Tag Archive for: Skate for Life

IceCup showcases the true spirit of sport

It‘s what sport should be about.

Sometimes, it’s not about medals and podium finishes, but rather inclusiveness, the building of friendships and the pursuit of personal excellence.

icecup3The spirit of sport took centre stage as athletes from Iceland, Canada, Great Britain, Finland and the United States converged in Reykjavík, Iceland for the 2016 IceCup from November 4-6.

Promoted as “Skating beneath the Northern Lights”, the figure skating competition brought together Special Olympic athletes and Athletes With A Disability (AWAD) to compete and, more importantly, form everlasting friendships and memories in the picturesque country.

The Special Olympians used the IceCup as a dress rehearsal for the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 coming up in Austria next March, while the AWAD competitors were given the opportunity to take part in an international competition with other skaters living with disabilities.

“It was an incredible experience for everyone that attended, “says Heather McMahon, who travelled to Iceland with her daughter, Stephanie, to take part in the event.

“Allowing these athletes to take part in an international event, with other Special Olympians and adaptive skaters, shows the inclusiveness and true spirit of sport. It taught life values and relationship building both during the competition, and away from the rink.”

icecup2Organized by the Ösp Sports Club with the support of Special Olympics Iceland, IceCup, sanctioned by Skate Canada, featured competition in singles, pairs and unified pairs. A coaching workshop was also held for coaches with athletes attending the Special Olympics World Winter Games.

The competition was staged in the spirit of the Special Olympic movement, where skaters with any form of impairment enjoyed the opportunity to compete internationally in a safe, encouraging environment.

Not all the memories from IceCup were formed at the rink. The event was about friendship as much as medals, so a highlight of the event was the “Trip of Friendship”, which featured a traditional Icelandic lunch and sightseeing experience.

For more information on the event, please visit the IceCup website.

Embracing winter: Best places to skate in Canada, Part 4

For the first time since 2001, it is now legal to skate on the pond in Toronto’s High Park. There are red flags, however – and we mean that literally. City workers test the ice daily. If it deemed unsafe, a red flag is planted. Officials say the ice is safe to skate on only five or ten days during a cold winter.

OK, so you can’t exactly get here by streetcar, but the Whiteway is right up there with Banff and Grouse Mountain when it comes to skating with a view. And it’s got some length – at 29.8 kilometres around the lake, Guinness recently declared the Whiteway is the longest naturally-frozen skating trail in the world. A path six metres wide is cleared for skaters, and if you’re in shape – or Clara Hughes – you can do the trek in a couple of hours.

Located in the Ontario Muskokas, this used to be cottage country’s best-kept skating secret. Not anymore. Thousands turn out annually to glide majestically through a 1.3 kilometre maze of trees and natural beauty that has been dubbed a “fairy-tale ice trail.

Embracing winter: Best places to skate in Canada, Part 3

Listed in no particular order, here is the third of a four-part series on where to get your skate on. Be sure to check back each day through Friday, and don’t forget to share your memories with us the Skate Canada Facebook page:

If you think skating in downtown Toronto, Nathan Phillips Square is probably the first rink that comes to mind. We’re heading a little further south to the Natrel Rink at Toronto’s Harbourfront if you want you went a less-crowded, more scenic place to hit the ice. You’re right on the shores of Lake Ontario, giving you a postcard view of the breathtaking Toronto skyline. And plus, where else can you get your boogie on Saturday nights while skating?

Honourable mention: The Evergreen Brick Works, Nathan Phillips Square, Markham Civic Centre. And this place.

If you are wondering why Banff makes the list, we’re guessing you’ve never been there. There’s skating with a view, then there’s the rink at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, surrounded by ice sculptures, mountains and a whole lot of wonder. It takes breathtaking to another level. Even CNN Travel says so.

Honourable mention: Bow River, Fairmont Banff Springs, Jasper National Park

Probably on everyone’s short list of skating havens. And why not? You can step on to the ice right in the shadows of the Parliament Buildings, and away you go. And go. And go, for 7.8 kilometres right to Dows Lake. The unnaturally warm winter had shut down the Rideau – and with it, put a damper on the world-famous Winterlude – but once the temperature drops and the ground freezes, make sure this is on your bucket list. As unique a skating experience as you will find in the country.

Embracing winter: Best places to skate in Canada, Part 2

We’re Canadian.

Skating is tightly woven into our social fabric and a part of who we are. Childhood reflections often include memories of that tentative first step onto a frozen lake or pond, and seeing your own breath in the morning chill of a stunning winter landscape.

It’s a love affair as unconditional as it is timeless.

In Canada, we own the ice and as Valentine’s Day approaches, we are celebrating our love of skating by unveiling the best locations across our beautiful country to go for a glide.

We want you to share your skating memories with us. It could be a public rink right in the heart of a booming metropolis, or a little strip of paradise tucked away deep in nature that no one outside of your family has ever seen. Share a few words and a photo on Skate Canada’s Facebook or Twitter pages, and tell us where you love to skate.

Listed in no particular order, here is the first of a four-part series on where to get your skate on. Be sure to check back each day through Friday, and don’t forget to share your memories with us:

Nestled on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in downtown Saskatoon, the outdoor rink at Cameco Meewasin was voted best in Canada in 2007. The price is right. Not only is the skating free, but you can borrow a pair of skates at no charge. There is a warm-up area and cozy fire pit to ward off frostbite. Beware though, they shut the place down when the weather reaches minus-31 C. Hey, its Canada…that’s t-shirt weather.

