The Meridian Credit Union Arena was bursting with youthful exclamations and sparkling uniforms on April 1 as figure skating made its post-pandemic comeback.
“It feels amazing to be back,” Amelia Stephenson said as she prepared to hit the ice on Friday night.
This was Amelia’s first-ever figure skating challenge. She was originally supposed to make her competitive debut in 2020, but it was cancelled because of the pandemic.
As a result, there has been a prolonged period of waiting for the day to show off her moves.
“It’s both scary and fun,” she said.
Amelia said one of her best skills is her spirals and she sure showed them off when she hit the ice.
But a skater’s gotta skate.
“I couldn’t get on the ice very much during the pandemic. Mostly, I was roller skating.”
Girls were gathered at the arena on Friday for the first Star challenge held in NOTL since the pandemic began.
“This is a time for pre-junior, junior and Intermediate Star Figure Skaters to practise their skate routines, in a safe and non-competitive environment,” Lara Davidson said in an email on behalf of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Skating Club.
“For the first time in two years, eager skaters will have a chance to showcase all they’ve learned the past few months to friends and family.”
In an interview at the arena, Davidson said it is vitally important that young athletes are able to start practising again.
“2020 was the last time they were getting ready for a (Star challenge) and then it got cancelled and 2021 was kind of a bust,” she said.
“So, now it’s been two years and this year has been a little bit better — more consistent. But, it seems like they’ve lost a year.”
Heather Whitson said she was really happy to see her daughter back on the ice.
“It’s wonderful. This club makes these girls feel so special. They’ve been anticipating this for weeks, years, even,” Whitson said in an interview.
She said her daughter Taylor was able to get on some outdoor rinks over the last two years but lacked the structure provided by the multi-level Star skating program.
Taylor shyly said it was good to get back on the ice and that she missed figure skating during the pandemic.
She shared some wise words to explain why she loves to skate.
“It’s because you can learn new things every day,” the seven-year-old said, unwittingly giving expert life advice for anyone between the ages of one and 93.
As Taylor was being interviewed, a group of seven-year-olds was standing nearby watching intently. After the interview, they ran over and said, “So, are we going to be in the newspaper, too?”
When told they could pose for a picture the group lit up like a Christmas tree and struggled to figure out who should stand where for their photo-op.
“It’s just fun to figure skate,” Norah Palmer, who was given the most sportsmanlike pre-junior skater award, said.
“I like jumping” her friend Kayla Thwaites added. Kayla was awarded pre-junior skater of the year.
“It’s just the movements that I like,” Everett Oprendek said.
Julia Lebedev said she struggled during the pandemic because she couldn’t practise.
“I didn’t have a super tight grip on it. But ever since I started working with it, I’ve become really close to it,” Julia said.
Julia said she used to take lessons at the Gale Centre Arena in Niagara Falls.
“But at the Gale Centre, they don’t teach you much stuff. This place teaches you more,” she said.
“At the Gale Centre, I couldn’t do any moves. I couldn’t even put my foot up, but now I’m figure skating no problem.”