Figure skating only seems to draw the interest of the American public every four years when it is shown on television during the Winter Olympics.
For MacKenzie Swank, her love of the sport began at age 11 when she first joined the Learn to Skate program at the McFarland Community Ice Arena. That evolved into skating lessons and into a passion that’s carried on into adulthood.
In 2018, Swank took her first crack at skating competitively in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships. She was 33 and trained hard to be the best. She was rewarded for her efforts by becoming a two-time national medalist.
Today, Swank works as a local skating coach, teaching other adults how to glide on the ice. She is also a successful businesswoman with her online store, The Gray Skater, which sells leggings used by figure skaters.
“The name The Gray Skater is not only an ode to being an ‘old’ adult figure skater, but also to my hair color at the time,” said Swank, who began the business in January 2019.
Swank was born and raised in McFarland, where she attended high school before transferring to Madison Edgewood. After graduating in 2002, Swank enrolled at UW-Madison, where she participated on the synchronized figure skating team for three years. She earned her degree in textile design in 2007.
After her wedding in 2009 followed by jobs selling furniture and working in a bank, Swank opened her first business in August 2010 called MacKSwank, which specializes in hand-made beaded jewelry and accessories using materials such as Czech glass and Sworovski crystals.
She was also a stay-at-home mom until she decided to enter competitive figure skating. A year after putting the skates back on, she participated in the 2018 Adult Nationals tournament in Marlborough, Massachusetts. She returned to Wisconsin a champion.
“I had the skate of my life and took home the gold medal,” Swank said.
The following year, Swank traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah to compete in the national tournament again. Despite the difficulties of training in a higher altitude, Swank put on a great show.
“I had a good skate and earned the pewter medal only missing out on the bronze by 0.07 points in a tough field of 20 ladies,” she said.
At the same time, Swank was starting The Gray Skater and launched her own website to advertise her brand.
Her products have been sold all over the U.S. and Europe. She said most of her customers are women and children figure skaters looking for some warmth when on the ice.
“My leg warmers are made from fleece and sweater fabrics,” Swank said. “They fit from just under the knee to under the heel of the figure skates and help to keep leg muscles and feet warm while skating. I also offer custom orders for those customers who may not fit exactly into one of my stock sizes or who are looking for a specific pattern.”
Her most popular leggings are the ones made from sweater materials, which provide the greatest warmth.
“They are the warmest leg warmers I offer, and during the winter months when the rinks are the coldest, they are essential,” Swank said. “As far as the patterned leg warmers, pandas and flamingos were the most popular prints last year.”
Yet, Swank said The Gray Skater took a hit over the winter after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered ice rinks and cancelled figure skating competitions.
“I was scheduled to compete and be a vendor at this year’s U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in April,” she said. “It was a huge disappointment when the event was cancelled, but the time off allowed me to work on other sewing endeavors and new potential products, so it wasn’t all bad.”
Today, Swank said she tries to skate five days a week along with her responsibilities coaching adult skaters. She encourages more adults to learn figure skating.
“You’re never too old to skate,” Swank said. “I also still skate in McFarland occasionally in the early morning hours. It just feels like home.”