Not a rink by definition, but Parc Lafontaine features splendid frozen paths winding through a postcard landscape. You’ll have to dish out a couple of bucks if you want rent skates or a locker, but the skating won’t cost you a dime. Looking for a game of shinny? Grab your stick and jump on one of the adjoining outdoor hockey rinks. After you burn off those calories, you can pack them right back on: Montreal’s best poutine is just a block away.

Honourable Mention: Beaver Lake, Bonsecours Basin

Winnipeg has a wide range of outdoor skating options, with close to 10 kilometres of skating on the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. It may take you a few days to thaw out when winter is at its most unforgiving, but The Forks – a must-see for those visiting Winnipeg any time of year – offers several rinks and skating trails to help shake the winter blahs.

Embracing winter: Best places to skate in Canada, Part I

We’re Canadian.

Skating is tightly woven into our social fabric and a part of who we are. Childhood reflections often include memories of that tentative first step onto a frozen lake or pond, and seeing your own breath in the morning chill of a stunning winter landscape.

It’s a love affair as unconditional as it is timeless.

In Canada, we own the ice and as Valentine’s Day approaches, we are celebrating our love of skating by unveiling the best locations across our beautiful country to go for a glide.

We want you to share your skating memories with us. It could be a public rink right in the heart of a booming metropolis, or a little strip of paradise tucked away deep in nature that no one outside of your family has ever seen. Share a few words and a photo on Skate Canada’s Facebook page, and tell us where you love to skate.

Listed in no particular order, here is the first of a four-part series on where to get your skate on. Be sure to check back each day through Friday, and don’t forget to share your memories with us:

Emera Oval

Emera Oval – Photo courtesy of Novascotia.com

OK, so we may be a little biased having visited Halifax in January for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, but the Emera Skating Oval is one of Halifax’s newest, and most popular, landmarks. Spanning the size of three NHL rinks, the Oval claims it is the “largest outdoor artificially refrigerated ice surface east of Quebec City.”

It takes an hour, and 1,700 litres of water, to resurface the ice. In busy times, the Oval can hold up to 1,500 skaters and we are betting they’re all really, really nice. You know, it’s a Maritime thing!

Want to score some serious brownie points with the significant other? Hitting the top of Grouse Mountain for a skate should keep you in the good books. Once you get off the tram at the top of the mountain, an 8,000 square-foot patch of winter bliss awaits. Nothing like a leisurely skate 4,000 feet above one of the world’s most picturesque cities.

Greater Vancouver Area Honourable Mention: Robson Square, Vancouver

Some really smart dude designed the Freezeway for his landscape architecture Masters thesis. If things go according to plan, the skating trail will eventually be lengthened to 3.5 kilometres, but a 400-metre pilot version opened just before Christmas. Designer Matt Gibbs was inspired by a former city councillor who once quipped the city should flood the streets so Edmontonians could skate to work.

Teen living with cerebral palsy capturing hearts while putting the CAN in CanSkate

Sidney Crosby inspired a dream.

Noah Robichaud is taking it from there.

The affable 15-year-old from Penobsquis, NB, who lives with cerebral palsy, is capturing hearts in his small Maritime community as he continues his inspirational journey in CanSkate, Canada’s flagship learn-to-skate program.

And he’s doing it sitting down, on a sledge.

“I’ve never seen him smile so much as when he’s on that ice,” says Tammy Robichaud, Noah’s mother, her voice starting to crack with emotion.

“He’s not treated any different than anyone else. He’s just one of the kids out there.”

“He’s been through so much, and he never complains. Noah always wanted to skate, but we just never looked into it. But once he saw that commercial…”

Noah Robichaud

A commercial Tammy Robichaud says changed Noah’s life. Going through yet another round of rehabilitation following surgery this past summer, Noah was watching TV when he saw a Gatorade commercial featuring Crosby playing sledge hockey with several disabled athletes.

The dream was born. Noah formed the steel resolve that he was going to be just like Crosby, his childhood hero. So ironclad was that resolve that when Noah left the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in nearby Fredericton, a sledge, loaned from Para New Brunswick, made the trip home with him.

Through social media, Tammy Robichaud reached out to the Sussex Skating Club, a mere ten minutes from their home in Penobsquis N.B., to inquire about a skating program for special needs children. Club officials worked with Skate Canada, and planning began. Coach Kirsten Graham, herself a CanSkate graduate from the club, trained with Para New Brunswick to help her prepare.

Weeks after bringing that sledge home, on October 7th, Noah took his first CanSkate lesson.

“When he falls over, he finds it hilarious and he just keeps laughing,” says Stacey Rouse-Charlton, head coach at Sussex Skating Club. “You can see every little bit of achievement from lesson to lesson.”

“Oh, yes, he’s not falling over nearly as much,” laughs Tammy Robichaud when asked if she sees her son progressing after his first couple of weeks on the ice.

“This has been life changing not only for Noah, but for a lot of us at the club, as well,” adds Rouse-Charlton. “I have never seen a child so happy. That smile widens with each lesson. We are a pretty small club, so to be able to work with a child like this is extremely gratifying. He is a very special young man.”

Noah RobichaudSporting his Crosby jersey, Noah takes to the ice twice a week to work with Graham. Sitting in the stands, Tammy Robichaud cheers her son on as he makes his way around the modified CanSkate circuits, a mother sharing a cloud with her son as they live a dream.

