Standing at the edge of the rink at the Bradford West Gwillimbury Leisure Centre, I watch 10-year-old Damian Obidin skate across the ice and throw himself into the air for a spin.
He lands with ease, as if the idea of making himself airborne while strapped to a couple sharp blades on his feet does not make him nervous.
And actually, the only one who was nervous for him was me.
“It’s not scary. It’s only scary when you start skating (when first learning),” he said. “Usually everyone’s afraid of falling, but falling is learning.”
Wise words from a 10 year old.
Damian, a Barrie resident, is one of the many Bradford & District Skating Club figure skaters who use the leisure centre as a second home — often going there twice a day to practice and train for competitions.
Canadian Olympians such as Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir and Patrick Chan — the latter a hero of Damian’s — have enticed more young skaters to lace up and try their hand at figure skating.
Damian said he started skating at five years old after being drawn into the competitions on TV.
Now, he goes to his own competitions with coach Markus Leminen, a Finnish former figure skater who has competed nine times at the World Figure Skating Championships, placing his highest score of 15th in the 1994-1995 season.
“I like going to competitions because you get to win medals if you work really hard. I like doing the jumps,” said Damian.
This year, the Bradford & District Skating Club is celebrating its 60th anniversary of teaching kids and adults in Bradford West Gwillimbury how to skate.
It is the only skating club in town that is accredited by Skate Canada and offers a CANSkate learn-to-skate program.
The club is currently accepting registrations for the fall/winter CANSkate and CANHockey programs. CANSkate started running this past week, and programs are already filling quickly.
Allyson Park, 17, has been a member of the skating club since age four and is currently training for a sectional competition in November, which could eventually lead her to junior Canadian competition.
“It’s intense but it’s really fun. I love the feeling of competing,” she said.
Fellow skater Alexandra Wry, 13, said she loves figure skating because there are so many styles to choose from and competitions are exhilarating.
“(I like) going out to perform in front of everyone. No matter how I do, I know I tried my best,” she said.
Park said joining simply to be like her sister, who figure skates recreationally, turned into a passion.
“I was always an antsy kid, and my sister was skating. It’s my happy place. I can relieve my stress (here),” she said. “It’s a second home. Everyone’s so welcoming. You’re friends with everyone.”
It is all about community at the Bradford & District Skating Club.
Coach Lori Everitt has been a member of the club for nearly its entire 60 years. Her mother, 83-year-old Lorna Forbes, was a local skater before the club officially formed and was later a club executive for many years.
Everitt competed a little bit as a kid and became a coach in 1980. She keeps a scrapbook of clippings from nearly 60 years of media coverage of the club and local skaters.
She still has a program from a winter carnival in 1961 in Bradford West Gwillimbury.
Flipping through a thick package of papers, she shows several old photos, including one of Maureen Walker and Dick Shedlowski, who won a junior Canadian pairs competition decades ago.
“It becomes part of your life, I suppose,” Everitt said, adding her students are a favourite part of coaching. “The kids — they keep you young. The many personalities — you deal with all kinds.”
The Bradford & District Skating Club has grown and moved around the community in its 60 years.
The original arena where many locals skated was located in what is now a parking lot off John Street, she said.
The club eventually moved to the Bob Fallis Sports Centre and the Bradford and District Memorial Community Centre before setting up shop at the leisure centre after it opened.
The club is not just for skaters who want to compete. There are also many people who take learn-to-skate and recreational classes.
Some of these people are newcomers to Canada, and parents and children can often be seen on the ice at the same time — each learning to skate in classes for kids and adults at separate ends of the rink.
The club is also starting to draw more boys to figure skating, some of whom are hockey players wanting to learn better footwork and co-ordination skills.
Everitt said she hopes more kids will sign up for skating classes to help pass the winter and learn about the sport.
“It’s not just skating — it’s life skills, it’s time management, learning how to take failure. Stick with it, come back, and try again,” she said.
Leminen, who has been coaching for 22 years, said he was still competing as a figure skater when he started coaching.
He said he aims to help his students feel comfortable on the ice before getting into more advanced training, which includes flexibility work, dance, and strength training in a gym.
“I like it as a sport. It combines all athleticism … art — it’s kind of like a full package. You get acrobatics, the pretty stuff,” he said.
“(You) give the kids a life lesson, too. It teaches … focus and discipline and hard work and if you want to achieve things it doesn’t happen overnight.”
While Leminen acknowledged not as many men figure skate in Canada, it is the opposite in many European countries.
“It’s a really demanding sport. There are some pockets where you see more (men figure skating). You’re up there with the hockey guys (in levels of admiration),” he said. “You look at the top Canadian men — they’re amazing. It’s a Canadian thing to skate.”
For more information, visit the Bradford & District Skating Club’s website.