Saturday, May 3, 2014

After 30 years, returning to a life on ice - with a quickstep

Roger Estey spent most of his teenage and college years figure skating and ice dancing. Then along came life off ice - a job, marriage, kids... Those long hours at the rink receded deep into his past.

Thirty years later, though, circumstances brought him back.

"When I walked back into the rink it felt like home," he says. "The smells ... the dampness of the air ... the echo sounds. It felt really good."
TBSA ice dance coach Marta Nilsen, left, poses with
her Gold medalist ice dance student, Roger Estey.

So good, in fact, that he has returned to skating and is trying to spread the word about the joys of ice dancing.

At 61, Estey recently became a gold medalist in ice dance after a 30-year break. Tampa Bay Skating Academy ice dance coach Marta Nilsen helped him pass the four Gold dances: The Viennese Waltz, the Argentine Tango, the Quickstep, and the Westminster Waltz. The accomplishment, which began about two years ago and culminated in March, is a first for both of them.

"He's my first dance gold medal student," Nilsen says. "I hadn't partnered anyone that far. It was a lot of fun and good exercise."

For Estey, it all began in Massachusetts in the early 60s. Having skated on a pond as a child, he took his first figure skating lesson when he was 13 years old. 

Back then, figure skaters were expected to learn the basic dance steps and patterns, he says. A tall teen, he was asked to take some of the girls through several of the dance tests. That's when he met his training and competition partner, Cindy Wright.

"Cindy and I had a very short, low-level competitive career," he says. "Things were very different then. There were very few competitions. It's not like how it is now where there are lots of competitions to enter."

By high school, ice dancing had become his passion.

Roger Estey dances with Coach Nilsen. Estey recently
passed his Gold medal ice dances. 
"Ice dance was much more fun and rewarding," he says. "Back then it was a social event. We did it almost every night of the week for two to three hours, and then we'd go out for coffee afterward. It was a ball. It was one of those things that rinks did then. When I came back, it was gone."

Estey graduated from college and completed the Pre-Gold dance tests in 1973. The levels for dance are Preliminary, Pre-Bonze, Bronze, Pre-Silver, Silver, Pre-Gold and Gold.

After college, he began coaching. But his time on the ice was eventually replaced with spending time with his family - his wife, Margaret, and three stepchildren. Over the years, he worked mostly in real estate until one day, about three years ago, Margaret passed away suddenly.

"That kind of left me at a loss of what to do with my life," he says. "We had a very close relationship. We were life partners and business partners."

It was a visit to see family that brought him back to the ice.

"My grandson, Jordan, and I took a road trip and wound up at an ice rink in Phoenix," he says. "All of those sensations we rink rats know in our bones started to come back."

But after taking such a long break from the ice, Estey had to get back in shape. 

"My brain told me everything I needed to know, but my body said, 'no, not today,'" he says, recalling those first days back.

Estey passed two of the four Gold dances -- the Viennese Waltz and the Argentine Tango -- in early 2013. His journey to the gold, though, hit a roadblock in May.

"I was practicing in preparation for the test and I crashed," he says. "Next thing I knew I was flying through the air and landed on my elbow. That put everything off for a while."

There were some moments after that, too, when Estey thought about whether his goal to get Gold was a good idea. These were fleeting thoughts. He started practicing again in November and passed the Quickstep in February and the Westminster Waltz in March.

"Personally, it's a big deal that I did it," he says. "To have come back after being away and then after the injury, it's meaningful. Not everybody can do that. It's mental but it's also very physical and cardiovascular. You have to up your game to test. I'm no Charlie White (Olympic Champion Ice Dancer), but you want to be at the level where the judges say, 'Hey, he can do this.'"

And do it he did. Even though he could have tested on the masters track, which is for ages 50 and older, he passed his Gold tests on the adult track.

"At least I was with the 21-year-olds instead of the 65-year-olds," he says.

Nilsen, who has coached for over 20 years, says she would like to keep on dancing with Estey, testing up through the international dances.

"After you get up to the Gold level, it's a blast to skate," she says. "But it's hard to find a guy to dance with."

Estey says he and Nilsen are a good match on the ice. 

"We really skate well together," he says.

Estey hopes to bring "ice dance socials" back to this area to get more skaters enjoying the sport.

"Ice dancing gives you really good edges, power, flow and rhythm," he says. "It's something adults can do their whole lives."

And Estey is living proof.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A TBSA coach knows Olympic dreams can come true

As the Sochi Olympic Games come to a close, figure skating is the sport that continues to be one of the most exciting events to watch among all the competitions. 