Their dream.

“I hope this shows that just because a child has a disability, doesn’t mean they should be held back,” adds Tammy Robichaud. “Every child can do whatever they want, be whoever they want.”

“Noah’s story is one of inspiration and perseverance, and a testament to the true strength of the human spirit,” says Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson. “Skate Canada is committed to continue to find ways of providing inclusive initiatives allowing all Canadians to embrace the joy of skating.”

“As a mom, nothing else matters but seeing him happy,” says Tammy. “He is a kid learning to skate, like everyone else.”

Rouse-Charlton says the largest hurdle the club has faced with Noah was finding a convenient way of getting him on and off the ice. A local contractor, whose daughter is taking CanSkate at the club, built a custom-made ramp for the club.

Word is starting to spread. The little club in New Brunswick has received several calls about the program and soon, one of Noah’s young friends will start lessons, once doctors and physiotherapists have given their stamp of approval.

“That is a special kid right there,” says Rouse-Charlton of Noah. “He’s not sitting on the sidelines saying ‘look at me, I have cerebral palsy.’

“He’s saying ‘look at me, I have cerebral palsy and can skate.’”

A podium worthy volunteer career

For super volunteer Fran McLellan, her interest in community activities began in her hometown of Ingersoll, Ontario, with parents who were strong role models when it came to offering their time to help.

Volunteering was definitely a community and family priority.

Fran remembers being inspired by the Director of the local YMCA, Al Clark. “He encouraged me to form ‘Teen Town’ and organize Friday Night Dances at the Y. He also helped me to swim competitively and hired me to teach and lifeguard at our local pool.”

That experience and others set the stage for Fran’s love of sports. “We swam in the summer and skated in the winter,” says Fran. “Along with my older brother and two younger sisters, we started skating at a very young age. My brother played hockey and the girls took figure skating lessons. I remember our mother driving us to early morning ‘patch’ lessons and then getting us to school on time.”

Many of her fondest memories revolve around skating in the club Ice Shows and wearing the wonderful costumes. “Some of the costumes were rented from the Unionville Skating Club. I also remember one year when our coach, Liliane de Kresz, skated a solo to the music Sabre Dance. I’ve never forgotten how fast she could skate!”

Growing up, Fran was dedicated to advancing her own skating skills, eventually earning her silver medal in dance. Once married, she and her husband John moved to Oakville where the Oakville Skating Club was a major star in the community. Fran thinks back, “Coming to Oakville, one of my first recollections was the parade welcoming home Maria and Otto Jelinek from the 1962 World Championships in Prague with their gold medal in pairs figure skating.”

That event sparked her interest in the Oakville Skating Club.

“One day I got brave enough to walk into the Club to see about registering our children for lessons and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to sign up. Louis and Marijane Stong were their first coaches – group lessons – three times a week.”

While Fran continued to skate herself and take on new volunteer club responsibilities at the same time, her children were following in her skating footsteps, Michael in hockey and the girls in figure skating. During this time, Fran was also discovering another side to the sport, precision skating, now called Synchronized Skating.

It was at an ACGM where she attended a precision workshop and listened to advocate Elizabeth Swan. “She was so keen to talk about this new discipline that everyone in the room became excited about taking the information back to their clubs.”

Realizing that not every figure skater could become a Barbara Ann Scott, Fran liked the team element. “There were very few team sports for girls when I was growing up,” admits Fran. “Finally, with precision, the girls and I had something we could do together!”

Fran remembers the beginning of the sport. “At first the teams were very large, 24 to 32 skaters, so it meant a lot of individuals found a new home at the rink. The skaters could set new goals, travel as a team to overnight competitions and share in the expenses.”

Fran was so attracted to precision, she continued to skate competitively for 25 years on adult teams and even sometimes on teams with her daughters. Yes, both Laura and Leanne caught the precision bug too, skating on teams in Oakville and in Burlington all while pursuing more traditional skating honors, Laura eventually earning her gold medal in Figures, Free Skate and Dance and Leanne earning her gold medal in Dance.

“Laura started judging when she was sixteen and is qualified to judge all disciplines – singles, pairs, dance and synchro,” boasts Fran. “At the age of 9 Leanne was an alternate on the senior team in Oakville and continued to participate in the sport until she retired at the age of 34.”

Fran recalls her proudest moment as a synchro skater. “It was at Synchro Nationals in 1994 in Verdun, Quebec and our Oakville adult team, skating to Pomp and Circumstance, earned a bronze medal.  I believe that was the first time a mother and two daughters skated together and won a national medal.”

Fran McLellan

1994 Adult Nationals – Fran McLellan

Once Fran hung up her skates, her transition to becoming a full-time volunteer was completely natural. Although she’s tiny in stature, her infectious spirit and endless enthusiasm meant she could take on jobs and get things done.

“Somehow it just happens. One day you’re driving your kids to the rink and the next thing you know you’re attending planning meetings and voting on budgets.”

Skating wasn’t the only activity on Fran’s list of priorities. “I volunteered at our high school, church and the YMCA, helped out with all the activities at school, volunteered at our hospital and the IODE, sat on several town committees and was a founding member of the Oakville Sports Hall of Fame.”

But it was when she was appointed Accreditation Director for the Winter Special Olympics that Fran found one of her most challenging and rewarding experiences.

“My committee accredited over 10,000 participants, officials, managers, chaperones, entertainers, food vendors, directors and special guests. It was a year-long process working closely with the Kodak people to develop the photo ID system. The experience and the people we met along the way were priceless.”

