Sacred Heart’s Leigh a cool customer on and off the ice

Greenwich resident and rising Convent of the Sacred Heart senior Pippa Leigh finishes her skating routine during a recent performance.

Greenwich resident and rising Convent of the Sacred Heart senior Pippa Leigh finishes her skating routine during a recent performance.

For high school seniors, balancing the load of college applications, academics, athletics and social lives is a struggle in and of itself.

Yet, rising Convent of the Sacred Heart senior Pippa Leigh is not your average high school senior.

Try taking academic classes, rehearsing for off-Broadway productions, writing your own music and performing it in a self-made music video, drafting speeches for the Debate Club, and oh, just some Olympic-level skating thrown into the mix.

This combination of talent defines Leigh, a 16-year-old student-athlete who has been ice skating 12 years. At age four, Leigh picked up the sport after being inspired by her cousin who was already a practicing figure skater.

“I wanted to be like my cousin in every way. She helped me get my first pair of skates and I have been inseparable [from the sport] since then,” Leigh told the Post.

She became a competitive skater at age six after joining the Skating Club of New York, which is one of the most prominent figure skating organizations of the United States Figure Skating Association.

From then on, she has performed in increasingly competitive showcases, including the Liberty competition in Philadelphia, Pa., several events with the Lake Placid Skating organization in Lake Placid, N.Y., and also with the Ice Theatre of New York.

Her coach is 1992 Olympic silver-medalist and Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductee Paul Wylie, whom she met during a figure skating camp at Lake Placid. Since Wylie resides in South Carolina, Leigh places her iPad on the side of the rink for Skype video-chat sessions with her coach. Thus, Wylie is able to see her moves and offer advice on her performance. Leigh also has a Bluetooth earpiece and an ear scarf to hear critique from Wylie while she is in motion.

“With him, I even landed my double lutz,” Leigh said about sticking a complex jump.

Sacred Heart senior Pippa Leigh with coach and Olympic skater Paul Wylie during a recent competition.

Sacred Heart senior Pippa Leigh with coach and Olympic skater Paul Wylie during a recent competition.

Leigh says that she skates usually every day and during the school year wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to get out on the ice and work with Wylie.

“It’s a bit unconventional but it works really well,” Leigh said.

Leigh’s skating choreography is handled by Zoia Birmingham, an ice-dancing coach based in London, England. She met Birmingham while practicing in England, considering potentially skating for the English Olympic team. However, while she did not perform in the Olympics, she has remained associated with Birmingham, who choreographs Leigh’s current ensembles.

This summer, Leigh won a gold medal in the Senior Ladies Short Program at the Nutmeg States Games in the Newington Arena Saturday, July 12. This win launches Leigh into the State Games of America in Lincoln, Nebr., next summer, where she will represent Connecticut in her category.

Not only has she bettered her own technique, but has also helped youngsters find their balance on the rink. Leigh has been teaching basic skating classes to underprivileged girls from Harlem through the Figure Skating of Harlem program, an organization that offers both education in academics and the sport.

“It’s good to see the knowledge I have learned and been able to pass it on,” Leigh said.

In the fall, amidst the hefty burden of sending away college applications, Leigh will be competing in the United States Figure Skating Association Regionals in October.

While she competes at a level comparable to Olympic athletes, Leigh does not see herself participating in the Olympics because of its effects on her health.

“I don’t want to sacrifice my health competing,” Leigh said.

Two years ago, Leigh suffered a stress fracture in her back. While Leigh feels that partaking in the Olympics would be enthralling, she believes that it is expensive for her own well-being.

As she begins to look forward her soon-to-come college career, she plans to skate occasionally as a hobby but not in competitions.

“I want to go to college and get a regular degree and move on from skating,” Leigh said.

Instead of it consuming her whole life, Leigh hopes that skating always remains a part of who she is.

“It helps me stay active and dedicated,” Leigh said. “It will always be a part of my life because it’s really made me who I am today in probably every way.”

Not only does Leigh perform on ice, but also on stage.

Aside from being a highly accomplished figure skater, Leigh is also an achieved actress and singer. This spring, she landed the lead role of Reno Sweeney in the Sacred Heart production of Anything Goes and this summer she starred as Gertrude McFuzz in an off-Broadway production of Seussical.

She has also sung at a variety of venues, including Carnegie Hall and the pre-show of Cirque du Soleil. Leigh also dances as part of the Allegra School of Dance Teen Tap Company, and performed at the Stamford Palace Theatre this summer.

Her performance portfolio does not end there, however. She writes her own music and produces her own music videos. Her most recent video of her single “This Is That Day” received hundreds of hits on YouTube and is featured on her website, Pippaleigh.com. She also wrote and recorded a tribute to the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre called “Sandy Hook Tribute,” which was posted in conjunction with Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization set out to reform gun violence and aid Newtown victims.

Leigh accredits all of her success as a singer, performer, student and volunteer to her skating.

“My stage presence that I’ve learned through skating has got me doing musicals and speech and debate,” Leigh said. “It has a trickle-down effect.”

But, Leigh admits her complex regimen and accelerated lifestyle has not always been easy. However, she goes into each day with a “clean mind” and waits to “see what happens,” as she says.

“There have been days when I’m crying on the ice. Now, I’m starting to see it pay off, which is the best part,” Leigh says. “I try to take a ‘you only live once’ attitude and try to enjoy every moment I have.”

For more information about Leigh and to see her skating and singing performances,  visit Pippaleigh.com.

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