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Olivia Stark, 14, sat at a top bleacher row Saturday at the Casper Ice Arena and reached over her head to touch the tip of her ice skate. She and a fellow member of the Casper Figure Skating Club helped each other stretch and chatted as they prepared to skate in front of the judges at the Casper Invitational figure skating competition.

A few minutes later, Olivia glided and turned across the ice in the rink below. She’d spent two months working her routine, which lasted a minute and 15 seconds.

She competed Saturday among more than 60 participants, ranging in age from 3 to 70, in the annual competition hosted by the Casper Figure Skating Club. The event draws skaters from around Wyoming as well as South Dakota and Colorado, Casper Figure Skating Club president Kayla Tanner said.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association-sanctioned competition was revived in Casper four years ago and for the past three has become part of the Cowboy State Games as well. The variety of ages is expanding as adult skating has taken off in the growing Casper club and through the adult program the U.S. Figure Skating Association has fostered, she said.

“Now it’s a lifetime sport,” she said. “I love to see the variety of ages all participating. And they’re all there for one thing, and that’s because they love to skate.”

Earlier that morning, Casper Figure Skating Club member Mary Ann Budenske, 70, skated toward her duet partner in a cardboard spaceship as “Purple People Eater” played over the loudspeakers. She emerged wearing a purple hat with a gold horn and the two skated a routine that ended with Bobbie Hill sliding into the splits to applause from spectators.

Later, Budenske stood at a podium at a far corner of the lobby to receive a bronze medal for the adult compulsory category, which involves no music or props; its purpose is simply to demonstrate skills, she said.

She started with the Casper Figure Skating Club in the ‘90s, though she quit for a while when she was 55 and and last competed more than a decade ago, she said. Now she sees more adult skating and a shift in attitude.

“It’s changed a lot over the last 15 years because it used to be a young person’s sport. And now adult skating has exploded really all across the country.”

Besides her weekly lesson, she skates a few times a week during public skate sessions. Skating is a strenuous, full-body workout that helps her stay in shape and avoid health problems, she said.

“If I had to go to the gym every morning and get on a treadmill or something I wouldn’t stay with it. This is something that’s fun.”

While the longest routine in the competition lasts just over three minutes, skaters practice multiple times a week to prepare for it, Tanner said.

Sheridan Figure Skating Club member Maggie Arndt, 15, said her whole team was there to kick off their season. They practice three to four times a week, usually for two hours. Lately she’s worked most on worked on spins, which is the hardest part of skating for her.

“I don’t think the placing is the most exciting,” she said. “I think actually getting to show what you’ve been practicing on for so long is the most exciting.”

Olivia is among Casper skaters who arrive to practice at 6 a.m. at the ice arena, and she skates about 15 to 20 hours a week, she said. A bronze medal in her compulsory event wasn’t what she’d hoped, but it was still a great day, she said.

“Just everyone’s here, it’s just like a huge family in Casper’s figure skating club. It’s a group that I could run to if I need help.”

The Casper Invitational previously ran from the late 1980s until 1997, and the club revived the locally-hosted competition four years ago, Tanner said. With Cowboy State Games now incorporated into the competition, the top three winners are eligible to compete in the State Games of America. A date change this year led to fewer competitors than usual, but the event is growing, she said.

The club, too, has grown from about 10 to 55 skaters in the past five years, she said. Not all compete, and other club events include a holiday performance.

Anyone interested in taking up figure skating is welcome to join or find out more at 3:15 on Sundays when the Casper Figure Skating Club meets, she said. After a week off, the next meeting is Feb. 17.

“We’re open to all ages and ability levels.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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