Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

Julia Kelleher knows what you’re thinking: Figure skating is for kids. If you made it to adulthood and haven’t fulfilled your ice prince or princess dreams, it’s too late.

But Kelleher wants you to know that window has not closed.

She had always admired skaters on TV and wanted to take up the sport, but her 30th birthday came and went, and she still had never taken a lesson.

“I felt really self-conscious at the idea of actually stepping out on the ice to learn something that involved having to be balanced and coordinated,” said Kelleher, now a 45-year-old portrait photographer and skating coach. “I thought I was going to look like a total idiot out there!”

Kelleher, who moved to Bend from Portland in 2009, said her breakthrough came when she decided she didn’t care what anyone thought when they saw her on the ice. She didn’t care the nearest rink was located inside the Lloyd Center mall in Portland, making the ice feel like a fishbowl. She didn’t care if the parents of the little skaters gave her sideways looks.

And nearly 15 years later, Kelleher said she would love to see more adults in Bend join her on the ice.

“There’s no reason that you can’t start it as an adult and have an amazing workout and amazing cross-training and amazing competitive career doing something that you love,” Kelleher said. “Will you ever be like Michelle Kwan and go to the Olympics? Of course not. But you will have an outlet for creativity, for artistic expression combined with a sport that makes you work out so hard and give you cardiovascular fitness. It’s the perfect combination. What more could you ask for?”

And while most skating clubs, including the Bend Ice Figure Skating Club based at The Pavilion, will always have a large contingent of little kids, Kelleher said the sport has many more opportunities for novice adults than outsiders might realize. Kelleher’s specialty is ice dancing, a partners event that includes the athletic challenge and artistry of freestyle figure skating, but without the jumps that often scare off older adults interested in the sport. She and her partner, Jordan Johnson, earned gold medals in the pre-gold coed division at the Adult National Championships (open to skaters 21 and older) in 2004 and 2006, and then took silver in the gold division in 2007.

“There is a huge world of adults who started (skating) later in life and who love it, especially in … ice dancing,” Kelleher said. “There’s a whole hidden world that is like this big, best-kept secret that nobody knows about. … It doesn’t involve jumping, it doesn’t involve lots of spinning. It’s something we can do. We don’t have to have perfectly nimble, flexible bodies to do it. Anybody can dance.”

Whether your goal is to compete as an ice dancer or a figure skater or to just comfortably circle the ice during open skating sessions, most novices will want to start with a learn-to-skate program offered at several of Central Oregon’s outdoor rinks. The largest program by far is run by the Bend Park & Recreation District at The Pavilion, and it includes separate instruction for skaters ages 4-5, 6-11, 12-15, and 16 and older.

“In level one, we teach kind of the basics of skating,” said Aly Rozee, the BPRD Learn to Skate program coordinator. “We teach them how to march across the ice, how to do a two-foot glide. We also teach them the very beginning backward skating motion, which is called a backwards wiggle. And we teach them how to stop, which is pretty important when you’re just starting out.”

The program also includes a “parent and seal pup” class for parents and their 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as introductory skating classes for kids who intend to move on to ice hockey. Rozee estimated that close to 1,000 kids and adults will take part in a park district skating program this winter.

“Our level-one classes for kids fill up very quickly; some of them were full within a week of when registration (opened),” Rozee said, referring to the most entry-level course offered (between three and six levels of skating lessons are offered for each age group). “But the higher-level classes and the teen and adult classes take a little bit longer.”

If you missed out on skating lessons this winter, Rozee said kids can check out the park district’s ice skating camp during spring break. And it’s not too early to start thinking about next winter: registration for the earliest winter events opens in August, and as Rozee said, the sessions often fill up quickly. The Redmond Area Park and Recreation District also offers introductory skating lessons on its ice sheet in downtown Redmond, as does the Sunriver Village Ice Rink. And you are always welcome to rent a pair of skates and try to find your footing during open skate hours at any local rinks, just be careful out there.

More advanced skaters, especially those interested in performing or competing, can join the Bend Ice Figure Skating Club, which meets early on Monday and Saturday mornings. The club president, Beth Brintson, said the club currently has 20 skating members, ranging in age from 8 to 45.During club skating sessions, members can take private lessons from coaches (including Kelleher), practice the more complicated maneuvers that would be dangerous during crowded open skate sessions or take part in clinics on specific topics such as edge control and skating posture.

“All of our coaches have something different to offer to the club, so that’s why we’ve developed this kind of monthly clinic,” Brinston said. “What we’d really like to do is develop the club into a kind of academy, if you will. Nobody has just one specific coach that they train with. While they might have one coach that takes them to competition or creates their routines with them or something like that, (they’re) able to train with different coaches that have different things to offer, different specialties.”

The club also hosts annual U.S. Figure Skating test events, which skaters must pass before they can move on to compete at a given level of difficulty. Because The Pavilion, the only rink in Central Oregon with a full-sized sheet of ice, opened just two years ago, Brinston said many skaters in the group are beginning to think about competition.

“We have a couple girls that are super serious (about performing and competing),” Brinston said. “Most of the girls, because they’re so new to it right now, they’re getting their feet wet in the idea of oh, I can compete? I can travel with this and compete? And a lot of them are really scared about it, although they got bitten by the performance bug when they did the performance a couple of weeks ago (at the Winter Solstice celebration at The Pavilion). They got off the ice, and I said, what do you think? And they’re like, oh, we can’t wait to do it again.”

But Kelleher said she doesn’t even need competition to feel the thrill of skating — just a clean sheet of newly Zambonied ice.

“It’s like dancing while flying, I don’t even know how to describe it,” Kelleher said. “Combine that with the cold air in your face and the tears streaming down your face because of the cold air, the wind is blowing in your eyes. It’s so magical. When I get on the ice, I literally feel like I could become anything that day.” •