Growing up, Mark Naylor, AS '92, couldn't have imagined that his love of ice skating would eventually lead him to the peak of Peru's mystical Machu Picchu and Beijing's Forbidden City.
"Being able to experience so much world travel is a wonderful aspect of my skating," says Naylor. Interested in theatre, museums, opera and art, he takes full advantage of opportunities to explore those things when he's on the road.
"While I think I'll probably be linked to skating on some level my whole life, I don't necessarily like to be defined by it," Naylor says. "My interests are broad."
Naylor's travels are nearly nonstop, giving him usually less than three months each year at his home base of Harrisburg, Pa. For example, during one six-month period in the last year, his tours took him to South America, Russia, England and Germany.
The son of a former figure skater, Naylor first took to the ice at age 5; at age 12, skating was his passion and a favorite sport. And, by the time he began high school, Naylor switched schools three times in four years to accommodate his training. His final stop was Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., where-as a member of the Skating Club of Wilmington-he trained with former Olympian Ron Ludington, who now directs UD's ice skating science program.
When Ludington moved his training program in 1986 from Wilmington to UD's Newark campus, Naylor came along and enrolled as a freshman.
"By moving to Newark, Ron hoped skaters would be able to enroll in the University, as well continue to train at a high competitive level. The timing was perfect, so I decided to pursue both," Naylor says.
"Skating-related activities easily took up a good five hours of each day," Naylor recalls. "Between skating, my classes and working part-time, I was getting about six hours of sleep and was feeling pretty removed from the University experience."
Eager to become more involved in college activities, Naylor decided as a sophomore to join a fraternity, pledging Sigma Phi Epsilon.
"They were comfortable with the demands of my skating and were incredibly supportive. One of my greatest moments, in fact, was at the U.S. National Championships in Baltimore in '89," Naylor says. "About 15 of my fraternity brothers came down to watch me skate. They sat together and held up the fraternity's flag. It was just this huge moment. In the video of the performance, you see me taking a bow and then signaling toward them."
Majoring in biology primarily because of his interest in "fitness and how the body worked," Naylor says he was able to hold a full course load at Delaware while competing in everything from the U.S. National Championships-where, in 1987, he achieved a personal goal, competing in both pairs and singles-to the Goodwill Games.
While still a student, Naylor was already globe-trotting, competing in what was then Leningrad; London; St. Gervais, France; and Dusseldorf, Germany. After graduation, Naylor and his then-partner decided they no longer wanted to compete as amateurs, but were unsure of how to "turn pro."
"Then, we got a call from our choreographer, Jill Cosgrove, saying the Ice Capades were going to China and needed a pairs team. It was an immediate decision-as if it were simply meant to be-so we went," says Naylor, adding that he enjoyed some of his greatest travel thrills there, including standing on the Great Wall of China and taking in Beijing's history-laden Forbidden City. "It was an incredible way to begin my professional skating career."
That professional debut was the first of many unique career opportunities, such as appearing in the A&E Television production of "The Planets," starring Olympian Brian Orser, and spending two consecutive summers performing at theme parks in Australia and Italy.
Naylor's life in the world of professional skating these days seems to move "from event to event," as he puts it. "Every week is an adventure, and there have been times when opportunities come up almost out of nowhere," he says. "Things can change very quickly, which is something I've come to enjoy. It taught me to expect the unexpected."
He acknowledges that life on the road is not always as alluring as it might seem. "There are those 10-hour bus trips, and those tours where we hit two cities a week." Still, Naylor says he wouldn't trade his skating adventures for a desk job.
"There's something about performers...they'll endure all this hardship for their art and their craft because they just feel it so intensely when they're performing," Naylor says. "Even when I'm training, it rarely feels like work because I'm doing this with my heart."
Currently, Naylor is on the road with Feld Entertainment's Grease On Ice. He and his skating partner, Lesley Rogers of Bewdley, England, portray a Rydell High School couple: Roger, a T-Bird (who has the dubious distinction of being the school's resident "mooning champion"), and Jan, one of the Pink Ladies. The two perform the show's only pairs routine.
The six-month-long U.S. domestic tour-which features Olympian Nancy Kerrigan in select cities-kicked off in November and runs through May. Grease on Ice is Naylor's fifth tour with Feld, which produces all of the Disney On Ice Shows. In 1994, he took part in Feld's European tour of Mickey's Magical Tales and the following year, he landed the starring role as The Little Mermaid's Prince Eric in the U.S. tour of Music, Magic & Mickey.
Last year alone, Naylor was in Feld's Starlight Express, as well as performing as principal pair skater in the European tour of Beauty & The Beast. He also did a three-month tour through South America and a month-long gig in Moscow with Beauty.
Skating as a professional, Naylor explains, challenges him to "show consistency as a skater throughout the year, rather than for that 'ultimate performance' when you're competing."
"It's more about longevity. You still get that excitement, that adrenaline rush, but there's not the absolute pressure of being judged," Naylor says.
And, after 25 years on the ice, he finds himself still drawn to the sport for many of the same reasons he was at the start: "There's a combination of so many aspects...the beauty through movement and music, the athleticism that requires the use of your complete body.
"My skating's matured over the years and I'm more confident about it now than ever," he says. "I feel very fortunate to be doing what I am. I love it!"