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Return to Train/Play: Figure Skating

Nickel Blades head coach Fattin Mahfouz echoes a very common sentiment in the midst of a global pandemic.

“I’m probably averaging three to four zoom meetings a day with skaters,” she stated recently, just prior to the return of her athletes to the ice, following the lockdown. “I’ve never had so many meetings in my life.”

“It’s been a crazy year.”

That is has, for pretty much the entirety of amateur sports in this country, and certainly in these parts. First, for Mahfouz and company, came the adjustment to the on-ice program offerings, the alterations that were needed simply to conform to the COVID protocols of Skate Canada, or the guidelines of the local health unit.

While the instructions from those parties were often closely aligned, there was a need to ensure an adherence to rules which could, at times, differ ever so slightly. All in all, this former member of the Gloucester Skating Club is not about to complain.

“The kids have been really good, they’ve adapted well,” said Mahfouz. “We keep a safe distance from the skaters, which is hard in skating because we usually would help them with their arm and leg placements, placing their body where it needs to be. Without being able to touch them this year, it has been difficult.”

From a club standpoint, perhaps even more challenging as the lack of physical contact would be the fact that Skate Ontario has completely abolished Learn to Skate for the 2020-2021 season, the pre Can Skate offerings that typically attract very large numbers, children between 18 months to four years old, taking their first precocious steps on the ice.

“But I am always trying to look at the positives,” interjected Mahfouz. “The lockdown worked to our benefit, in a sense, when it came to the off-ice training.” In non-pandemic times, dryland might take place once or twice a week, the priority lying with the time on ice that the skaters can enjoy, most often to the tune of four or five days a week, for the most competitive sorts.

Between complete closure of arenas and the limitations of numbers on the ice surface at any one time, every athlete has had to bite the bullet, at least a little. The Nickel Blades, like so many others sports groups locally, did their best to counteract that inactivity. “We’ve really had to rely on zoom to work with them on their off-ice training,” said Mahfouz.

“I am originally from Ottawa, so we’ve been able to get a lot of my old off-ice trainers from there to work with our kids here in Sudbury, on-line. This has been great for our kids – we’ve never had this opportunity before. But with COVID here, we have to think outside of the box.”

“We have ballet on one specific night, a conditioning night – one friend from Ottawa even teaches joga (“yoga for jocks”),” she added. “Ben Guthrie (originally from Marathon – competed at nationals) has been doing off-ice jumping with them, via zoom. They do double jumps, right on the ground, to mimic what they would do on the ice.”

Yet another common refrain of these times is the frustration that both athletes and coaches are feeling about the inability to put practice into play, at least not in the way that they have all become accustomed to, over the years.

“We did run a mock competition,” said Mahfouz. “We had in town judges come in and give them feedback, just like a regular competition. The kids kind of competed against themselves, trying to get a personal best score. We had the actual sheets, the report cards, to hand out to the kids.”

“It was kind of nice, even if not exactly the same.”

“At least they were able to get dressed up and perform their solo that they haven’t had the chance to compete this year.”

And, of course, it was on-ice, which is nice.

Zoom meetings have helped and are likely here to stay – but they are not the same. And Fattin Mahfouz, like most of us, has probably reached a point of being completely zoomed-out.

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