Alison Schumacher looks up at you with earnest brown eyes and an air of maturity.
This, despite the fact that she is only 11-years-old and the youngest athlete at the Skate Canada Development Camp for singles skaters in Markham, Ontario.
Garbed in a royal purple sweater, she takes everything in and pushes on, listening intently to coach Lee Barkell, who is handing out technical tips on jumps. She’s up for the challenge. She always has been.
Jennifer Jackson has been her coach at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ontario since almost the beginning. Her first vision of the girl was as a five-year-old sprite. Like many others, Schumacher showed up in moulded skates and a helmet. And there the story began.
Schumacher has blossomed very quickly since. “She’s very dedicated and she comes to the rink all the time. And she has a definite passion for skating,” said Jackson, a coach for 27 years. “She has some fast-twitch muscles and she has a lot of things going for her as far as talent goes, but her number one asset is her work ethic.”
You see, Schumacher is driven, even at her young age. She’s very coachable. She’s smart and listens to everything her coach tells her. Jackson doesn’t have to tell her twice. “She’s always been that way,” Jackson said. “She’s always been able to focus and listen and get on her task.”
As a little sprig, Schumacher competed with girls her own age. But she started to progress and Jackson figured she’d better keep her moving up the ladder. “There’s no point in standing still,” she said. A couple of years ago, when she was nine, Schumacher began to compete against girls who were as old as 15 and 16 – and they were doing triples.
That year, Jackson entered Schumacher at an international competition, Skate Detroit, across the border. With a club that has perhaps one skater a year that makes it to the national championships, Jackson knows she has to get her skaters out to see others. “It would be nice for her to see what she has to do if she’s serious about this,” Jackson said. So she entered Schumacher in a novice competition, although that was a level above her head.
Even Jackson was surprised when Schumacher finished fourth, just off the podium. “She’s always been that way,” the coach said. “You give her a challenge and she rises to it.”
Schmacher’s next goal was to master the double Axel by the time she turned 10. The Skate Challenge competition – where Schumacher was to compete nationally as a pre-novice skater – was 1 ½ weeks after her tenth birthday. She finally hit that double Axel when she turned 10 and then landed the thing at the championships. She won the bronze medal.
Then Schumacher went after the triples. She mastered her first triple –a triple loop of all things – last fall. And a lover of the edge jump, she also has a triple Salchow in her arsenal. Jackson advised her to try both triples out at Skate Canada Challenge, to test them out before competing at the novice level at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships last January in Ottawa.
Schumacher admitted to nerves when she competed at her first Canadian championship. Under this sort of pressure, Schumacher finished 15th in the short program, but then she collected herself and finished seventh in the free skate, earning level fours in all three spins. That put her in 11th place overall in a novice women’s competition that was deep, very deep with talent.
“I was sort of nervous because I was with older girls,” she said in her tiny voice. “And they’re probably in that category longer than me, so they had more experience.”
Edge jumps have been her thing so far. She also loves the triple Salchow. But now she’s working on the triple toe loop and even the triple flip – and sometimes the triple Lutz.
A sixth-grader in Windsor, Schumacher watched the Sochi Olympics, and found someone to admire: Julia Lipnitskaia, the Russian youngster who, at 15, became one of the stars of the Games, with her exquisite spins and winsome choreography. What does Schumacher like about her? “Her consistency,” the little skater said.
Does she aspire to the Olympics? “I’m not really sure,” she said. “I do like skating in general. I like competition and I like having the pressure and I like seeing my friends when I compete.”
In school, Schumacher is a math whiz.
At the camp, Schumacher soaked up tips from some of the best. “The coaches have different strategies and they’re all good and it’s just something new and I find it really helpful,” she said.
Jackson, too, benefitted from the development camp. “It’s always good to listen to whatever people have to say,” she said. “You take what you can out of it.” She loves Joanne McLeod, because she starts skaters out from the grassroots level and develops them. “She deals with so many levels,” Jackson said.
Jackson also found it valuable to hear the tips and tricks that the veteran coaches gave the young skaters. “Then I don’t have an 11-year-old coming home and trying to translate for me, what she thought she heard,” Jackson said. She also likes to see how her students stack up against the others, just in terms of work ethic. “We always think they’re working really hard here, and we’re doing everything,” she said. “It’s nice to see to make sure we’re on track.”
As for Schumacher, the sky is the limit for her, if she stays healthy and can always feel the passion, Jackson said. “She’s still in the learning phase. Every week she comes in, there is something that is better.
“I don’t think there are a lot of limits,” Jackson said.