Back in the rink, Fran devoted countless hours volunteering at local, regional, provincial, national and international skating competitions. “At most of the synchro competitions I was judging, skating and managing. Always a challenge for the Tech Rep,” Fran laughs. “I had to make sure I removed the headset before going back on the panel!”

Today as Business Manager for Canada’s World Champions, NEXXICE, Fran is looking forward to the sport’s acceptance into Olympic competition. “My prediction is 2022 in Beijing, China.  And now this year for the first time Synchro will be part of the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. As the old saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby!”

For her vision and commitment, Fran has been recognized by both Oakville and her skating community. She was inducted into the Oakville Sports Hall of Fame this year and has been the recipient of the Elizabeth Swan Memorial Award for her contributions to synchro skating. While delighted with these honors, Fran’s proudest moment came after the 2013 World Synchro Championships in Boston when NEXXICE presented her with the Team Spirit Award.


Oakville Sports Hall of Fame Induction

Over the years Fran’s name has become synonymous with volunteering. “I’ve learned that it takes a ‘team’ effort to make things happen. I’ve gained a lot of friends – young and old.”

For Fran, volunteering has worked two ways. While she’s given her time and dedication, volunteering has given her a lot in return. “It’s kept me grounded,” says Fran.

Her advice? “Get involved and stay involved. One day you’ll be glad you did and the memories will live with you forever.”

Skating coach finds lost skating keepsakes after 25-year mystery

Photo albums are documents of life.

For ice dancer Bryon Topping, 1965 world team member with Lynn Matthews, they tell the skating story of a young man from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, his interests and his accomplishments. Sadly, some 25 years ago, his albums disappeared.

“After my mother passed away I went home for the burial and while I was there I packed up a couple of boxes of memorabilia and sent them back home to Ottawa on the bus. One of them made it, however the other one did not.”

It had vanished … along with irreplaceable photos documenting the successful skating career of an individual whose skating-for-life philosophy was neither planned for nor anticipated.

“I broke my leg when I was in grade 3 and spent over eight months in casts,” recalls Bryon. “I was told that I couldn’t participate in contact sports, that if I suffered another break, I could lose my leg.”

Living in rural Saskatchewan, there were few options for rehabilitation so his family decided to enroll him in skating at the Swift Current Skating Club.

“For me, skating began as therapy,” admits Bryon.Young Bryan Topping

Turns out not only did he get the rehab exercise he needed, Bryon also discovered a fascination with the sport and quickly passed his Preliminary tests. Although his family wanted to continue to feed their son’s unexpected interest and ability, they knew there were some tough decisions ahead if Bryon was to choose a competitive path. With no artificial ice available in Swift Current at the time, their eyes turned 150 miles eastward toward Regina and the Wascana Winter Club.

Bryon’s dad, Bert, worked for the railroad which entitled Bryon to a travel pass. “Every Saturday morning I’d get up at 4:30 am, catch the train at 5:30 and be in Regina by 9 to skate for the weekend and then return home Sunday night.”

Bryon also remembers his first competition in Regina in the mid ‘50’s. “It was a Bronze Dance event skating with my first partner Sandra Mitchell. Competing and watching veterans like Alma English and Herb Larson, then President of the C.F.S.A. (1953-55), was a great experience. After that I was hooked!”

Although Bryon’s passion for skating was growing, he was also learning other lessons that were not as positive. “At the time, a small city in Saskatchewan was not a place for a male figure skater. I was picked on, bullied and beaten up.  At school, I even had a teacher who I asked for extra help so I could go to a competition. He refused.”

Despite the challenges, Bryon’s motivation flourished. He studied skating, dreamt about the possibilities and watched the best athletes, deciding that one day he would be one of them. With the support of his mom and dad and his grandparents, his training increased. He travelled across the country to seek out high level instruction until finally landing in Toronto with Coach Dick Rimmer.

“That’s when I was partnered with Lynn,” recalls Bryon.

The dance team clicked and as Bryon’s lost photo albums would have shown, the pair spent several successful years on the competitive circuit culminating in an 11th place finish at the 1965 World Championships. After the partnership dissolved, Bryon decided to turn pro to teach back in Regina.

He soon learned that his teaching style didn’t fit every situation. “I had to adapt!” he says. “Thankfully one of my best talents was having a quick eye which helped me see the nature of mistakes and then work on correcting them.”

And correct them he did, counting many students’ successes in Saskatchewan and then again in Ontario when he moved to Stratford and began to broaden his skating experience.

“It was in Stratford that I was asked to help with Power Skating.”

As an avid hockey fan, Bryon had often observed that most hockey players didn’t know the basics and had no idea how to use the blade, balance points, and body position. As a result, he started to design hockey exercises that would develop fundamental skating skills. It caught on … fast!

He also remembers how the players taking his class would snicker when he came on the ice in his figure skates. “After giving them a few minutes to warm up, I’d blow the whistle and order them to take a knee.” He’d then tell them to look at his feet. “This is what I wear so get over it!”

His classes began with basic exercises on quick starts, teaching balance, what part of the blade to be on and what to do with their toes, among other important techniques. “It wasn’t long before they realized I wasn’t going to teach them triple Lutzes. What I was going to teach them was how to be better skaters.”

After relocating to Ottawa, Bryon moved to the Gloucester Skating Club and continued to refine his coaching philosophy to make every skater better.