But from an Olympic coach’s perspective, those few minutes of watching their skaters perform on a world stage are far from exciting - they’re just plain intense.

Tampa Bay Skating Academy figure skating coach Pauline
Coach Pauline Gasparini
displays her Olympic
outfit recently at
 TBSA in Oldsmar.
Gasparini knows this firsthand. She coached several winning Olympic pairs teams, including one team she took from the beginning level all the way to the Olympics. 

“You have cameras all on you, so the main thing is to stay calm and normal so when the skaters go on the ice they’re focused,” she says. “My job is to not rock the boat; not make any last-minute calls to change their focus. When I watch their performances, I’m watching every muscle movement they’re making and I know whether the element is going to be accomplished or not. I hold myself together until the final position at the end...and then I get excited.”  

Gasparini reflects on the first time she attended the world’s
The first pair team Coach Gasparini took to the
Olympics. Susan Garland and Robert Daw placed
in the top 10.
most celebrated international sporting event that this year gathered together elite figure skaters from 30 countries. In 1980, Gasparini brought the pair team of Susan Garland and Robert Daw, her stepson at the time, to the Lake Placid Winter Olympics to compete. Representing Great Britain, Garland, 13, and Daw, 16, skated a clean program and placed in the top 10. 

“It was the most exciting time,” she says. “That was my first experience being an Olympic coach.” 

Coaching the pair team is an accomplishment she is very proud of.  

“I took them from learn-to-skate classes right up to the Olympics,” she says. “So that’s a very satisfying feeling because you don’t inherent skaters, you know you can take them all the way.” 

Four years later, she and Ron Ludington, an internationally
Olympic Silver Medalists Kitty and Peter Carruthers
were coached by Ron Ludington
and Pauline Gasparini.
known skating coach, took Kitty and Peter Carruthers, a brother and sister pair team, to the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The pair skaters won the silver medal. 

An accomplished freestyle figure skater, Gasparini was on a roll. The next Winter Olympics in 1988 in Calgary, she coached Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner. The pair team, which is featured in this month’s U.S. Figure Skating magazine, placed fifth.

Coach Pauline (Williams) Gasparini
works with pairs medalists
Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner
 at the University of Delaware
Ice Arena.
“There’s always that anxiousness of putting forward everything and they did. They put forward a clean program,” she says. “They were very driven and dedicated.” 

And skaters need those qualities - and more - to be chosen to participate in the Olympic Games. 

“It takes a lot of dedication and hard work,” Gasparini says. “It truthfully has to be your life. Everything goes on hold until you reach your goal.”

Born in England, Gasparini always knew she wanted to be an Olympic coach. After winning the bronze medal in freestyle skating at the 1974 World Professional Figure Skating Championships, she decided to turn all her attention to coaching. 

“I just like the idea of working with skaters and taking them to the top of what they can be,” she says.
Articles written about coach Gasparini and
the Olympic pairs team of Wachsman
and Waggoner.

Coaching for more than 40 years, she spent about 13 of those years at the University of Delaware Ice Arena after moving to the U.S. in 1981. She came to TBSA in Oldsmar in the early 1990s. 

“When I saw how nice the area was and how it had a nice rink I decided I wanted to change my coaching to a warm-weather climate,” she says.

There will be many more Winter Olympics, and many more coaches watching their skaters achieve great heights, but Gasparini will always be proud of the times she calmly coached her skaters at the most prestigious, most watched figure skating competition in the world. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Side by side, a winning pair team skates toward Olympic dreams

For competitive pair skaters William and JoJo Hubbart, every win along the way is a point in the journey, including this year’s fourth place win at nationals. 

Capturing the pewter medal in intermediate pairs at the 2014
Pair skaters William and JoJo Hubbart compete
in January at the 2014 nationals in Boston.

U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Boston last month was a tremendous accomplishment and a moment to remember. 

But the sibling pair team’s journey continues on ... with hopes and dreams to represent the U.S. at a future Winter Olympics.  

“It’s a long shot but it’d be nice to go to Seoul in four years,” William, 16, says, as he sits next to JoJo one recent day at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar. It’s here they train between four to six hours a day, six days a week.

William and JoJo, at right, enjoy their moment on the
podium after winning the pewter medal
in intermediate pairs in January.
JoJo, 15, acknowledges it’s a long shot and takes a more “wait-and-see” attitude, adding that they’re just taking it one day at a time right now.

