Alaine Chartrand on the road to success

It seems that Alaine Chartrand lives her life on a highway, humming along the blacktops of Ontario. She’s obviously going somewhere. She certainly is.

The 17-year-old from Maitland, Ont., flits from rink to rink around the province, getting instruction on her craft, a few days here, a few hours there. Sometimes it’s her father, John, as chauffeur. On longer trips, she rides the road in her grandparents’s RV, with a car in tow, just in case. It looks like a travelling circus. “It’s unique,” says coach Michelle Leigh.

Chartrand spends a couple of days a week in Prescott, Ont., at her home club, skating there both day and night. Another two, she skates through the day only at Prescott, then climbs aboard the family truckster to skate in Nepean, Ont., for a couple of sessions during the evenings. It’s an hour away.

Her Prescott coach is Mary-Jayne Rashotte. At Nepean, she trains with Russian-born coach Leonid Birinberg, a former national-level skater who graduated from the Sports Academy of Moscow with a diploma in physical education and sports, specializing in the coaching of figure skating.  Somewhere in there, Chartrand squeezes in classes at a school in Brockville, Ont.

Then on Saturday and Sunday and sometimes Friday, she’s really on the road, mostly in the Toronto area. Chartrand also trains with Michelle Leigh, who has taken skaters to three Olympics. She works out of the Mariposa Skating Club in Barrie, Ont., as well as at a rink in Oakville, Ont. Leigh sees her both days at different clubs.

Chartrand trucks all over, because, she says, her family is closely knit and they don’t want to leave their home near Prescott.  “Family is still really important to them,” Leigh said. Nepean has played a main role in her life for the past four years. “I think they have really figured out something special and unique to her. She skates in a lot of different rinks so I think she adjusts well to different facilities. I think there’s an advantage to that.”

When she comes to Toronto – in the RV – she can rest in it and have as normal a life as possible when you’re on the move. It’s a home on wheels, so she’s not eating restaurant food, or hotel food, or sleeping on hotel beds. It works for this family. In the winter, they keep the generator on so the pipes don’t freeze. It’s a new thing, lately, having the RV. Before that, Chartrand was well-known for her road trips in her father’s six-seater pickup truck, which had amassed more than 500,000 kilometres a long time ago.

Her younger brother travels with the family in the RV. He skates at a small speed skating club in Brockville.

This week, Chartrand will be climbing aboard a plane (for a change) to compete at Skate Canada Challenge in Regina. That’s the qualifying event for the Canadian championships, which is a stone’s throw from her home – in Ottawa. At least she won’t have to travel so far to defend her national bronze medal from last season. And of course, she’ll be going for an Olympic spot; Canada has two berths for women.

She’s always been a mighty little jumper and her hero is quad king Kevin Reynolds. The five-foot tall skater became the first Canadian female to land a triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination in competition during the short program at the Canadian championship last year, although the landing was tentative. She also has a powerful triple Lutz-loop-triple Salchow in her arsenal and both combinations have become more consistent this year.  She’s been known as a jumper, but this year, she’s going for elegance, too.

Chartrand has done that by going to Toronto choreographer David Wilson to design her long program, hoping that his experience as the man who mapped out the successes of Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na will rub off on her. She appeared transformed when she skated at the Thornhill Summer Skate, skating to Doctor Zhivago in an icy blue dress with icicles running down the bodice. And don’t forget the elbow-length gloves.

“It’s a nice piece of music,” said Chartrand, who was born more than 30 years after the epic film was released. She watched the movie – it’s a very long one, she said – before the choreography was fashioned.  “There are more emotions,” she said. “I have to do different facial expressions, instead of just one smile the whole time. I’m happy in the footwork, which is very waltzy. It’s the celebration part of the movie. And then there’s the tragedy of war. It’s really quite the story.”

The dress she wears was made by her grandmother, Patricia Young, who has sewn all of her costumes.

Her short program, to Nathan Lanier’s Torn, was choreographed by Jeff Buttle, who designed her long program last year. This new vehicle shows more drama.

Her season got off to a slower start than she wanted, at least in the Junior Grand Prix events, although she was third in the long program and fourth overall at Riga, Latvia, and 7th overall in Minsk, Belarus. But Leigh said she is now training forwardly since.

Leigh first saw Chartrand occasionally at seminars, before she had a double Axel. A skater since she was four years old, Chartrand was very tiny and very shy, but extremely hard-working, Leigh said. “I find her curious about technique and she really likes to understand the science of jumping,” the coach said.

But now the program components are also on the rise. And working with David Wilson? “He’s pretty goofy sometimes,” Chartrand said. “He makes it light, not too serious. He laughs and then says: ‘You’ll get it.’ He’s great to work with.”

He’s fine tuned Chartrand’s feistiness and made her into a more mature lady, Leigh said. It will be an interesting road ahead, indeed.

Beverley Smith

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