“I was approached by a hockey player who had a try-out with the Toronto Maple Leafs and asked if I’d work with him. I agreed but quickly realized there wasn’t a lot I could do in just one practice.”

The next year the player came back. “I told him that if he wanted my help he would have to take my 3-week summer class. Most of that class had good Jr. A players in it and he would have to work his buns off to keep up … he agreed. At the end of 3 weeks he was a different skater. He had learned how to turn in both directions with power, stop on all edges, skate backwards with power; all the important moves. He went to the Leafs try-out camp and because of his hard work had many successful pro years in the NHL.”

That experience … and others like it … gave Bryon a great deal of satisfaction. “It was the same when I was the Power Skating Coach for the Cornwall Colts Jr. A team for three years. It was always nice to hear them call me ‘Coach’.”

Although he continued coaching Power Skating till about 10 years ago, these days his time at the rink is spent watching his grandson play hockey. “My knees were giving out on me so I hung up my skates.”

Bryon Topping

Still … after a lifetime of immersion in every aspect of skating, Bryon was still puzzled by the 25-year mystery of the missing photo albums. Then one day his Facebook page suddenly lit up with details of a recent story in the local Swift Current paper, the Prairie Reporter, telling about a gentleman, Leon Echert, who had bought a box of memorabilia and photographs at a garage sale. Realizing they might be important, he began looking for their owner.

“I am very grateful to Mr. Eckert for finding them and returning them to me,” says Bryon. “And thanks to my friends on Facebook for connecting us. The pictures of Lynn and I are very special, the only ones taken before we left for Worlds.”

Finally … at least some of the mystery has been solved.

Bryon smiles as he adds, “I have a Canadian Emblem that I wear with pride. I’m also proud of the fact that I was a member of the first skating team to represent Canada under the new Canadian Flag.”

And now he has the photographs to prove it!

Social Media Skates into the Spotlight

When former figure skating competitor Lorne Edwards from Winnipeg started his own Facebook page during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, he had no idea he had a tiger by the tail.

“It had a figure skating thread that was becoming too long” admits Lorne. But it prompted him to think about skating as a whole new opportunity to build community.

The page has reconnected hundreds of people who haven’t seen or talked to each other in decades

After attracting skating friends Lorne hadn’t heard from in over 30 years, he decided to start another Facebook group called “Manitoba Figure Skating in the 70’s” that in just over a year has grown to over 200 members from all across Canada and the US … and yes, everyone has some connection to figure skating in Manitoba.

Lorne’s proud of this skating initiative. “Members regularly post old photos, skating programs from past events, and photos of medals and badges earned at competitions and on test days, as well as costumes that were worn that many still have hanging in their closet!”

The page is not only for communicating with competitors … judges, administrators and parents can also share their memories of skating at certain arenas and traveling to various competitions, as well as stories about the people who encouraged and supported them.

“The page has reconnected hundreds of people who haven’t seen or talked to each other in decades,” says Lorne, “although it’s certainly not restricted to only those who skated in the ‘70s. It’s really for anyone with a connection to skating in Manitoba.”

Out of the group page came the idea of a Manitoba Figure Skating Reunion.  According to Lorne, “Plans are in the works to have the reunion on April 16, 2016 in conjunction with the annual Bursary Banquet and Ice Show featuring performances from the year’s bursary winners.”

Former skaters will have the opportunity to greet old friends and support today’s top Manitoba competitors through the Manitoba Grassroots Bursary Trust founded in 1983 by a well-known Manitoba figure skating judge, Reta Barber.

“Pay it forward” is certainly one goal for Manitoba’s Alumni but Lorne and the other organizers are also looking to provide more first-hand skating opportunities for the reunion participants.

“What skating reunion would be complete without some skating?” asks Lorne. “A bunch of us from FB became inspired when we came across an event that’s been held at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club for 47 years called Toronto Ice Dance Weekend. Why can’t we do that here in Winnipeg?”

Shuna Heeney, the volunteer organizer of the dance weekend in Toronto agrees it is a huge success and a phenomenal program for keeping everyone active on the ice regardless of their age or ability. “I’m very passionate about promoting social ice dancing. Being able to skate all the Compulsory Dances is an activity that’s growing in popularity around the world. Just here close to the Toronto area, there are similar programs in Hamilton, London, Kitchener and Richmond Hill.”

When Shuna took over the TCSCC Dance Weekend six years ago, awareness of the event was waning. But similar to Lorne’s experience in Manitoba, as soon as she started using Facebook to promote it, interest in participating has triple Axeled. “For the last number of years our numbers have been steadily climbing. Part of it is through growing awareness but we’ve also tried to modernize the experience by using vocal music instead of dancing to repetitive ‘test’ music. Now we’ve created a music library that really livens up the environment and motivates the skaters.”

With more than 100 participants ranging in age from 13 to 87, social dancing at TCSCC offers skaters of all ages the opportunity to enjoy the camaraderie the sport offers.

“Our participants are having fun dancing without being judged,” says Shuna. “We have a wide variety of skill levels and ages. Some are competitors, some are beginners, but regardless of ability, everyone skates with everyone.”

Next year’s event at TCSCC is scheduled for Feb 26-28, 2016.

Back in Winnipeg and following the example set by TCSCC, a reunion committee has been set up with Co-Chairs Lois Howard and Lorne, as well as Leanne Howard, Colleen Woods, and Don Brown leading the planning. Lorne has even booked ice time. “Here’s a chance for former Manitoba skaters to lace up again, remember the dance steps and have some fun.”

