Student skaters break the ice with champions in Park Ridge
World Junior Pairs champion skater Rockne Brubaker, right, shows Allie Metter the proper stretching exercise at Park Ridge's Oakton Ice Arena on Dec. 27. | Kevin Tanaka for~Sun-Times Media.
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:14AM
PARK RIDGE — Kaitlin Mangan’s Christmas gift this year doubled as a once in a lifetime opportunity: a private ice-skating lesson with Todd Eldredge, the three-time Olympian with six U.S. national champion titles in figure skating.
The 11-year-old Des Plaines resident and dozens of her peers also took to the ice with renowned skating coaches Christy Krall and Kelley Morris-Adair.
“They’re the role models for these kids,” said Mangan’s mother, Rhonda.
Mangan summed up the experience to skate with stars as any child would: “It was cool,” she said.
The Park Ridge Recreation and Park District and the Oakton Figure Skating Club hosted its annual “Day with Champions” event on Dec. 27 with demonstrations by and tips from elite guest skaters.
Split into groups of four based on their skill levels, 60 children and a handful of adults practiced intricate footwork and jumps under the watch of Krall and Morris-Adair at Oakton Ice Arena, 2800 W. Oakton St.
Krall used special video software to record the skaters in action and slowed down the taping on-screen to pick apart their movements.
“Making sure you’re clicking your feet!” she called out as they practiced double jumps one by one.
In an upstairs fitness room, skaters performed agility and stretching exercises with two-time national pairs champion Rockne Brubaker.
“Any stretch you do, you don’t get any benefit out of it unless you hold it for 15 seconds,” Brubaker told a gaggle of girls who groaned during a long lunge after doing a set of push-ups.
Bridget Nagai, of Park Ridge, watched her 12-year-old daughter, Mary Clare, skate from the arena stands.
“My one girlfriend said make sure your kids can skate and swim,” she said. “They are the two life skills I wanted them to have.”
Mary Clare began skating at age 3 and today practices three times a week before school. Figure skating helped the pre-teen become independent and confident at a young age, Nagai said, and taught her perseverance.
In addition to picking up a tip or two on becoming stronger athletes, exposing young skaters to champion competitors helped reveal their heroes’ more human side.
The day before the Thursday morning workshop the skating club hosted Moosefest, a recreational day for skaters to compete with top-tier athletes in football, broomball and other matches.
“It’s not like you’re handing a piece of paper and getting an autograph,” said Director of Skating David Santee. “They get to talk to them and see them when they’re having fun.”
He added: “They’re real people.”
Santee, Park Ridge’s own two-time Olympian, oversees the Park District’s Competitive Edge program which is designed for skaters wishing to begin competing in figure skating.
Participants receive specialized instruction and training. Upper-level skaters skate two to three hours daily in addition to their off-ice workout routines, like ballet and weight-training.
Two skating club members recently made the Midwestern sectionals and skaters in the past have competed nationally, Santee said.
Though he could likely coach at any level, Santee said he enjoys creating opportunities that get younger kids “on their way.”
“I love this level of development,” he said. “For me, it’s skating at its purest.”