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Coral Glades senior Chiera a jump ahead for figure skating nationals

If Franchesca Chiera had super powers, she wishes she could fly.

The Coral Springs 18-year-old giggled as she prepares for her third consecutive trip to the U.S. national figure skating championships this week in St. Paul, Minn.

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"It would definitely be flying, so I could hit the first-ever quad," said Chiera, a senior at Coral Glades High School, who finished 17th and 16th, respectively, in her previous two Senior Ladies national competitions. "I am hoping for a top-10 finish this year."

Chiera, who won the gold medal at the Eastern Sectionals in Simsbury, Conn., in November, will skate her short program on Jan. 21 and her long program two days later.

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She is one of seven members of the Florida Panthers Figure Skating Club that will compete at the national competition. This is the second consecutive year the club has sent seven skaters to nationals.

The others are: Weston's Alexa Binder (Juvenile Girls), who skates on Jan. 16; Deerfield Beach's Lucas Altieri (Intermediate Men), who skates his short program on Jan. 16, and his long program on Jan. 17; Bonita Springs' Paxton James, and Coral Springs' Sophia Chouinard (Intermediate Girls) skate their short program Jan. 16 and the long on Jan. 17 and the Intermediate Pairs duo of Coral Springs' Zoe Larson and Jim Garbutt, who skate their short program on Jan. 16 and long program on Jan. 17.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are held annually to crown America's best skaters in ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing events.

The 10-day competition, held since 1914, is the nation's most prestigious in figure skating, with past winners including Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Evan Lysacek, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

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"I definitely think I can get top 10," Chiera said. "I just have to do what I have been doing in practice and other competitions -- I just have to execute and have fun."

Chiera added three triples to the end of her program this year in an what she admits is a more difficult routine.

"There is no pressure really," she said. "I just have to go out there and do the best I can do. I have been competing since I was 5 years old, so it is all fun for me."

Chiera's first trip to nationals was a memorable one as her flight was cancelled, so her family made the 23-hour drive to Boston to get there just in time for her warm-ups.

"This whole journey has been crazy and it's been fun," Chiera said. "I have had some ups and downs, but I wouldn't change anything. I am really happy and blessed with everything I have done."

Like most skaters, Chiera dreamed of Olympic competitions when she first began.

"I am really satisfied with everything I have done," she said. "I am taking it day by day and whatever happens, happens. It was always my dream to make it to nationals and now that I am going to my third (nationals), it is only amazing and I can only dream bigger."

Chiera thinks about coaching someday and her message to students would be simple.

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"I would tell them to always believe in yourself, trust in everything you do and never give up."

Chouinard, 13, won the national title in her debut last year in the Juvenile Girls Division, however she has moved up to the Intermediate Ladies Division. She is an eighth-grader taking classes with Broward Virtual School.

"This is very cool," Chouinard said. "I want to place top 3 at nationals. I just need to keep focused and do the best program I can to win."

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