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Skaters all alone in a packed Garson Arena
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With more than 300 skaters representing some thirty clubs from across the north as well as Toronto, Minto SC (Ottawa), Barrie and Ville Marie (PQ) gathered in town for the Provincial Series #2 Skate Ontario event, Garson Arena was a busy place last weekend, teaming with people.

And yet there is a solitude for the likes of Karina Schryer and Marie-Pier Lemieux and Emma Chateauvert and their dozens of fellow competitors, that realization that once you are out on the ice, you are pretty much completely on your own, with all eyes fixated in your direction.

It’s that ability to overcome, to dig deep and put themselves out there that drives so many successful figure skaters – and the ability to overcome, regardless of just how well your performance is going.

“I have been having a tough few months,” confessed Marie-Pier Lemieux, a 15 year-old Star 6/7 competitor representing the Kapuskasing Figure Skating Club. “Usually when I would do a jump and fall, I couldn’t get that out of my mind. I would think about it the whole time. The goal for today was: if I fall, forget about it and do the rest of your solo.”

That she did, drawing upon the very attraction of the sport itself, the artistic side that drew her from hockey to figure skating some eight years ago. “I liked watching it and thought it looked beautiful,” suggested Lemieux, a grade 10 student at Kapuskasing District High-School.

“The graceful moves, I am pretty natural at; it’s kind of easy. On the athletic side, I have to push myself.”

When it came to the long program, clearly her preference, Lemieux suggested that the timing of her double double (double salchow / double loop) was quite strategic, aimed to ensure a positive mindset as she carries of the balance of her performance.

“For my Star 6 (long program), its right at the beginning,” she said. “For me, the double salchow is the easiest double jump. For some people, it’s hard – but for me, it feels way more comfortable than the axel, for instance. The way that my long (program) is choreographed, I like it better. It’s longer and harder and has more jumps.”

While Karina Schryer of the hometown Nickel Blades Skating Club also performed both her short and long solos, she also has some experience with sharing the ice with a partner. Teaming with Nathan Cameron, the pair are one of two dance teams competing in Northern Ontario (the other being clubmates Gabrielle Charette and Adrian Schryer, a tandem who absolutely stole the show with the “Future Stars” performance).

For this weekend, however, the 16 year old who has only been skating for five years was on her own – and more than comfortable doing so, apparently. “I was a little nervous, as I usually am when I go on, but I was more ready to perform without stressing over the little things I might do wrong,” said Schryer.

It all plays into her approach for the 2023-2024 season as she wrapped up her first competition of the year. “Skill-wise, I would like to get personal best scores in competitions and pass my next level of tests – but from a mental standpoint, I just want to enjoy my skates throughout the year and not stress over being perfect.”

Ironically, the fact that this particular meet was hosted by her own club actually helped a little in achieving that last goal. “There are pros and cons (to being at home) – but I really enjoyed being here to learn how a competition takes place, how everything is put together,” she said. “We get to help and watch a lot of other skaters.”

“I found that it really helped me calm down yesterday,” Schryer added. “It distanced me.”

A dancer in her youth, the spirited young woman carries much of that background to her new passion on the ice, covering a wide range of musicality. “I like the slower songs, the more emotional ones,” she said. “But I also enjoy a good tango – even if the footwork is faster and the timing is more difficult to catch up on.”

The discussion can also become an interesting one at times between Emma Chateauvert, who skated beautifully in finishing second in her Star 8 long program and Copper Cliff Skating Club coach Trish Houley Kozachanko.

“I tend to like fast music – it gets me going,” said Chateauvert, who followed in the footsteps of her older twin sisters in pursuing skating – though the urgings of their grandmother, a former figure skater herself, may have played into the decision as well. “My coach likes it when I skate slow, but I like to skate fast.”

Truth be told, skaters of all ages and sizes share many commonalities – including the need to create a pre-skate routine and cling to it. “I am definitely still going to get nervous just because it’s a natural thing – but my coach helps,” said Chateauvert. “We do our warmups upstairs and put my music in and it helps to calm the nerves.”

And much like Marie-Pier Lemieux, nothing is left to chance when it comes to the ordering sequence of the elements in her program. “My combo is right at the beginning,” said Chateauvert, alluding to the jump-spin tandem that she performs well, far more often than not.

“I know that if I blow that or don’t do it as well as I can, then my mindset will change, just because it’s the first thing in my solo. If I don’t do that well, I get discouraged. The key is to take my time going into it, not to rush – and just stay focused.”

Local skaters took full advantage of the comfort of skating in a familiar venue, with loads of Sudbury champions, including Jenna Kutchaw (gold in Star 9), who unleashed the skate of her life in establishing a new personal best score, all while leaving coaches, families and friends in tears.

Other champions of note were:
Star 5 Artistic - Eliana Schryer* - Nickel Blades
Star 7 O12 Men - Nathan Cameron* - Nickel Blades (also silver in Star 6 men)
Pre-Juvenile U11 Women - Angela Tripodi - Sudbury
Star 7 U12 Women - Angela Tripodi - Sudbury
Star 9 U14 Women - Eva Baronette - Sudbury
Star 5 U10 Women - Allie Baronette - Sudbury
Gold Women & Star 9 O14 Women - Delaney Schumacher - Lake Superior
Juvenile Women U14 - Alexa Gelinas - North Bay
Star 10 Women - Eve-Marie Beach - Lake Superior
Star 8 Women - Laurane Prevost - CPA Les Tourbillons de Ville-Marie
Star 7 O12 Women - Sadie Armstrong - Orillia FSC
Gold Artistic - Regan French - Skate Muskoka

Kristen Kutchaw (Nickel Blades) earned a bronze in Star 4 U13 women grouping and then raised the bar for herself with a new high score in finishing fourth in Star 5 artistic.