Dreams of Olympic gold became brighter earlier this month for 40 young figure skaters from the Kansas City area during the two-day Road to Gold Training Camp at the Line Creek Ice Arena in Kansas City, Mo.
Led by Olympic medalist Gracie Gold and former U.S. pairs champion John Coughlin, the clinic offered several workshops that allowed participants to learn championship-level practice drills and techniques.
For many of the skaters, Gold has been an inspiration as they devote years to chasing their own dreams, so the opportunity to work with her was a dream come true.
“Gracie has been my idol since I started skating,” said Mariah Hirst, 13, of Smithville. “I have been skating for five years and I came here to meet, skate, and learn with Gracie.”
Gold — who grew up in Springfield, Mo., where she began her figure-skating training — recognizes the inspiring role she plays for many up-and-coming skaters, especially those from the Midwest.
“I started skating in a small rink in Springfield,” Gold said. “When I started, I wasn’t the most talented skater. There was nothing really remarkable about me, but I worked really hard and made my dream come true. I learned that anything is possible.”
Gold is passionate about teaching and coaching. While she inspires her students, she also makes sure they understand the realities of being a fully committed skating competitor.
“I understand the training woes,” Gold said. “It changes the structure of your life at a young age. You practice long hours and long days in a cold rink doing the same thing over and over until you get it right. It can be tiring. There are negatives and positives to all sports.”
During the two-day clinic, skaters ages 8 to 21 also attended workshops about movement, strength and conditioning, and other off-ice training essentials in addition to the on-ice training with Gold and Coughlin.
“The goal of the clinic was to give participants a taste of a real day in ice training, not just on the ice, but all of the off-ice components,” said Coughlin, a Kansas City native. “First and foremost, exposure to Gracie is number one. The skaters see her success story and it makes it real and OK to chase after their dreams.”
When planning the clinic, one of Coughlin’s primary goals was to bring in local experts and professionals to lead the various off-ice workshops.
Cameo Ibsen, from Ibsen Dance Theater in Gladstone, led the movement clinics, while the strength and conditioning workshops were taught by trainers from ARC Sports Performance in Parkville. Kansas City’s Kate Conrad, a judge during last year’s Olympic selection process, shared insights about what judges focus on and critique on during competition.
Coughlin also led off-ice workshops in techniques for self-training, how to plan a skating season, and the importance of continuing to learn and grow as a skater.
“Learn from your falls,” he said. “You’re either landing or you’re learning. Learn to be your own coach and learn to train yourselves, even when you’re not in a lesson. Practice what’s hard for you. Everyone loves to practice what they are good at, but you need to practice what you aren’t good at, too.”
Jaylie Lawrence, 11, of Greenwood, knows the challenge of practicing what she’s not good at.
“I like the jumps but I don’t like to practice the spins,” Lawrence said. “I really don’t like spins.”
But with big dreams in mind, Lawrence is committed to learning — and learning to love — spins. As with many other Race to Gold clinic participants, she has Olympic-sized aspirations, though that wasn’t always the case.
“My mom took me just for fun, but I kept skating,” Lawrence said. “Now, going to the Olympics is my first goal. Landing my double salchow is my second goal.”
The Road to Gold clinic provided a few pointers on how to make both dreams a reality.
“This was great opportunity for the skaters to meet their idols and learn from them,” said Amy Fankhouser, who has served as director of the Line Creek ice skating program for the past 22 years. “Their motivation will be at an all–time high after meeting Gracie and learning new skills from her. They see she made the same dream that they have come true.”