Sheehan valedictorian headed to UConn on silver skates

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WALLINGFORD — Sheehan High School valedictorian Grace Perrino is a dedicated figure skater, spending about four and a half hours on the ice every day after school.

Perrino, 17, said she enjoys performing lay back spins and just started doing triple jumps.

“You jump up and you're rotating like this in the air, ” she said, balling her hands into fists and crossing her arms over her chest to demonstrate, “and you rotate three whole times, and then you land backwards on one foot.”

Figure skating is a physically tough sport and Perrino is no stranger to injuries like shin splints, which is why she was the manager of Sheehan’s powder puff team this year instead of a player.

“Scientists have found that when you land a jump on the ice, you're coming down with seven times the force of your body weight,” she said, “which can obviously take a big toll on the body.”

Perrino works just as hard off the ice, earning close to a 4.3 GPA, top grades in her two AP calculus classes and the role of concert master as a violinist in the school orchestra.

She plans to attend the University of Connecticut. Undecided on a major, she wants to take advantage of ACES, UConn’s exploratory academic program.

With her interest in math, she was a member of Sheehan’s math team for the past two years and took both AP Calculus I and II this year.

Kevin Ainsworth, her math teacher in her sophomore and senior years, said that Perrino “immediately showed so much potential,” and that it’s rewarding to see students grow into their abilities.

“She is just scratching the surface,” he said, “because her ceiling is infinite.”

Ainsworth’s 13-year-old daughter, Lexi, happens to be in the same skating company as Perrino.

Perrino is “just as good on the ice as she is on the classroom,” he said, “She could be an Olympian if she pursued it.”

’My outlet from school’

The COVID-19 pandemic struck just a few months after Perrino, then a junior, competed against the top 18 figure skaters from the east coast in the U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Sectionals in November 2019, after placing fourth in the All New England regional competition a month earlier.

In March 2020, she was busy preparing for AP exams, which high school students take for college credit, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“It basically turned everything upside down, as I'm sure as it did for most people,” she said.

She said it was particularly tough for her when state restrictions on indoor gatherings shut down the ice rinks, including Champion Skating Center in Cromwell where she practices.

“That's my outlet from school,” she said. “When I'm feeling really stressed, I can go to the rink and have fun and train and get my mind off school, so that was particularly tough for me, not having that there.”

While the ice rink was closed, Perrino and her three skating coaches organized Zoom off-ice workouts daily.

She also relied on her roller skates, which at the time were “in very, very high demand and short supply,” she said, “because all of the figure skaters wanted them, so it was a big waitlist to get them.”

In the meantime, she started practicing the violin more. Her two adult siblings also came home.

“It was nice to spend a lot of time with my family, because usually we're all very busy doing our own things,” she said.

Elaine Lyman, one of Perrino’s coaches, has been working with her since 2014. Her other coaches are Justin Kozikowski and Chelsea Chiappa, of KC Elite Training.

Lyman said that Perrino is an extremely hard worker, who never gives up, a gamer who rises to the occasion when the pressure is on.

“She's smart cookie,” Lyman said. “She's one of those people who got where she is because she just works hard at it. She spends many hours a day, most days, every week, skating, probably since I've known her.”

Perrino also takes instruction well, absorbing the information and making the corrections.

“Kids often understand what you're trying to tell them, but it's when their body actually applies the corrections that they may make the progress,” Lyman said. “That's how she she got where she is.”

Town-wide high school? 

Perrino said of the Board of Education’s plan to build one town-wide high school at the Lyman Hall High School campus that she hopes the tradition of powder puff will be preserved.

“We have a new unique relationship between the two schools,” she said. “We’re kind of allies, but also our biggest rivals, which is kind of special.”

As Perrino departs Sheehan, Ainsworth said he can't wait to see what her future holds.

“She could go into any areas she wants,” he said. “She really could be successful in so many things, that it's just going to be interesting to see what she ends up pursuing.”

Perrino plans to spend the summer at her job as a carhop at Sonic Drive-In — a rollerskating waitress.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

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Grace Perrino placed fourth in the U.S. Figure Skating All New England regionals, October 2019.
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