And word is spreading fast through social media.

“The list of those confirmed has grown to over 120!” boasts Lorne. “A reunion website is in the works but in the meantime, simply search Manitoba Figure Skating Reunion. It’s all about continuing to enjoy the sport and then passing it on.”

During next year’s Manitoba reunion, the Ice Dance portion of the weekend will be held April 17, 2016 in Winnipeg, the day after the Bursary Ice Show, giving attendees the chance to see the current crop of up-and-comers and then to skate with people they haven’t seen for 30 years or more!

For any other skaters interested in social dancing, Shuna has some advice about how to test out this exciting initiative. “A group called IDOL (Ice Dancers on Line) organizes a database of social ice dancing events in North America to help spread the word. There are lots of social media opportunities through Facebook and Yahoo if anyone wants to find out more.”

Whether you’re in Winnipeg or Toronto, social dancing may be a perfect way for you to continue exploring skating throughout your lifetime.

No partner is required … just come and dance!

Canadore College Students Skate for the First Time

Many skating clubs across Canada are incredibly successful and boast of ever increasing enrollment. Others are facing huge operational challenges. Costs are rising dramatically while membership in some areas is dropping due to competition from other activities and a changing demographic. Even the limited pool of dedicated volunteers is shrinking.

Some clubs like the North Bay Figure Skating Club in Northern Ontario have resorted to developing fundraising initiatives to help defray some of their costs. While the old tried and true fund-raising events have proven to be moderately successful in the past, with dwindling resources and opportunities, this season the club realized it had to get creative and find a fresh new approach to ease the bottom line.

But how?

The club already had history with Canadore College, North Bay’s College of Applied Arts and Technology, when students from the Marketing and Advertising Program helped develop the club’s marketing plans to recruit new members and promote the club to the community. One day during a chance conversation at the rink between a CanSkate parent and the club’s CanSkate Coordinator, the discussion focused on involving the college once again, this time by attracting its international students through some kind of learn-to-skate program.


With the College’s significant international student body, many of whom have never seen ice and snow, the idea of collaborating with the club to create a pilot learn-to-skate program could offer students a brand new Canadian experience.

Fraser Mowat, the College’s International Officer, was quick to see the benefits. “Skating is a slippery experience for all of us and if you have never skated before, the whole experience can be frightening. By using the expertise of the local skating club, the students would gain the ability to challenge the ice and learn from the best.”

North Bay Figure Skating Club President David Villeneuve, also a professor at the college, knew the idea was a perfect fit. “I pursued this partnership and although it took a lot of discussion, we managed to work out some shared ice time with our Preschool program. We knew it would be challenging for the Club and certainly for the coaches that had to deliver the program, but the concept was new, innovative and exciting.”

Once the College was on board, the club moved fast. The idea took root in October with a goal to have the program operating by December. With only two months to figure out the details, planning went into overdrive.

Number one consideration was to create a reasonable environment for these adult skaters. “We decided to split a portion of our Preschool ice,” said David, “so the college-age skaters wouldn’t feel too self-conscious.”

Skating student gets help tying skates.

Photo: PJ Wilson

Another challenge faced was encouraging participants to recognize the need for good equipment. Although Canadore College and the International Department provided skates and helmets, some skaters came with their own skates that had been bought online or from friends … very poor quality, no ankle support and blades so dull, they couldn’t cut through butter.

Designing the actual on-ice program was another exercise in creativity. With coaches and the club working together, it was decided that each student group would have three 45-minute sessions.

Coach Cara Song realized there might be other special circumstances in designing the program. “Considering possible language barriers and differing skating capabilities, running a laid back program that centered on the skaters’ needs and concentrated on the basics seemed to be the best approach.”

The coaches looked forward to every new group of students. “The very first day was so exciting”, admitted Cara. “Initially there were 23 students registered for the first session, and because for most of them it was their first time taking public transit to the rink, they all came staggering in late. We had set up signs all around the arena and were anxiously waiting to meet everyone.”

Standing rink side, David will never forget watching students take those first tentative steps on the ice. “Everyone was clinging to the boards! But with the help and encouragement of our coaches and PA’s the new skaters had an incredible first day. They enjoyed themselves to the point that they were taking selfies and group pictures in their equipment to post on Facebook for family and friends back home.”

Cara agreed. “Everyone was so excited and eager to be there. We had students from all around the world … Asia, Europe, South America. With the exception of a couple of people, most had never ice skated before. There were a few that really picked it up naturally; a handful that relied on skills they had from other sports, like rollerblading; and about half the group that started the session clinging to the boards.”

Language never seemed to be a problem for CanSkate Senior Program Assistant Callie O’Connor. “A couple of times I found myself having to demonstrate and visually show them what to do instead of simply saying it, but obviously over time, they understood clearly.”

One of the first students was Breno da Nobrega Bezerra from Natal, Brazil. “I was excited wondering how it would be and I was a little scared of skating. I had tried do it one time before in Ottawa but I didn’t have the right equipment and I didn’t know how to do it, so I was very happy when some friends talked to me about the skating class.”

“Each class I could improve a little and learn some new things. The instructors helped me to gain confidence, so in the end of skating lessons I had enough confidence to play on ice. It was a great moment for me. I will never forget that!” – Breno da Nobrega Bezerra

For Coach Cara, it was an incredible program in which to be involved. “When you’re working with teens or adults in CanSkate or learn to skate programs, I find there’s a unique passion among the skaters. They all genuinely want to be there. With these international students, their excitement was contagious, and I found myself appreciating the sport more after experiencing it through their fresh eyes.”