Clearly, though, the teenagers are working toward turning Olympic dreams into reality. This was their third trip to nationals, the most prestigious event of the U.S. competitive figure skating season. And it’s the third time they’ve brought home a medal.  

In 2012, as a first-time juvenile pair team, they won the bronze medal at junior nationals, which was the equivalent of nationals for juvenile and intermediate competitors. 

The sibling pair team won the gold
medal in juvenile pairs in 2013.
Last year, William and JoJo competed at the juvenile level again and took top honors, winning the gold medal by a landslide. They also got to compete with the higher-level skaters because the national competition was changed to include senior, junior, novice, intermediate and juvenile skaters. 

This recent season the pair team moved up to the intermediate level. They also competed at the national competition at an exciting and celebrated time–the Olympics. Figure skaters who won the top spots at the senior levels this year had the chance to represent the U.S. on the world stage. 

“I was really nervous this year,” JoJo says. “It seemed bigger because of the Olympic year.”

William and JoJo had some setbacks in their short program that put them in fifth place but they went on to skate a clean long program to place fourth overall. 

The Hubbarts take the top spot at the 2014
Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships
in November. 
William also competed in intermediate singles at nationals, finishing in ninth place. 

Their stellar pair performance at the Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships in November earned them a ticket to the national event. They won the gold, becoming the 2014 Eastern Sectional Intermediate Pair Champions at the annual competition in Ashburn, VA. 

A seven-time national competitor, William also won the silver medal at sectionals in intermediate mens singles, securing
William wins the gold at regionals
in October.
another trip to nationals in the single category. A gold medal single's performance at regionals in October landed him at sectionals.

With the new pair level, new elements, and the additional pressure of an Olympic year, the Hubbarts still bounced back to keep their medal streak intact. 

“I’m really proud of how we did,” William says. “It’s about perseverance.”

And it takes a lot of perseverance to get to the Olympics, the world’s foremost sports competition with more than 200 nations participating.

Fortunately, their coach, Alex Vlassov, who recently was interviewed by Gayle Sierens of Channel 8 News, believes the teenagers have what it takes to go all the way. 

“They’re competitors. They like to be better every time that they compete. That’s the best you can ask,” he says when asked why he thinks they have a shot at the Olympics one day.

William and JoJo with their coaches Alex Vlassov and
Laura Amelina in the kiss and cry at the 2013 nationals.
Vlassov, who coaches the sibling pair team along with his wife, Laura Amelina, should know. Representing Russia, he and his pair partner won fourth place at the Innsbruck, Austria, 1976 Winter Olympics. 

“I can share experience. I can say what it means–how to be in front of a crowd, how to present yourself, what to learn and how to avoid some mistakes,” he adds during the television interview.

Back in TBSA’s snack bar, William and JoJo share what it was like in their lesson they just finished with Vlassov, who had them practicing a press lift. The pair skating move has William and JoJo facing different directions as William lifts JoJo in the air, both of them fully extending their arms. 

“It’s kinda scary,” JoJo says. “You just have to push through it and each time it gets a little better.”

William says the lifts are all about trust. “I trust myself and I trust her. As long as she does her job right and I do my job right nothing’s going to go wrong.” 

“And we trust Alex on what we can do,” JoJo concludes.

They both also share stories about how at nationals in January, they got a chance to see and meet some of the future Olympians. Both met Jason Brown, the 19-year-old who helped the U.S. Olympic Team win the bronze medal in Sochi.

“I got to meet him and talk to him and tell him good luck before he went into his short program (at nationals),” William says. “He doesn’t think of you as his fans. He thinks of you as his friends. He’ll remember me next time. He’s a very social guy.”

JoJo with Jason Brown, the  2014 U.S. Olympic Team
Bronze Medalist, and 2014 U.S. Silver Medalist.
JoJo also has a Jason Brown story: “He was warming up to do his short program and one of my friends saw him. We just went right up to him. She’s actually not very shy at all so she just started talking to him. He’s really sweet and he’s not one of those people who says, ‘Ok, get the picture, now go.’” 

JoJo also got a picture with ice dancer Meryl Davis, who along with Charlie White brought down the house with their gold medal free dance performance at the Sochi Olympics Feb. 17, 2014. 

“I saw Meryl Davis when I was eating breakfast at the hotel,”
JoJo poses with Olympic Champion
Ice Dancer Meryl Davis.
JoJo says. Meeting the higher-level figure skaters is inspiring and makes you work harder, she adds. 

