Adult Skaters Learn From the Pros at Training Camp

Story and photos by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
John Zimmerman with camper Alla Kashlinskaya

Check out more photos from the adult training camp!

(6/29/2005) - For the fourth consecutive year, the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., hosted the Adult Training Camp. More than 100 skaters from around the U.S. came to the cutting edge facility June 24-26 to learn from the best in the world. Olympic coach Robin Wagner joined Olympic champions Artur Dmitriev and Oksana Baiul and a top-notch roster of talent.

Five-time U.S. champion Peter Tchernyshev led the dance track assisted by partner Naomi Lang and former U.S. junior medalists Kendra Goodwin and Chris Obzansky. Three-time U.S. pairs champion John Zimmerman worked with both singles and pairs skaters, as did Canadian bronze medalists Elizabeth Putnam and Sean Wirtz. Italian ladies champion Silvia Fontana coached the singles track.

World Rhythmic Gymnastics gold medalist Tatiana Droutchinina and moves expert Edward VanCampen lent their expertise to off-ice stretching and moves in the field, respectively. Rounding out the roster were Christine DeVito for ballet and Sean Donellan for strength and conditioning. The event was organized by Craig Maurizi, director of figure skating for Ice House.

The campers were divided based on their interest (pairs, dance or singles), and then the freestylers broke into five groups based on jumping ability and test level. While the dance and pair tracks had their on-ice segments directed by their instructors, the singles skaters rotated among classes in jumps (edge, toe and combo), spins, field moves and edge quality. All campers had a power stroking class at the end of day one.

New this year was the off-ice choreography segment led by DeVito. She took each of her four groups and taught them a routine on Saturday. Over the next 24 hours the skaters practiced, some giving up break time to run through it again and again. At the end of day two a competition was held, complete with judges (the coaches) and the 6.0 scoring system. The winning performance, given by group 1-2, received T-shirts autographed by all the coaches.

Heba Toulan (Bowie FSC) was clear on her favorite part of the weekend.

"Recital, no questions," she said.

Toulan had an added challenge in learning the group routine - she is deaf.

"I depend on copying others and reading lips," she said. "Sometimes I can get what they are saying, but sometimes I need to see it to learn."

"Some of them are a little nervous," DeVito said. "We're putting them on the spot a little bit, asking them to perform off-ice dancing, which is challenging. For the most part, they're really enthusiastic to learn something new and put 100% into it. I'm teaching them choreography to work on their alignment, coordination, style, and presentation, to be able to pick up steps quickly and challenge them by really adding a sense of performance that they can use when they work on programs on the ice. I'm able to give them hints on how to hold their body and use their head and shoulders to enhance their skating."

Peter Tchernyshev works on head position with camper Tricia Pierson.
The pairs skaters opted out of the choreography for a last-minute offer by John Zimmerman to work with the couples on off-ice lifts. Each team showed off a lift of their choice that was analyzed by the 2002 World bronze medalist. After suggestions were made, Zimmerman then put some of the ladies up in the lifts himself, giving them a chance to feel his hold and allowing the men to see it from a new perspective.

"That's what makes this type of clinic fun," Zimmerman said. "They're enthusiastic. They're patient. With an adult you can give them the verbiage. They take it in and you can see them analyzing it. It's fun that you're really appreciated. We're all appreciated by the young kids, too, but it's just a different way to see it from the adult perspective. We always enjoy working with the adults."

Over the two days, the pairs worked on all the major elements like throw jumps and spirals. Putnam and Wirtz, who are coached by Dmitriev, demonstrated for the class and then the campers tried to emulate at their own difficulty level. The seven couples took turns attempting the element in front of the group and received critiques and hands on adjustments to body position. During the throw jump lesson, Baiul joined the class and challenged herself to complete a throw double Salchow with Wirtz.

"He did a couple throws with me and I was sort of like 'Oh my gosh, I can't do it!' You know, become like a drama queen," Baiul said. "As soon as Artur Dmitriev said to us it's a competition, I said 'Throw me higher' and I landed it. It's a good feeling to do pairs."