Canadore College student learns to skate.

Photo: PJ Wilson

The end results have been inspiring for everyone.

From Canadore’s perspective, Fraser Mowat acknowledged how much all of the students loved the experience and considered it a highlight of their time living in North Bay. “Most of them wanted to go back for more lessons. A few of the students have borrowed skates and gone on their own after finishing their classes.”

Breno is one of them. “Each class I could improve a little and learn some new things. The instructors helped me to gain confidence, so in the end of skating lessons I had enough confidence to play on ice. It was a great moment for me. I will never forget that!”

Cheryl Maltby, another member of the coaching team, was thrilled by the students’ reactions, “On the last day some of the skaters were saying to me that they were going to continue with their skating as much as possible in their home country.”

From the club’s perspective, it’s been a huge win for the community and for the club’s budget. “This has given us the opportunity to build a new community connection with Canadore College” said David. “Since I bridge both of these organizations, I can see how this project could allow us to create connections with other educational and cultural institutions that will allow us to give these programs some additional ice time and coaching. We have tapped into a new population and clientele that we had not thought of before. Canada itself is a nation of immigrants looking for new opportunities, perhaps this could be one of them.”

For other clubs inspired by the North Bay club’s story, David has some sage advice. “Start early. Talk to International Student departments in post-secondary institutions, to local high schools with foreign exchange students and to community multicultural agencies. They’re always looking for unique experiences. Someone is always willing to try if the opportunity is provided.”

If you’re interested in learning to skate, joining a Skate Canada club is easy. There are 1400 clubs across the country for you to choose from … all of them with certified coaching and nationally recognized programming.

To find the club nearest you, check out our clubfinder and embrace the joy of skating.

And finally … congratulations to North Bay Figure Skating Club for developing more skaters for life!

Perseverance pays off as Michelle Long realizes lifelong dream in Kingston

Tears began to flow from Michelle Long’s eyes before the music even stopped.

As the 22-year-old put the finishing touches on her free program during the recent Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, Long’s emotions got the better of her, and she wept, an ear-to-ear smile etched across her face.

No, Long didn’t leave Kingston with a medal tucked away inside her suitcase.

She didn’t care. Sometimes, triumph isn’t measured in gold, silver and bronze.

By the time Richmond Training Centre stablemate Gabrielle Daleman stepped off the top step on the podium clutching her first Canadian senior women’s gold medal, Long, along with coaches Robert Burk and Danielle Rose, were long immersed in their own perfect euphoria.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Long beamed minutes after her free program in Kingston.

“This is something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. To finally be able to make it to the Canadian championships and skate a personal best in the free skate, I am just so happy right now.”

The record book will show that Long finished seventh at her first national championships.

What it won’t show is her story.

Although she went through the CanSkate program at an early age, Long didn’t start skating competitively until she was a pre-novice 15-year-old. It’s just been the past four years that she has seriously chased her goal of competing for a national title.

“I really wanted to focus on my dream, and make it to the Canadian championships,” she says. “That was all I wanted. Nothing more.”

That rather ambitious vision seemed to hit a roadblock in December 2013, when, competing at Skate Canada Challenge, Long came achingly close to earning a berth in the 100th national championships in Ottawa, Ont.

But close wasn’t good enough. Instead of competing, she bought a ticket and travelled to the nation’s capital to watch.

That experience was a painful one, Long admits, but it also steeled her resolve.

“That was a big disappointment,” admits Long.

“That Challenge was tough to take. I wasn’t sure if I should continue or not. That was one of the toughest moments, watching those first couple of groups (in Ottawa) and knowing I should have been there.”

This past December, at Challenge in Pierrefonds, Que., she wouldn’t make the same mistake again, finishing fourth to punch her ticket to Kingston.

“She is a friend with an incredible work ethic,” says Daleman, the newly minted Canadian women’s champion.

“I couldn’t be any happier for Michelle. No one works harder than she does.”

Her unlikely story is even more astounding when you consider Long balances her training by holding down three serving/bartending jobs and part-time studies at York University. On a typical day, she is up at 7:00 a.m., and goes non-stop. By the time she leaves work, it is after 2 a.m. the next morning.

Less than five hours later, she is up to do it all again. All for the love of a sport.

“The passion she has for skating is truly a joy to see,” says Burk. “Michelle can go as far as she wants to go. With her drive, she can keep going up. We keep telling her ‘we believe in you.’ You can see it in her eyes.

”She now knows what we’ve known all along. She is good enough. Now we just have to get her there.”

“It’s special,” adds Rose. “You don’t see that very often. When someone has that much love, that much passion, you have all the time in the world for them. What we see at practice is national level. Now everyone else can see it, as well.”

Five years ago, when Skate Canada International was staged in Kingston, Long attended the event with her mother, rubbing shoulders with a few skaters during the week.

It was then she began to dream.

“Back then, I never really saw myself here,” Long concedes. “It seemed so far off, so unlikely, but I kept pushing myself.”

Five years later, she was back in Kingston. This time, she wasn’t watching from the seats.

“I’ve never skated in front of this kind of crowd before. It was just surreal. To be out here, to see it all happen, to step out in front of those TV lights….”

She pauses, choking back the tears again.

