WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Silvia Fontana Zimmerman grew up in Rome, Italy. John Zimmerman grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. They married in 2003 after meeting at ice skating competitions.
“It’s definitely a unique situation,” said Silvia. “We bring out the best in each other.”
Their story is an unexpected pairing and it continues on the ice today. The husband-wife team has been coaching together for 12 years and they choose to do it in an equally unexpected place.
“People ask us, ‘Where are you training?’ and we say, ‘Florida’ and they’re like, ‘What? There are ice rinks in Florida?’,” said Vanessa James. “It’s almost like you’re on vacation outside of the rink."
James is originally from Virginia and skates under the French flag in international competition alongside her figure skating partner, Morgan Ciprès, who is from Paris. Both will compete in the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, from March 18–24. They finished fifth in the world during the 2018 Olympic Games and are already 2019 European Champions.
It surprises many when they hear that Florida is their ice skating training home. They work out multiple days per week at the Florida Hospital Center Ice facility on 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd in Wesley Chapel, a building Silvia calls “one of the best in the world”.
“Not like this, I can tell you,” Ciprès said with a laugh when asked about the typical weather in Paris during the month of March. “I don’t need (a jacket) anymore.”
A big reason why the duo, which has been competing together for nine years, choose sunny Florida was the coaching of the Zimmermans. Both competed in Olympics themselves back in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Fontana competed on the world stage again four years later in her home country during the Torino Games.
“This facility opened up last year so we followed them,” said James.
Now, they take pride in coaching top skaters.
“We have everything together. All our lives are together,” said Silvia “We also have very much the same passion for what we do.”
James and Ciprès will try to stay undefeated in 2019. They have impressive resumes which include Grand Prix and Challenger series medals.
“We had to find a big coaching team to reach the top in the world,” said Ciprès.
Winning may be unexpected for this French skating duo, but winning as a Florida-based team is much more surprising.
“We made too many sacrifices and energy to be mediocre,” said James.
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