Andrea Cooper (Philadelphia SC & HS) and partner Lee Jones (Chesapeake FSC) were one of the hardworking pairs teams to come to adult camp. Cooper maintains an adult pairs skating database, helping to organize the community and bring awareness to the smallest of adult disciplines.

"I came to the first Hackensack Ice House clinic and they had advertised pairs but nobody showed up," Cooper said. "I heard that last year just one pair team showed up. Meanwhile, in Chicago, I think they were going on their seventh or eighth anniversary of Oleg Vasiliev having a pairs clinic. I had called Craig Maurizi and said that we're a little bit more organized now; do you want to try the pairs component again? I can network and I know at least five pair teams I can call - couples who live in this vicinity and would really love to do it. So I planted the seed and I started calling people up. Tara Cioppa and Marna Grim helped me. They started bugging Craig."

"It's always fun having a variety of people and different levels to work with," Putnam said. "I really enjoyed it. A lot of them are doing it for fun, and some are pretty competitive. It's cool to work with the ones who want to learn new skills and push themselves."

Sharing the ice surface with the pairs were the dancers. For the third consecutive year, Tchernyshev led the track.

Adult skater Heidi Zener (Portland, Ore.) with Oksana Baiul
"It was really good to see familiar faces," Tchernyshev said, "and some new people coming in shows that more people are getting interested in this event."

On Saturday he was joined by Goodwin and Obzansky, who were in Hackensack to work with Tchernyshev on the choreography of their original dance for the upcoming season.

"Kendra and Chris helped me a lot with organizing," Tchernyshev said. "I think they inspired a lot of people."

The three coaches worked on many elements of ice dancing, including body alignment and edge focus, and they partnered with the campers to skate patterns around the ice. On Sunday, Lang arrived to work with Tchernyshev on developing choreography for an original cha cha. They then taught the dance to the class and spent one session repeating the moves and learning how to perform the character of the rhythm.

"I think everybody was really enjoying it," Tchernyshev said. "It was not complicated steps, but everybody enjoyed dancing with music."

The singles skaters had the opportunity to work with most of the coaches. Some campers would switch sessions to better tailor the program to their needs. If a test was coming up, they might add an extra hour with moves guru VanCampen. If a certain jump sequence caused a major stumbling block, they might repeat Fontana's class. The coaches were always available for hands-on assistance with any challenge.

"I know it sounds [crazy] when you've been to Worlds and Olympics, but the adult training camp at Hackensack Ice House is always a highlight of my year," Robin Wagner said. "I have to say that seeing the joy on the skaters' faces - as a coach there's nothing that really equals that. That's why we come back. This is my third year doing it, and I think all the coaches here feel the same. Skaters come in the first day and have a little anticipation, some nerves, but by the last day I think everybody walks away feeling they have learned something. They're passionate about skating, which is what we really try to share with them as coaches."

"They're hungry and it's a joy to teach them because they're like sponges," VanCampen added. "You cannot give them enough information fast enough. They're here and they want to learn and they listen to every single thing you have to say."

VanCampen, along with Droutchinina, are the two coaches who have attended all four Hackensack camps.

"I think by word of mouth it might get a little bigger next year, but I think this one was the best so far," VanCampen said. "Everyone's getting along with each other. There's enough ice. I think this one has been the most fun."

Darlene Wermers summed up her weekend experience.

"Even though it's my second year at camp, I'm still star struck because of the caliber of the coaching," she said. "To be on the ice with these international skaters, it's just amazing."

Baiul, who was apprehensive on Saturday morning over the prospect of her first time working with adult skaters, had a new attitude by Sunday evening.

"I think it's easier to work with adults, for me, because they are so wonderful," Baiul said. "They're so appreciative. They all know what they want. Their goals are like 'I want to skate faster' or 'I'd love to jump a little higher.' It's a weird feeling because you spend eight hours a day with them on the ice and it becomes like your family. Everyone knows each other. I cannot believe how hard workers they are. If I'll have a chance to do it again, I'll definitely do it."

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