“In the end, it was bigger than I dreamed. It’s a feeling you can’t explain unless you’ve experienced it.”

The dream may have been realized, but Long insists it is just the beginning. She is asked where she envisions herself a year from now.

“On the podium,” she say, not missing a beat.

“On the national team. Why not?”

Why not, indeed.

Michelle Long doesn’t have time to concern herself with odds.

Follow Michelle Long on Twitter @TheMichelleLong

CanSkate Developing Champions in Every Ice Sport

Paige Lawrence and a CanSkate student. A fuzzy video shows Jeff Skinner doing double jumps, footwork, a camel spin with his hands behind his back, all manner of things showing various skating skills.

He was a little mop-haired kid who was good enough to win the bronze medal at the juvenile level at the 2004 Skate Canada Junior Nationals.

That was 11 years ago. So where is he now? Jeff Skinner, who used to take lessons at the York Region Skating Academy, now plays for the Carolina Hurricanes of the National Hockey League. He’s racked up all sorts of important hockey milestones: the youngest (18) to play in the NHL All-Star Game and winner of the Calder Trophy for the league’s top rookie in 2010-2011.

Best of all, there is the famous hockey video of Skinner ripping off a single Axel in hockey skates to avoid a hit at the red line during a game.

See what CanSkate can do for you?

You see, CanSkate isn’t just for figure skaters who want to learn spins and jumps and Russian splits. The CanSkate of today teaches skating for all – for recreational skaters, or for anyone who straps on a pair of blades to cruise around an ice surface: hockey players, short track speed skaters, long track speed skaters, all of them.

It’s not out of the pale to see that some of Canada’s finest ice-sport dynamos have had their start in Skate Canada’s CanSkate program. And with the revamping of the system – to focus on efficient, fun skill development at the proper stages of life – CanSkate will become the go-to source of skating skills in the country in years to come.

Yes, Marie-Philip Poulin, currently Canada’s most formidable women’s hockey player and a star at the past two Olympic Games got her start as a figure skater at a little club in Beauceville, Quebec at age four. By five, she was playing hockey. But in that one year of instruction, Poulin said the most important thing that skating lessons taught her was balance. “It’s a good way to start, without pucks,” she said. “I think just being coordinated in figure skating, that’s the main part. To learn how to stop and start and stay on your feet, that’s key for sure.”

Currently, Poulin is probably one of the most agile skaters on the ice, thanks to all the lessons on skills and edges and crossovers. She progressed through all the levels very quickly.

“I think I was lucky to learn to skate right away instead of having to try to figure it out on my own,” Poulin said. “I’m always impressed with how skate, but as a hockey player, just turning, quick stops and starts, there’s a lot behind it. It’s not just your legs. It’s your whole body that needs to be stable and just being able to be quick on your feet.”

Olympic short-track speed skater Valerie Maltais took CanSkate lessons for two years at a tiny club near La Baie, Quebec, before she started school.

“I think it helps me with my agility just on the turns and the edges and the straightaway,” Maltais said. “The first thing you learn in short track is just to stay on your feet and crossover,” she said. However, short trackers skate only in one direction, so skaters tend to become more agile on one side of their bodies than the other. But Maltais is a little different from most: her skating lessons taught her to continue to train and turn and do cross-overs on both sides, which helps maintain muscle balance. And one added bonus: she knows how to skate backwards, too.

“I learned really good basics for skating,” Maltais said. “If one day, I have kids who do short track, I think I will introduce them with figure skating. It’s a very good base to learn.”

There is an impressive list of the members of Canada’s men’s hockey team in Sochi who learned their early skills in a CanSkate program: Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, Nathan Mackinnon of the Colorado Avalanche ( he has speed to burn); Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings (started skating at age two); Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks (known as a good skater); Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, (has impressive speed); Troy Brouwer of the Washington Capitals; and Cody Hodgson of the Buffalo Sabres.

It only made sense that a hockey parent one day asked Olympic pair champion David Pelletier if he would help his son improve his skating skills. The dad told other dads. Soon, Pelletier started working with a novice hockey team in Edmonton, and then last April, the Edmonton Oilers came calling, asking him to focus on player development, mainly with the farm team and draft players.

Hockey coaches tend to focus on system passing and shooting and only a little bit on skating, Pelletier said. “There are parents out there who have the time and desire to help out, but they might not have the qualifications to teach skating.

“We [figure skaters] spend every year until we retire to perfect skating,” Pelletier said. “Patrick Chan spends the first 10 minutes of every practice on skating skills. It teaches balance, change of direction. I find a lot of hockey players, even the big guys, don’t know how to use their upper body to make the feet do what you want them to do.”

These days, Pelletier said, you cannot be a great hockey player without being a good skater. The game moves faster than ever before. Now the demand for proper skating skill training is growing.

Pelletier says 1984 world pair champion Barbara Underhill inspired him to take this new course in life. He’s never talked to her about it, but he knows her path. “I could see when she talked about it at “Battle of the Blades” the first year, there was a spark in her eye,” he said.

Underhill now works on improving the skating skills of hockey players for the Anaheim Ducks, the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2012, she began to work with the Toronto Maples Leafs, too, using Dartfish technology to analyze strides and body movement to improve efficiency, speed and balance. In 2011, The Hockey News ranked Underhill as one of the 100 most influential people in hockey.

“Sometimes I shake my head and I can’t believe it,” Underhill said. “I wake up every day and can’t wait to get to the rink and see who I’m working with.”