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Judging jumps and lifts and spins is a passion for Eric Charette

"This was my way of giving back to a sport that has given so much to me."

In less than twenty words, Eric Charette succinctly summarized the prevailing sentiment of so many local athletes.

In the case of the former Chelmsford (Figure) Skating Club member who twice represented Canada in a pairs event with partner Cassandra Oakley, the "pay-it-forward" context would come in the form of judging.

But only after his skating career had run its course.

The eldest of four children in the family, Charette took quickly to the sport of figure skating, competing primarily in men's singles events through until his early teens. "I had a few decent results in singles skating, but never got further than Challenge," he said, referencing the meet that falls one step short of qualifying for nationals.

"I saw the pairs as an opportunity to maybe compete internationally."

Skating for three years in Ottawa and another three with the famed Mariposa Skating Club in Barrie, Charette and Oakley would earn the trip to junior nationals and Canadians on a couple of occasions.

And though the reality of the end of his competitive streak was apparent, Charette was nowhere close to being ready to abandon his passion for coming to the rink, embracing the world of spins and lifts, of axels and lutzes, of edges and jumps.

Approached at one of his final events, the young man who was now pursuing his business certificate at Georgian College opted to undertake the technical specialist training, right at the time that the sport was moving from the old judging system (based on a perfect score of 6.0) to the new points based system.

"From the perspective of an athlete, or even a parent, the new system is more black and white, there is less grey area," said Charette, equipped these days with almost 15 years of experience as a judge of singles and pairs competitions.

"If someone lands a triple axel, you know that they are going to get "X" amount of points for it. They can lose or add points, depending on the quality of the jump. There is more transparency with the sport now."

Charette would throw himself into his new role with the same fervour and zest that he exhibited as a skater. "I was very gung-ho, very eager," he said. "Those first couple of years, I was judging close to 30 weekends a year."

"The hardest thing, at the beginning, was judging the skaters that I was previously competing against."

Through his role with Boston Pizza, Charette would see the door opened for a chance to return home. Roughly a decade ago, he full-circled his way back to Sudbury. And while he hasn't shelved his love of judging, much has changed.

"The older you get, the more life happens," Charette noted with a smile. "When you have a young family, it's tough to put in the same amount of hours that you were at the beginning."

Mind you, there is a little wisdom that also builds over time.

"I think my perspective has changed, a little bit," he said. "I think I'm more patient. If I were to give feedback to a skater now, it would be way more detailed and enhanced than the feedback I would have been giving 15 years ago."

"I just have the experience now of sitting on the other side of the boards."

As such, Charette has been afforded the ability to adjudicate skaters right up to the level of the Challenge meet, and Junior Nationals, though one of his fondest memories comes from working as an assistant technical rep with the Special Olympics Ontario Winter Games.

"If you ever wonder what you're getting out of your sport, these people will remind you," he said. "Just watching that, as a judge, there were times I was almost in tears, just seeing that kind of love of the sport."

When Eric and his wife Kendall welcomed the birth of their daughter (Gabrielle ) three and a half years ago, things would get even busier - in more ways than one. "She (Gabby) started skating last year, so that gave me the coaching itch," said Charette.

"I made the decision to go back and get my coaching certificate."

And while part of the motivation is to support his daughter, the truth is that Charette also dreams of a larger vision. "My goal would be to start a pairs program here in Sudbury; that would be my long-term goal for our region."

Yet it's a region at a cross-roads.

Earlier this fall, the Walden Skating Club announced that they were ceasing operations, a move spurred on by the pandemic, but also one which recognized some of the challenges that figure skating is facing, as a sport.

It's a topic that Charette believes must continue to be discussed among all those who hold the sport near and dear in Greater Sudbury.

"There is a lot of history in this city," he said. "We have a lot of clubs that have been around for a very long time, a lot of coaches and volunteers that have been involved for a very long time."

"As is typical with any sport, these people have their home base that they want to support. They want to hold on to that as long as they can. It was tough to see Walden close, that one kind of hit home."

"But these conversations about a more regionalized approach, I think, have been happening behind the scenes for a while now. I think everyone is afraid of making that change - but we don't have as many children involved in the sport, partially because of the size of families."

"I do think we do need to come to a point where we do have less clubs," Charette continued. "For the long-term health of our sport, it makes sense to become a more centralized region."

Giving back to a sport that you love is not always easy.

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