Let’s Move Quad Cities celebrates the spirit and determination Quad City area residents take to promote movement and fitness. We welcome guest blogger, Katherine Womack, ice skating coach and triple Gold Medalist with the Figure Skating Club of the Quad Cities.
Ice Skating is Why I Move
Describe your roles at The River’s Edge.
I am a member of the United States Figure Skating Association and Professional Skaters Association. I coach private figure skating lessons, power skating, and off-ice conditioning classes. I also instruct Learn to Skate USA classes through the City of Davenport.
When did you get your first pair of skates, and why did you decide to become an ice skater?
I wanted to learn as soon as I saw Kristi Yamaguchi skate during the 1992 Olympics. Unfortunately, I was only two years old, and the Quad Cities didn’t have an ice rink yet. Once we did, I was signed up for lessons. About a year later, I received my first pair of white skates for Christmas.
How did it become a career?
I built my personal skating background by working up all the levels, and achieving Gold Medal status in Moves in the Field, Freeskating, and Solo Ice Dance. I am proud to say that I was the first, and currently the only, triple Gold Medalist from the Figure Skating Club of the Quad Cities.
As a coach, I started by helping out the more advanced coaches in the group lesson classes when I was a teenager.
I come from a family of teachers, so instructing felt natural, and I loved the idea of mixing teaching with my favorite sport.
I earned a degree in Human Performance and Fitness from St. Ambrose University, and take continuing education courses through the Professional Skaters Association.
What famous skater inspired you the most?
Growing up, I loved watching Scott Hamilton skate. He was one of my favorites because he always looked like he was having so much fun.
As a shy girl, he definitely inspired me to let loose, and be myself on the ice. He continues to inspire me as an adult, through his work with the “Get Up” campaign.
Many remember Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, and so many others who inspired young girls through the decades! What are the chances of a skater making the Olympic Team?
The elite skaters you watch on television usually started skating, and committed to it, at a very young age. You truly have to dedicate all of your free time to training.
It is common to practice twice a day, before and after school (I did!), and to put in extra time over the weekends. Skaters may even home school to open up more time to practice.
Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely to make an Olympic team, since only about 3 skaters per discipline are chosen every 4 years.
However, every skater can aspire to earning the title of Gold Medalist, which means they have tested to the top level in a certain discipline.
There really is a place for all ages and levels to skate recreationally or competitively.
Tell us about the unique training and physical demands of skating, since it’s a combination of strength and grace.
Skaters have to do some of the most physically demanding skills, all while making it look easy. That is their ultimate goal.
Skaters’ training routines include their on-ice practice. They also spend many hours off the ice, in the gym, where they build strength and endurance, and do plyometrics, ballet, and stretching.
What advice would you give to an aspiring skater?
Don’t give up. We all fall down, but getting up again, and continuing on, is what makes you a real champion. This is true for skating and many other things in life.
Did you or have you competed as a skater? Do you prefer teaching and coaching?
I participated in many competitions throughout the Midwest, from the time I was 6 years old through 18.
During this time, I competed in the qualifying levels of the Upper Great Lakes Regional Championships every year, from 2001-2007.
I do enjoy coaching more than I did competing, even though I get just as nervous while watching my skaters on the ice.
What is the hardest skating move to perform and how do you train for it?
For most skaters, the axel, whether it is a single, double, or triple, is one of the hardest moves to learn. It is the only jump that takes off forward, therefore requiring an extra half rotation to land backwards.
The groundwork to learning an axel is set early, with basic skills. The building and mastery of these skills give the skater the tools they need to achieve an axel.
They start with learning the take-off called a bunny hop. Then skaters move into their first jump with rotation – a waltz jump.
Axel comes last, after learning the rest of the single jumps.
Off-ice jump class becomes especially important when learning the axel. Skaters have to jump much higher, to allow time in the air to complete the full rotation.
They will also practice backspins to perfect a strong air position. Axel is typically the first jump in which a coach will use the jump harness to soften any falls. The skater secures a belt around their waist, which is then attached to a pulley system.
What was your peak performance as a skater?
It’s hard to choose just one!
One of my favorite moments has to be when I performed during the Holiday Pops concert in 2008. When Holiday Pops was held at the iWireless Center in Moline, the club was often invited to skate in front of the orchestra and choirs on a small sheet of ice.
It was always the highlight of my year to be able to skate to live music, with professional lighting, and an audience of thousands. In the particular year I’m remembering, my solo included my most difficult jump – a double axel. It was a risky move, but I landed it! I was so happy to prove myself under pressure.
We understand that skating played a big part in your engagement and wedding!
Yes! In high school, I got my first job at the ice rink in order to earn some money to pay for the little white dog I so wanted (appropriately named Zamboni).
While working, I met a hockey player named Michael. After dating throughout high school and college, Michael surprised me by proposing at center ice.
Our wedding had a subtle ice theme, and my Maid of Honor was even someone I had met through our years of skating together.
What do you enjoy most now about coaching and teaching?
My favorite part about coaching is just watching my skaters improve and grow in general.
There is nothing like finally landing a new jump, or learning a new spin position. And yes, I teach them all these skills. But more important, I teach them how to set goals and work to achieve them. I teach them how to get up after falling, and they teach me as well. We are a team.
Looking ahead, where would you like your skating career to take you?
I strive to build strong skaters at the grassroots level so that they may continue on to be regional and maybe even national level competitors.
It would be amazing to work with a skater throughout all of those levels as well, similar to the coaching relationship of Jason Brown and Kori Ade. I also hope to someday share my love of skating with children of my own.
Considering Iowa isn’t exactly the skating capitol of the world, I was extremely lucky to have the coaching that I did while growing up. I feel so privileged to say that I’ve been coached by some of the best in the world – Olympians, world champions, and professional choreographers.
Part of my skating “family tree” has me just 2 generations down from Michelle Kwan’s coach, Frank Carroll.
I am excited and feel a sense of responsibility to pass down the techniques and mantras I have been taught.