Fledgling figure skating club the Southern Alberta Skating Academy has made an impression straight out of the gate since forming in September. Five of their 90 students are going to Fort McMurray, Feb. 16-19 to compete in the Alberta Winter Games.
“We established the club in September 2017. We teach everything from Can Skate, who are just learning to skate, to our academy students who can do triple jumps,” said Amanda Hillier, who formed the club with her husband Travis shortly after travelling the world for eight years with Disney On Ice.
Their students have done well. Shaelin Westerson is the third coach in the school.
“Five of our students are competing in the Alberta Winter Games in mid-February. And one of our students, Connor (Chan), came in second in the regional sectional competition in November,” Hillier enthused.
Competing in the Winter Games will be Chloe Wagenaar, Grace Lloyd, Brynley Gross, Madison Martin and Kaylyn Mikado.
She said working with Disney On Ice was an invaluable experience and gave the couple an opportunity to keep skating even beyond competition age.
“Travis and I were pairs partners. We toured with Disney for eight years. We travelled all over North America, Europe, Japan and Australia,” she said.
“Actually it was the greatest experience of my life, because they taught us the importance of performing.
“The first part is learning how to do the tricks, but the second is artistry is a huge part of the sport,” she said.
“It’s really the greatest opportunity for skaters who don’t really know what they want to do and aren’t ready to go to college or university,” she continued.
“It’s an opportunity to continue skating and travel. It’s like gymnasts can go on to something like Cirque du Soleil,” she said.
In addition to the travel, they enjoyed playing some of the characters.
“We played a lot of characters. My favourite was when we got to be a pair of wolves in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ chasing Belle’s father into the cabin,” she said.
They had to do a lot of additional training and learn a lot of different shows for the tour.
“We went to Florida to do PR training and we spent six weeks learning the shows before going on the road,” she said.
In addition to skating all over the world, they also took advantage of downtime to be tourists.
“I enjoyed Paris most of all. The crew goes on ahead of us to set up the show. So we got Monday and Tuesdays off to tour,” she said.
She hopes their love for skating runs in the family.
“Travis and I have two kids in the program and we hope being part of Disney On Ice shows that there are opportunities for them in skating. We hope they will make skating part of their lives. They love it that we were part of it,” she said.
“We were with Disney for eight years, but some people make Disney their lives. Forming this school was a dream of ours,” she said.
She is proud of the students who are going to the Alberta Games.
“I’m really excited,” said Chloe Wagenaar, 16.
“It will be the second time I’ve gone. I went four years ago in 2014,” she said, noting she will be skating in a short program as well as a long program.
“It‘s a lot of fun because we’re all going up there together. It will be just us girls,” she said.
Grace Lloyd, 12, is also excited to go to the games.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said.
Amanda Hillier noted their students qualified for five of the eight spots available for this area.
“We’re competing with the best skaters in Alberta, so I’m excited about that. I’m excited to meet a lot of new people,” added Brynley Gross, 13.
“I’m really excited to just go and and experience it and to see Fort McMurray,” noted Madison Martin, who is also 13.
Two members of the Lethbridge Skating Club will also be participating in the Alberta Winter Games. Brooklyn Watmough and Jenna Vanderburgh will both be competing in the STAR 6 category. Both skaters are coached by Nina Evans.