For this upcoming competition season, the siblings may move up to the next pair level, which is novice. If so, they’d like to at least medal at next year’s national competition.

“Hopefully, we’ll be trying a triple throw and a triple side-by-side jump and maybe a double twist,” William says. All the while keeping their sights set on that “long shot” goal further down the road. 

“We’re definitely looking for Seoul,” William says.

Monday, December 30, 2013

TBSA Skaters Spend the Holidays Performing on Ice at Busch Gardens

The flip side of all the long lessons, numb noses, and hard landings in figure skating is ... the ice show

That can be easy for skaters to forget sometimes, but not for a group of hand-picked
The TBSA skaters who perform in
Busch Gardens' holiday show pose at
the Countryside mall rink recently. 
Tampa Bay Skating Academy skaters who are showcasing their talents in Busch Gardens' 

Christmas On Ice show through Friday. 

"What I like about it most is smiling, skating, dancing and acting funny," says 7-year-old Talia Deka, one of a dozen young TBSA skaters, ages 7 to 11, who were chosen by Sha' Non McManus to be little elves in the show.

From l to r, Nicole, Emily C., Claudia, Lizzie, Brooke,
and Lilianna enjoy a sleigh ride during the show.
"It's very difficult because they miss three days of school and the parents always have to be there," says McManus, who is a scout for the Christmas On Ice show performed in the theme park in Tampa. "It's a lot on the family and they're volunteering their time. But it's a fun activity and they get to meet a lot of professional skaters."

And, of course, McManus says, they get to say, "'Hey, I skated in the Busch Gardens' holiday show!'"  

The 25-minute show, which features world-class skaters, runs until Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. 

There are two to three shows per day during the week with more shows on the weekend. Each young skater performs three days a week, taking turns to be one of six elves in the new choreographed show. 

"Normally, we only hire three little ones, but this year we changed the choreography so we needed a lot more kids," McManus says. "They're doing really well."
Talia performs on stage.

Talia, who's been skating since she was 2 years old but only recently renewed her love for the sport, enjoys performing on the ice. 

"I feel so excited. I feel like everybody is looking at me and watching me and I feel the song is really cool," she says. "I feel special that I'm in the Christmas show. It's really, really fun."

McManus, who also is the skating director at TBSA Countryside mall, has been a scout for about five years for the Advanced Entertainment Group, Inc., which contracts with Busch Gardens to perform the ice show at the Moroccan Palace Theater. 

Brooke, left, and Nicole having fun during the show.

Each of the 15 young girls who are in the show have at least two to three years of figure skating experience. It's important they know when to be at certain spots on stage, referred to as tracks. 

"They're all really good show girls," McManus says. "They can swing in and out of tracks really well."

And that's probably because they really enjoy what they're doing. 

"The best part I love about it is everything," Talia says. "It's all fun."

So be sure to visit Busch Gardens this week and go see our Oldsmar and Countryside skaters perform their hearts out through Friday.
Introducing the TBSA skaters and what they enjoy about skating in the holiday show: 

1. Nicole Tutak, 11, has skated for about seven years. This is her second year in the Christmas On Ice show. She loves to perform and she hopes skating in shows will be in her future. 

2. Jessica Sheynin, 11, has skated for five years. This is her first year in the show. She loves to see the audience smiling and enjoying the show. 

Allie dancing it up on the ice.
3. Allie White, 10, has skated for five years. This is her fourth year in the holiday show. She loves performing and making sure the audience is having a good time. She's the only girl to play the role of "Austin" in Busch Gardens year-round Iceplorations show, which starts Jan. 14, 2014. She doesn't skate in the year-round show but is the lead child actress.

4. Emily Carr, 10, has skated for three years. Her favorite part about participating in the holiday performance is watching the audience enjoy the show.

5. Basia Wasiak, 10, has skated for four years. This is her first year in the show. She says every part of the performance is exciting. 

6. Lizzie Gogola, 9, has skated for six years. Her first year in the show, she loves playing the part of the saxophone girl and she loves the snow on stage. 

7. Brooke Ribble, 9, has skated for three years. Her favorite part is having fun with friends while skating. 

8. Jenny Sheynin, 9, has skated for five years. This is her second year skating in the show. She says she loves being a part of the show and loves the cast members and everyone who works backstage. 

9. Lilianna Murray, 8, has skated for three years. This is her second year performing in the show. Her favorite part is being with her friends and helping the jugglers with their props during the show. 

