Skaters live a life full of lessons, off-ice training

 
By Arlene Miles
Updated 1/26/2011 11:16 AM
hello
  • Kaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

      Kaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn. PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COM

  • @SP Caption credit:photos by PAUL MICHNA@SP Caption:Kaitrin Colby, shown practicing at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn, is close to landing her first triple jumps.

    @SP Caption credit:photos by PAUL MICHNA@SP Caption:Kaitrin Colby, shown practicing at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn, is close to landing her first triple jumps.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

    PAUL MICHNA/PMICHNA@DAILYHERALD.COMKaitrin Colby practices at Center Ice in Glen Ellyn.

  • @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD@SP Caption:Jordan Moeller practices at the North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook.

    @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD@SP Caption:Jordan Moeller practices at the North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook.

  • @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com@SP Caption:Skaters Jordan Moeller, left, and Jason Brown during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

    @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com@SP Caption:Skaters Jordan Moeller, left, and Jason Brown during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comSkater Jason Brown practices at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

    JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comSkater Jason Brown practices at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

  • @SP Caption credit:photos by JOE LEWNARD@SP Caption:Jason Brown executes a jump, left, and works with coach Kori Ade, right, at North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook. This week he is competing in the U.S. Figure Skating men's championships in North Carolina. He won the senior men's division in the short program and free skate at the Midwestern Sectionals in Ann Arbor, Mich., in November.

    @SP Caption credit:photos by JOE LEWNARD@SP Caption:Jason Brown executes a jump, left, and works with coach Kori Ade, right, at North Shore Ice Arena in Northbrook. This week he is competing in the U.S. Figure Skating men's championships in North Carolina. He won the senior men's division in the short program and free skate at the Midwestern Sectionals in Ann Arbor, Mich., in November.

  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comJason Brown skates during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

    JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comJason Brown skates during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

  • @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com@SP Caption:Skater Jason Brown with coach Kori Ade during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

    @SP Caption credit:JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.com@SP Caption:Skater Jason Brown with coach Kori Ade during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comJason Brown skates during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

    JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comJason Brown skates during practice at the North Shore Ice Arena, Northbrook.

Imagine gliding across on a slippery surface on a blade that's only 1/8-inch thick, then launching into the air and spinning simultaneously to land on one leg.

Competitive figure skaters do that almost every day with most toiling in relative obscurity unless their talent takes them to the U.S. Figure Skating Association's senior national championships, the sport's annual glamour event which is now under way in North Carolina.

Watching these athletes compete at such high levels -- and gain national attention at the same time -- may spark an interest in skating for both children and parents who are looking for a sport for their child.

But how do you know if this sport is right for your child, or your family?

By the time competitive figure skaters reach their teens, many have taken lessons for a decade or more, working on their craft year-round.

"Eat, sleep, go to the rink" is a popular slogan on buttons and bumper stickers at the rinks.

A skater may start out practicing at a nearby rink, but as talent develops the skater may train at a rink farther from home. Some even move to other states to find the proper coaching fit.

That's a fact of life four times a week for U.S. Intermediate Men's Champion Jordan Moeller, who goes from his home in Oak Lawn to the North Shore to work with coach Kori Ade. Moeller's mother, Martha, who is a band director, rearranges her private lesson schedule to accommodate her son's lessons.

"You go where the coaching is," said Lois Colby of Lombard, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kaitrin, travels regularly to Buffalo Grove's Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion for lessons with Mary Collins, who has coached the novice level skater for the past seven years.

Novice skaters are far from beginners. Kaitrin Colby has a solid double axel jump, is close to landing her first two triple jumps -- the Salchow and toe loop -- and has a full repertoire of spins.

"If I try really hard, I think I can land most of my triples during the next year," Kaitrin said.

The image of the coach and the skater at the sideboards at competitions is burned into the skating psyche, yet that's only once piece of the puzzle. In essence, a good coach is not only an instructor, but also an overseer of ballet, off-ice conditioning and strength training, as well as friend, confidant and even amateur sports psychologist.

"With the new international judging system in place, there are more demands put on the skater in terms of athleticism required to remain competitive in the sport," said Francine Larson, skating director at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge. "In this system, all elements are awarded levels and values. The more difficult the jump, spin, footwork, the higher the levels and values are. Skaters today need to be good at jumping and spinning and have good skating skills -- speed and edge quality. In order to do this, the skater needs to work hard on the ice and off the ice."

Recreation vs. competition

Of course, not every skater starts out with a full complement of dance, off-ice training, and on-ice instruction. Commitment increases gradually and is dependent on talent, desire, and parental resources. Skaters usually start with class lessons, and add private lessons if they want to progress more quickly.

