Like millions of others, Stephanie Roth watched the Tokyo Olympics and followed the debate over Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the gymnastics team competition for mental-health reasons.
Unlike nearly all of them, the Neptune City resident understood deep down.
In June, at age 38, Roth concluded a world-class figure skating career by winning a gold medal at the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships. It was a triumphant coda to a roller-coaster ride.
Roth was national collegiate figure skating champion in 2006 while at Brookdale Community College, represented the U.S. at the 2007 World University Games, and in 2019 became the oldest American woman ever to land a “triple toe loop” — a jump with a high degree of difficulty — at the U.S. championships.
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She’s also battled bipolar depression, overcome disordered eating and endured two major back surgeries.
“I’ve never been on (Biles’) level and had moves named after me, but I’ve definitely felt pressure I can’t control,” Roth said. “I went through years in my younger career when I couldn’t cope under pressure, and I was not in the spotlight she’s in. So there’s something to be said for getting your mental health taken care of. Mental health and physical health are one and the same.”
Tattoos and one final title
Roth, who grew up in Wall, began skating at age 4. She qualified for the U.S. Championships seven times, finishing as high as 16th. In 2008 she retired from the top-tiered circuit and turned professional, starring in shows for Royal Caribbean Cruises and at amusement parks. She returned to the Jersey Shore and started coaching in 2013, but the competitive itch wasn’t quite scratched.
“I was like, “I can still do this,’” she said. “I had too many tattoos to get back into shows. That was kind of an issue with the costumes.”
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During her championship-circuit days Roth had five tattoos, “and even that was considered pushing the envelope, which I always did,” she said. “I always skated to strong music (like the theme from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’) and portrayed myself as who I was off the ice.”
Now tattoos cover her arms and torso. She has 38 in total.
“As I’ve gotten older it’s been a way to express myself; I enjoy the artwork — it makes me happy,” she said. “But in shows you’ve got to be able to cover them for uniformity and for appearance, so it doesn’t distract from costumes.”
For the last several years, she’s competed in long-sleeved dresses.
“People ask me why I don’t show them off,” she said of the tattoos. “It’s not about what’s on my skin. It’s about my skill. I want my skill speaking for itself.”
That skill earned her two runner-up showings at the adult nationals before June’s breakthrough victory in Rochester, Michigan, where Roth won the Championship Masters Junior-Senior Ladies title with a score of 74.47. That marked a personal best and an event record. She went out on top.
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‘All athletes have bad days’
Roth’s retirement from competition allows more time for her other passion: mentoring. She’s a personal trainer and coaches skaters out of Jersey Shore Arena in Wall.
“Mental well-being and attention to proper nutrition are two things I have in the forefront of my brain when developing young skaters,” she said. “Depression, I know what that feels like. But I tell students all the time, ‘I can’t read your mind. You have to communicate how you’re feeling.’”
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Speaking out about such things runs contrary to the widely projected image, the expectation really, that our best athletes are unwavering winning machines with perfect attitudes.
“That’s not honest,” Roth said. “All athletes have bad days. They have nerves. They get down on themselves.”
Words to remember, from an athletics 1-percenter.
“Nobody,” Roth said, “is made of steel.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at email@example.com.
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