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Gwinnett figure skater to compete at 2007 U.S. Nationals

When most other kids his age are getting ready for school, Alex Zahradnicek, 15, is already hard at work at the IceForum Duluth. The Suwanee figure skater trains for hours every day.

Though it's challenging, Alex loves the sport. "It's very hard - lots of pressure and lots of hard work and lots of fun," he said.

Alex's hard work has paid off. This week, he will compete in the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash. Today, he will skate in the Novice Men Short Program, which is scheduled for 5:40 to 7:10 p.m. On Monday, he will compete in the Novice Men Free Skate, held from 3 to 4:50 p.m.

He's most excited about performing his jumps and spins. "I like jumps a lot," Alex said.

He earned a place at the nationals after placing fourth in the Eastern Sectional Championships earlier this season.

In 2003, Alex placed ninth in the juvenile level of the Junior National Skating competition. In 2004, the skater won the gold at the juvenile level. In 2005, he was awarded a bronze medal in the intermediate division at the Junior Nationals.

A talent for ice skating runs in Alex's family. His mother Marie was a figure skater and his father Joseph played hockey in college.

Alex's parents first noticed their son's aptitude for the ice when the family went skating for fun. At the time, they were living in Highlands, N.C., and the closest ice rink was in Greenville, N.C., which was 85 miles away from their home.

When Alex was nearly 8, he began skating seriously and the family was soon regularly making the trip from Highlands to Greenville.

After fifth grade, he stopped attending regular school. In his sixth-grade year, his parents began homeschooling him so that he could concentrate on skating.

"Homeschooling helped him a lot," his father said.

Even with his rigorous skating schedule, Alex keeps his grades high. "His lowest mark for the last year was 98.5. He's a very hardworking young man," Joseph Zahradnicek said.

As Alex continued to skate, the family moved from Highlands to Greenville. A year and a half ago, the ice skating rink in Greenville closed for a season of repairs and Alex had to find another place to train.

"The nearest place to skate was Duluth IceForum," Joseph Zahradnicek said.

At first, the family commuted between Duluth and Greenville, but eventually decided to relocate to Gwinnett. The Zahradniceks moved to Suwanee in May 2006. Alex is quite happy to be skating at the IceForum, which is where the Atlanta Thrashers train.

"I love skating here in Gwinnett. I think it's the best place I've ever skated," Alex said.