There was already an interesting variety of view points and objectives that local competitive figure skaters would take into a new season, and that was before the entire landscape of the sport was shifted this year in Northern Ontario.
With the elimination of regional representation in this area, beginning this fall, the crew of competitors, largely from the Sudbury Skating Club, have another twist added to the mix, affecting what may or may not be realistic goals for the 2017-2018 campaign.
Seventeen year old Stefanie Bernier was already dealing with making the jump to the Junior Women’s bracket for the very first time, even before Sectionals in the north became a thing of the past. Like most of her competitive teammates, she sees both sides of the issue.
“For some people, it’s kind of a discouragement with this whole shift,” said Bernier. “For some people, they’re more motivated to push themselves, because you have to work really hard for what you want. I’m kind of in the middle, because I just moved up a category.”
“Some days, I don’t want to do this anymore, and some days, I think I just need to push through, let’s go,” she admitted candidly. “I mean, it’s not terrible, it’s not like we don’t have a shot at all, we just need to push ourselves even more. I do think it is good for this club. Our good enough is not good enough anymore.”
Where moving on from Northern Sectionals to the Western Challenge was almost a given, a bi-product of numbers so small in the north as to have more allowable entries in some brackets than the number of skaters entered, the goal is now to make it to provincial Sectionals, a much stiffer test.
Not surprisingly, this forces the Sudbury contingent to be at their absolute best to even have a chance. “There is one jump in my solo that I know I can’t land yet, but I need that jump to be able to add another jump, so it’s there and I just need to try it,” said Bernier. “But there are other jumps that I know I can land."
“It’s a matter of trusting your training. I just have to shut off my brain in competitions and let my muscles do what they’re used to doing. It’s when I overthink that I get into trouble.” SSC veteran Alyssa Murray has been down that path countless times before.
Now 19 years of age and entering her third year of her Bio Chemistry program studies at Laurentian University, Murray will compete in Senior Women’s bracket for the very first time. Thankfully, it is the one classification that is somewhat immune to the off-season changes.
“For my division, it’s not crazy, because there’s not many senior women to begin with,” explained Murray. “So right now, it’s about getting a good score, landing triples, and not so much about qualifying.”
In the case of Murray, however, there are other factors at play, most notably that balance between her athletic and academic pursuits. “I’m the only skater than I know of that is doing full-time post-secondary studies and skating at this level,” she said. “There are a lot of people investing more time than me in their skating.”
“I need to come here, get as much done as I can, and then try and leave and go do homework. You have to leave school in the dressing room. When you step on the ice, it’s all about skating. It does give me a nice break from school when I’m skating.”
Understandably, her goals reflect the stage of life she is dealing with. “I would like to go and make it to Challenge and hopefully qualify for nationals,” said Murray. “It’s a longshot, but I always say if I made it to nationals, I could retire just knowing that I had made it there.”
Sixteen year old Megan Howell has opted not to enter the chase for Sectionals this year. Competing in the Novice Ladies division, she will attend similar events, without the end goal of advancing to the next stage – at least for this year.
“I knew there was a very slim chance that I would qualify, so right now, it’s just about trying to better myself as a skater,” noted the grade 11 student at St Benedict Catholic Secondary School. “I struggle a lot with my consistency in my skating, mainly with my confidence, because I “pop” a lot in practice.”
“I go up and I don’t do all the rotations, I just single it,” continued Howell, explaining the concept of “popping” a jump. “Normally, you should just rely on your training. I know that I can do all of these jumps. My downfall is that I think too much, I try too hard, and then it really doesn’t work. My body knows how to do it, I just have to not make my mind think as much.”
Having competed during late summer at events at either Waterloo or Thornhill (or both), the locals are now preparing for the Autumn Skate taking place next weekend in Nepean. It’s one more chance to reach the scores needed to qualify for provincials sectionals, a goal that became that much tougher this past year.