BEND, Ore. - Figure skating showcases both grace and skill in a physical art form.
"There is nothing like gaining speed across a glassy sheet surface of ice,” Julia Kelleher, a coach for the Bend Ice Figure Skating Club, said recently. “The wind in your hair, your eyes, and the tears come down because the cold weather. It's this freeing, liberating, just magical feeling across the ice.”
One of the club’s skaters, a high school student named Thea, said, "You just kind of skate your heart out a bit."
The Bend Ice Figure Skating Club is the only club of its kind in Central Oregon. It's doubled in size in the last year, and the club's president said it could double again next year.
Despite its success, limited ice time at The Pavilion in Bend is a constant challenge.
"In Canada, you kind of live and breathe the ice - ice time is plentiful,” said Beth Brinston, the club’s president.
Here in Central Oregon, ice time is costly, and the club shares the rink with other ice sports and the public. "It's a really big hockey community here, too, and figure skating is not really the most popular thing,” Thea said.
While the club only meets twice a week, many of these athletes are hitting the ice as much as they can.
Another high school figure skater, Mirella CaJacob, said she comes almost every day and sometimes it can be difficult to practice and not hit recreational ice skaters.
Thanks to Olympians like Team USA’s 18-year-old Nathan Chen, the skating "bug" can start before they hit the ice the first time.
CaJacob’s love for the sport started by watching the best there is.
"My family and I get into the Olympics a lot, especially the winter,” she said. “I was watching the figure skating, and I saw Yulia Lipnitskaya -- she's the really young Russian girl with the red coat -- and I was just like, 'Wow, I could do that. That's possible to do.’ So I started getting more lessons, and going up in the levels."
Rebecca King, the club’s vice president and coach, said, "This was my passion when I was a student and I was constantly watching the TV -- all the nationals, Olympics and everything. I was diehard.”
At figure skating camps, these young athletes sometimes get to meet their heroes, or watch Olympians train nearby.
"We (Nathan Chen) talked and stuff, and I got to see his program being built, and that as really cool to see,” CaJacob said.
The club is coach-compliant with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, meaning they are certified coaches with years of experience.
King was born and raised in Alaska. Her love for skating started young, and she hasn't been able to kick it. After five years with Disney on Ice as a tour coordinator, King returned to the rink in a new role, as a coach.
"In any sport, you have those natural athletes that just get it, and it clicks right away and they're hungry for it. And it's great to see them, and just want to push them and let them live that dream,” King said. “Yeah OK, let's go to nationals -- yeah, let's go to regionals!”
While the sport as a whole recruits young athletes -- 13-year-old Thea describes herself as “old” -- in this club, you can join at any age. Parents of students get out there -- you’re never too old.
"They have adult levels ,and they're kind of a combined of the original path that we take. They're just more condensed,” King said.
You’re also never too young. "If you have a kid and they're walking, they can skate,” King said.
The club is looking for commitment. Although ice skating is a family activity, it's more than a hobby to these ice skaters.
"A lot of people think, ‘Oh, club ice, so I get access to these coaches and there's classes involved right?’” King said. “Well, it’s the ability to come out and practice with like-minded athletes. It's not just the recreation of going round and round and round. It’s a community as well, and support, and getting everyone together."
The club is run by volunteers like Beth Brinston.
"Watching the girls just progress, and get excited about the sport just brings me joy,” Brinston said.
It's her first year as club president, and her background is not in figure skating. She's a Canadian-born hockey player. Her daughter brought her to figure skating.
"She discovered figure skating when she was 2 years old, and told me that that's what she wanted to do,” Brinston said. “She held onto that dream until she was 5, and she was actually able to get out and actually take lessons."
With her mom's commitment to the club, 8-year-old Madison Brinston gets extra support.
"She helps me with my routines, and she helps me with my skills that I have to do,” Madison said.
The club’s figure skaters and coaches agree the rink can be a place to escape from the stresses of life.
"You can be having the worst day, and you come back onto the ice and as soon as you're on the ice, you forget everything going on. It's just so enjoyable to bring this sport to life here that wasn't here,” King said.
CaJacob said, "I really just like to skate around the rink sometimes and not practice, 'cause it's just nice to hear your edges, like, cut into the ice.”
Kelleher explained the sensation of flying on ice: "It's that ultimate feeling of being able to control your physical body and make something incredible happen with it, and that's kind of a really cool feeling, and it makes you think you can do anything."
For more information: http://www.bendicefigureskatingclub.org/