring story," Ciarimboli said. "She has the pressures of the illness, yet she still is No. 1 on the team and No. 1 in her class. She struggles on a daily basis yet still achieves the maximum. At times she puts too much pressure on herself."

At Christmastime last winter, Skovira was experiencing periods of depression and high anxiety at the same time.

"I am a perfectionist -- which happens to be considered one of the underlying causes of anorexia -- and was stressing myself out, and the result was an eating disorder, anorexia," Skovira said.

By January her eating habits and sleep patterns had changed, and there was a noticeable difference in her behavior: She was sad and losing weight. A counselor recognized the behavioral patterns indicative of an eating disorder.

With any eating disorder, the Skoviras discovered, something is the trigger. In Skovira's case, it may have been the death of a classmate before the onset of her Christmastime depression.

Recognizing the depression, the weight loss and their daughter's edginess, Skovira's parents, Michelle and Bob, visited a counseling center to deal with the depression, with a follow-up visit to her pediatrician.

Skovira had lost eight pounds, and "eight pounds is a lot for her," Michelle Skovira said. She also experienced circulation problems, tired easily, was dehydrated and fatigued, and suffered from insomnia. A drop in blood pressure caused dizziness.

The Skoviras were directed to the Center for Overcoming Problem Eating at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh.

Skovira spent eight weeks receiving treatment.

"At Western Psych, they have the skills to cope with these issues and offer the appropriate counseling," Skovira's mother said.

At one point Skovira was eating about 600 calories per day and had cut out sweets. Working out with a personal trainer, she was exercising and burning off more calories, yet she minimized her caloric intake by eating salads.

She now consumes about 2,400 calories per day, spread out over five daily meals. Her diet includes fats, proteins and fruits, helping to provide the extra calories she needs because of tennis.

Skovira recently was elected captain of the tennis team. Playing at No. 1 singles, she "is competing against the best players from other teams," Ciarimboli said.

"It's a challenge competing against the best from another team, and with the anorexia her stamina is compromised, but she is in every match," he said. "She works diligently and never backs down."

With the treatment and counseling, "overall I am healthy and fine," Skovira said. "My mindset has changed and I still get anxious when I have to eat, but I follow a meal plan designed by COPE and have my own snack when our team travels to away matches. Some days are better than others, but there are more positives than negatives."

She discovered that eating disorders such as anorexia can strike anyone, any time.

"I wasn't myself during all this, and I do not want to go back," Skovira said. "I was on the brink of a severe eating disorder and did not want to believe it, but it gradually got worse."

But thanks to the administration, faculty and staff, everyone at Southmoreland has been more than supportive, Skovira's mother noted.

As willing as she is to discuss the eating disorder, Skovira is equally as willing to offer advice to anyone who faces a similar predicament.

"If anyone is having a problem similar to this, please go and talk to someone," she said.

"I will talk to anyone," she continued. "I know how it feels to think there is no one to talk to. I will share what I have gone through with anyone and would like to help if I can."

Skovira is the National Honor Society vice president and student council president. She is a member of Southmoreland's Youth Educators Association, Environmentally Aware Students, Students for Life Choices, choir, Varsity Club, SONY Star Class of 2008, All-Academic Team, and Envirothon Team.

Biology is her favorite class, and she has narrowed her college choices to Carlow , Bucknell or Chatham universities, where she hopes to study biology and eventually to conduct biological research, perhaps in the area of bio-medicine.

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