Many Mt. Lebanon families celebrate children's birthdays at the local ice rink.
Anna and Jeffrey Murphy scheduled a skating party at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center for daughter Cara when she turned 6.
She hasn't really left.
On any given day, Cara, now 15, spends a considerable amount of time on the ice, practicing various moves and routines to take into competition.
"It's exhausting," she said. "But I enjoy it."
The Mt. Lebanon High School sophomore travels this weekend to suburban Charlotte, N.C., for the South Atlantic Regional Figure Skating Championships, conducted by U.S. Figure Skating.
"This will be my first time at a really big competition like that," said Cara, who has experienced success in locally based events. She got started several years ago at the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club's Skate Pittsburgh competition.
"It was my first time doing a program with jumps and spins," she recalled. "I did fall once, but I still got third."
In North Carolina, she'll face off against about 100 skaters from around the county, hoping to be among the top few who advance to sectionals and then to nationals. The ultimate goal is the world championships in March at Saitama, Japan.
For now, Cara will concentrate on the regionals and performing her long program, to Tchaikovsky's "The Storm," and short program, to Clint Mansell's "Requiem for a Tower."
"We never expected to get this far," said Anna Murphy, who realized her daughter really enjoyed skating after that birthday party and then signed her up for group lessons.
Her instructor, Darlene Volbrecht, soon asked if Cara would be interested in taking private lessons.
"From the get-go, she had the talent. You can just tell," said Ms. Volbrecht, a former Ice Capades performer who has taught figure skating at Mt. Lebanon since the center opened in the 1970s. "Whatever you would tell her to do, she would do it. It just came naturally to her."
Ms. Volbrecht continues to coach Cara, as do Renee Miller and Rachel Lane-McCarthy. Cara also hones her talents at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center in Neville.
Since she was 10, Cara has served as a skating instructor at Mt. Lebanon for children as young as 3.
"They needed coaches and asked if I'd be willing to do that," she said. "I love helping the little kids and teaching them what I was taught."
She hopes to continue skating in a collegiate program and sees coaching as a career opportunity.
"Wherever she ends up living, there's going to be an ice rink," her mother said.
Although Cara spends a considerable amount of time on the ice, she doesn't slack off in the classroom.
"She's an honor student. She keeps it all together," Anna Murphy said. "I think this particular sport really helps them with staying focused on everything they're doing."
Ms. Volbrecht agrees with that assessment.
"It's a very good sport for discipline," she explained. "At some point in skating you have a failure. You're more prepared for moving on in life."
Cara has achieved U.S. Figure Skating's intermediate level, which is necessary to compete in the regionals. She hopes to continue to meet the requirements to reach senior, the highest level.
"I don't think that will be a problem," Ms. Volbrecht said.
Harry Funk, freelance writer: email@example.com. First Published October 17, 2013 1:41 AM