"There are so many levels of competitive skating that you can really choose how serious you want to be," said Collins, who usually starts her skaters at a less intensive event.

Some skaters begin by participating at Ice Skating Institute competitions, which are designated for recreational skaters. That's where Kaitrin Colby started before having Collins as her coach. Over the past decade, however, the USFSA has added levels, including basic skills competitions and test tracks.

For the most serious, the entire year revolves around doing well at qualifying regional competition so that one can move onto sectionals, and then onto national competition. Skaters in the Chicago area compete at Upper Great Lakes Regionals, which occurred in early October. From there, competitors move onto Midwestern Sectionals in November and onto what is sometimes referred to as "big" nationals, going on right now for Novice, Junior and Senior level skaters, or junior nationals, for Juvenile and Intermediate levels, which took place in November.

Cross-training

As a skater gets more serious and competitive, so does the time spent on the ice. Dance instruction is an important element to foster grace on the ice, so even recreational competitors as young as 5 years old augment their skating with a ballet class. Coaches have distinct preferences as to what cross training they want their skaters to have, but it's a safe bet to say that the more serious the skater, the more off-ice training required.

"I usually start kids with an off-ice trainer when they are doing full revolution jumps," Collins said. "I use a physical therapist/personal trainer to assess the kids before they start an off-ice program. I think it's more about their level of skating than their age."

Boys who skate

The psyche of male skaters is particularly important as they face unique challenges. For one, their strength often causes them to make mistakes such as popping, or opening up on jumps, meaning that they will execute a single jump instead of a triple. More importantly, however, most experience harassment at some point for being in a sport that's seen as overwhelmingly feminine.

Coach Kori Ade seems to have found the answer to reaching male skaters. Instructing out of several rinks in the Northern suburbs -- Buffalo Grove, Northbrook, North Shore Ice Rink and Winnetka, among others -- she has built a cadre of successful skaters that includes Moeller, the current U.S. Junior Men's Junior Champion Jason Brown of Highland Park, as well as several other male skaters who competed at Midwestern Sectionals, where Brown was named the champion in the senior division and Moeller placed third in the novice division.

A self-confessed science nerd with a degree in forensic skeletal biology, Ade has a different way of relating to male skaters.

"Boys are told from the beginning that they are tough and they just need to do it," Ade said. "I try to coach them the way they are socialized. I tell them that they can't be afraid of this experience. I don't walk on eggshells with any of my skaters, but especially not with my boys."

She harnesses a pack mentality that she feels boys tend to harbor by giving her male skaters semiprivate group lessons where they feed off each other's energy. Ade has also developed what she calls TAPS, or total athlete performance seminars, that her skaters attend as a team. Topics covered include nutrition, visualization and sports psychology.

The coach-athlete connection is strong between Ade and her skaters, particularly Brown, whom she has coached since he was 5 years old.

"She's like a close friend, kind of like a mother, a mentor," Brown said. "She really helps me get mentally and physically prepared into the competition mode."

Brown is also a good role model, Ade noted, providing his own brand of mentoring for his training partners, particularly Moeller, who has blossomed with confidence since winning his Intermediate title last spring.

"I really like being up there (training in Northbrook) with the better skaters," Moeller said. "The training keeps me in good shape."

Immediate goals for Brown and Moeller are to add jumps to their repertoire. For Brown, it's the triple axel, which no senior male skater can do well without at nationals. Moeller needs to master the remainder of his triple jumps, including landing a triple Lutz.

Benefits off the ice

While that national or Olympic title is always in the minds of skaters, for most it will only be an elusive dream. So what's the purpose of spending thousands of dollars and not being able to participate in some of the traditional rites of adolescence? There's magic in launching one's self off the ice.

"I love the feeling that I'm flying through the air, rotating 2 times and landing on one foot," Kaitrin said.

Yet it goes beyond merely improving skills.

"Mary and I have a close relationship and I know she's not only trying to make me a better skater, she's trying to make me a better person," she added.

The lessons aren't lost, either, on the parents.

"Skating has made Jordan much more mature," said Martha Moeller. "He's very disciplined with his time."

Being well organized and good academically is a characteristic of most competitive skaters.

"She (Kaitrin) has to manage her time well," said Lois Colby. "I think skating makes her a stronger person and will shape her even if it doesn't take her where she wants to go."

So is it worth missing out on events with high school friends to spend most of your life on the ice?

Said Kaitrin without hesitation, "Oh, definitely."