Skaters such as Olympic silver medallist Patrick Chan and Olympic gold and silver medal-winning ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are some of the high-profile faces of Canadian figure skating.
But it all begins at the grassroots level, at local figure skating clubs across the country where young skaters learn and develop.
“Figure skating is such a wonderful opportunity to have fun, exercise and learn teamwork skills,” says Trish York-Gillett, a coach with the Lethbridge Skating Club. Not only do members learn valuable skating skills, they also learn “perseverance, patience and how to deal with disappointment.” When a member fails a test but perseveres, working hard to improve his or her skills, then goes on to pass the test, “a valuable life lesson about the value of persistence is learned,” says York-Gillett.
Other life skills acquired are “goal setting, time management, and a work ethic, skills that are helpful for students in their studies at school and throughout their lifetime,” says York-Gillett.
Darren Gillett, another coach at the skating club, says he loves seeing the joy skaters experience when they achieve their goals.
“In addition to learning skating skills such as jumping and spinning,” he says, “figure skaters learn self-discipline. Skating is not like some other (team) sports where a person can rely on others. The figure skater has only him or herself to rely on and needs self-discipline to accomplish goals.”
This self-discipline is evident in the number of hours skaters spend at the rink. Kyra Gertridge, Kelsey Flint and Brooklyn Watmough, who have each skated for approximately nine years, spend between seven and 13 hours skating per week. They started skating recreationally, loved it and decided to enrol in figure skating lessons. Their figure skating idols include Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Kevin Reynolds and Virtue and Moir.
York-Gillett started skating as a two-year-old when a coach suggested to her father that she take skating lessons. She loved it and “the whole family started skating at two years old.” York-Gillett, Gillett and eight other coaches at the club are passing on their love of skating by teaching skating skills to approximately 400 members of the Lethbridge Skating Club, a club that celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2014.
The skating club teaches not only figure skating but other types of skating such as power skating, adult skating, inclusive skating for those with challenges and so on.
“Hockey players find the skills acquired through the power skating program help them with their skating skills while playing the game and they are better players because of it,” says York-Gillett. Skaters can also use their skills for recreational skating, ringette, speed skating and synchronized skating.
“Two great avenues to help parents with the costs associated with skating lessons are the Jump Start and Kid Sport programs,” says York-Gillett. “Don’t let not being able to afford it be a deterrent to getting your children involved in skating, as these two programs can offset the cost.”
The club is excited to be hosting the Chinook Open Invitational Skating Competition from March 27 to 29 with more than 800 skaters from all over Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia showcasing their skating skills. This is a fun, entertaining, competitive event open to “all levels of skating ability.” Interpretive events, which feature the skaters’ “interpretation of the music,” will be done by both individuals and couples. There will also be “some very competitive, high-level skating,” says York-Gillett.
York-Gillett says the club is “elated to be awarded this competition again this year.” The club “encourages the public to see local skating talent at this event. This is where the journey starts to national competition. If a person has the talent and work ethic, you never know how far they can go.” She cites Jason Turner as an example. He was a southern Alberta figure skater who won the bronze medal at the 1994 Canadian Figure Skating Championships with partner Jamie Sale and competed in the Winter Olympics that year.
However, “this is not a qualifying competition (to go on to compete provincially and nationally) — those took place in November.” This event “accommodates a broad range of skaters from the littlest new ones to experienced, high-level, Gold Star competitors.”
This skating competition, to be held at the Civic and Nicholas Sheran arenas, is free to the public.
The club is very excited to be part of the group that submitted the winning bid to host the Skate International Tournament to be held in Lethbridge at the Enmax Centre from October 29 to Nov. 1, 2015.
“The Lethbridge Sport Council, key people from the City of Lethbridge, the Lethbridge Skating Club and others were a great team from Lethbridge, putting in a winning bid.”
This is the first time since 1990 that Lethbridge will be hosting this event. Tickets are on sale at the Enmax Centre website.