10. Claudia Amis, 8, has skated for three years. She loves performing in front of the audience and she enjoys the "meet and greet" after the show.
Front row, l to r, Jadyn, Lizzie, and Brooke.
Back row, l to r, Allie, Emily L., and Emily C.

11. Jadyn White, 7, has skated for two years. This is her first year in the show and she is excited to join her sister, Allie, on stage. She loves to perform and show her "attitude" on stage. 

12. Talia Deka, 7, loves to entertain the audience. This is her first year in the holiday performance and she enjoys making up her own dance moves during the show.  

(Skater bios provided by Mary White, who coordinates the young skaters and parents.) 

One skater from Brandon, Lauren Lampien, and two skaters from Clearwater, Angie Volkin and Emily Lowry, also perform in the show.

Park hours for this week are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Dec., 30. On Tuesday, New Year's Eve, the park hours are 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. And on Wednesday, New Year's Day, through Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, the hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Charity Hockey's Main Goal: A Win Over Cancer

During the holiday season, charity and goodwill often take the spotlight--even on the ice. 

The 4th annual Charity Hockey Tournament starts Friday, Nov. 29, and runs through Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy (TBSA) in Oldsmar. The event, sponsored by Goals for a Cause, will raise money for
Former Lightning player
and current center for the
Philadelphia Flyers, Vinny
Lecavalier, center, poses
with "Goals for a Cause"
founders Frank Daly, left,
and Neil Armstrong.
children with cancer and for underprivileged young athletes.

About 100 hockey players, many who play in the "50 and over" leagues at TBSA and Brandon, will participate in the tournament. There are also college-level players who participate in the fundraising event. 

Goals for a Cause is a charitable organization that aims to provide support to area nonprofits by combining fundraising, volunteer efforts ... and hockey. 

Last year, the charity hockey tournament raised $6,600 to help feed the hungry through Feeding America Tampa Bay. This year, the money raised will go to the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation and the Tony Rolon Hockey Scholarship Fund.  

“Every year we continue to build,” says Scott McCance, an event organizer. “We want to do more than we did last year.” 

TBSA is one of several sponsors of the event. Other sponsors include Jack Willie’s Bar Grill & Tiki restaurant, Creative Water Concepts, Inc., Lee Roy Selmon’s, FAST of Florida, Inc., Can-Ice, Stahl & Associates Insurance, LegalJourney Law Firm, and 2nd Time Sports. 

Among other outreach projects, the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation, or Vinny 40 Foundation, provides support for children and families affected by cancer through the Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorder Center located at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. 

Each year in the U.S., there are about 13,400 children who are diagnosed with cancer.

“We are so fortunate that ‘Goals for a Cause’ chose to support Vinny and his foundation,” says Genevieve Bale, executive director for the foundation. “Knowing that people continue to support him although he no longer wears the Lightning uniform speaks volumes about the impact he continues to have on the children and families battling with pediatric cancer.”

After playing 14 seasons with the Lightning team, Lecavalier recently made a switch to the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2007, he gave $3 million to the hospital for the pediatric center. 

McCance says most of the money raised will go to the Vinny 40 Foundation. But some of it will also go to the Tony Rolon Fund, which provides financial assistance for underprivileged children so they can purchase hockey equipment and ice time. 

These hockey players will help raise money
Nov. 29, to Dec. 1, 2013, at the Charity Hockey
Tournament held at TBSA in Oldsmar. 
To help raise funds, there will be a silent auction and a raffle. Items include a pair of Vinny Lecavalier autographed, game-used skates; a 2012-13 Tampa Bay Lightning team-signed helmet; a 2013 Vinny Lecavalier autographed jersey; a Vinny Lecavalier autographed and game-used CCM RBZ stick; a Bauer helmet with 23 autographs, including Vinny’s, Marty St. Louis’, Stamkos’ and 20 others; a Bobby Hull, Chicago Black Hawks, autographed jersey; and a Jean Beliveau, #4 Montreal Canadians former captain, autographed jersey.

The idea to pitch in to help those in need in the community began when the four founders--Neil Armstrong, Frank Daly, Norm Dann and Rich Stack--were moved to do what they could in 2010 to raise money to benefit the Kocab/Curtis Memorial Fund in honor of slain Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis. 

The first charity hockey tournament raised $4,500 for the Tampa Police Officers’ memorial fund. The second year, they raised $5,500 for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. All of the charity events have been held at TBSA. 

So help keep the giving going and come on out to TBSA in Oldsmar this weekend to enjoy some holiday hockey fun.