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Skaters happy to be back on the ice, on surfaces big and small

Typically, the local figure skating set would be polishing up the key elements of their new programs by this time of year, having started the process of selecting new music and striking a choreographic mix that might play to their strength on the ice.

The final few months, those just before the fall and winter competitive season, might include some tinkering with skills that have not quite yet been mastered.

Typically, the task of ensuring that skaters are ready to tackle the 2020-2021 campaign would already be well underway.

But as we have all been reminded, the year of the virus has been anything but typical.

"I am doing a different solo, but the same interpretative (as last year)," said Sierra Beaudry, a 12 year skater from Azilda, one of more than a dozen or so girls working out at the Countryside Gerry McCrory Sports Complex. "I have never competed my interpretative from last year."

"For my short, I kept the same one as last year, just because I didn't get a chance to do it for very long," added Vanessa Major, three years the senior of her Sudbury Skating Club teammate. "Last month, I picked out a new song for my long program. I'm pretty excited to get a chance to compete with my jumps and stuff."

"I have a really good connection with this music," Major stated. "It's really lyrical, and I'm more of a lyrical person."

The constant that is change is every bit as much a part of the life of a local figure skater as it is for folks in virtually every other facet of life. As the few dozen young women returned to the ice a week or so ago, they find themselves a few months behind the timelines that they have become accustomed to.

For Beaudry, who will begin her grade eight year shortly at Ecole Ste Marie, she enters a little bit of the unknown, all while building on some key positives. "A lot of people told me that I got way better last year," she said. "I moved up two levels last year."

"Usually, you only do one, but I actually moved up two, so that was pretty good. I got better just in my skating, in general, my jumping and everything."

When the 2019-2020 experience was cut short in mid-March, Beaudry would simply insert a little more of her favourite pastime, outside of skating. "I was on my dirt bike, pretty much every second weekend," she explained. While the two activities would seem to be unlikely partners, the young athlete with a preference towards more up-beat music, accompanying her routines, suggested that there might be some unexpected transferable skills.

"I feel that dirt biking builds up more strength in my knees," she said. "And my knees are not good."

While practice sessions are but a week or two old, the skaters actually got a bit of a head start, taking advantage of the opportunity to get some work in at RHP while waiting for city facilities to open.

"We were only allowed a few people on the ice, and I was one of those people," said Bobbie Lafreniere Brabant, a 13 year-old grade eight student at Ecole Notre-Dame in Hanmer. "It was fun to be back. We were just doing edges and stuff. I think the pressure was kind of off, so that we could go back to normal again, gradually."

"The ice is a little smaller there and we were allowed 15 people on the ice at one time, so it felt even smaller. You really had to look out (for other skaters)."

And though the unanticipated break from her primary sport may have set her back, just a touch, Lafreniere Brabant is determined to make up for lost time, even if there remains no certainty of competitions, at the moment. "I don't find it difficult, just practicing, because at least you're doing something, some physical activity," she said.

"Sometimes, if I have a hard time with some of the movements, I just practice more and more to make those movements better, just try and do them as many times as possible to keep it in my memory."

As for Vanessa Major, who had qualified for provincials for the first time in the spring, only to see the entire event cancelled, her goal for whatever might be of the 2020-2021 season remains crystal clear - look to qualify, for a second time, but getting a chance to compete for the first.

"When we came back on the ice, it felt really different, it was kind of hard to get used to it again," said the grade 10 athlete from College Notre-Dame. "It made me a little nervous coming back after so long. The jumps that I had not worked on a lot before we left were not that great, but now, I am getting them back again. And my spins were still pretty good."

Where some competitors shudder at the thought of competitions, the eyes of the crowd fixated on that singular lonely skater on the ice, Major welcomes the moment. "For me, I personally really like competing, because it brings me out of my shell," she said. "I tend to do better at competitions, under pressure."

"It helps prepare me for even tougher competitions."

Whether those competitions come to fruition remains to be seen. In the meantime, coach Heather Basso is thankful for any return to skating. "When we first went back, we were able to get ice at RHP, but it was only six skaters and one coach," suggested the Sudbury Skating Club coaching fixture.

"We spent a lot of group time together, which was very beneficial. The ice surface is smaller, so we couldn't do any programming, we couldn't do solos, but we could do a lot of exercising. Now that they are in the big rink, I would suggest that they are pretty much back to where they were, just because they spent that extra time on basics, which wasn't a bad thing."

As for her four month hiatus from on-ice instructing, Basso was more than happy to take it all in stride. "I actually did a lot of walking, becoming more active and having more time for myself," she said. "A lot of my time, normally, is not just the skating, but all of the volunteer work that we do to make sure the club runs well."

"We had beautiful weather, so we really took advantage - but it was different."

Different, indeed - not at all typical, one might even say.

Sudbury Wolves