Local figure skater lends skills to pairs

A quick search on YouTube will find you footage of a pairs figure skating feat called a twist, in which the female is propelled upwards by her partner, spinning horizontally with the ice before being caught.

A quick search on YouTube will find you footage of a pairs figure skating feat called a twist, in which the female is propelled upwards by her partner, spinning horizontally with the ice before being caught.

That’s just one trick former Arctic Edge skater Millie Austin, 18, has been learning over the summer and, more recently, put into practice on the competitive stage.

“I had never done anything like that before,” said Austin of the twist. “There’s no move comparable to that in singles skating, so it took a lot of bravery for me to try it.

“Everyday it gets better and we can do new and different things. I’m learning pretty fast, so it’s getting pretty exciting.”

The Whitehorse native, currently in her first year of studies at McGill University in Montreal, is not new to leaps – or spins – but she is still adjusting to the major one she made in the spring. After being a singles skater for as far back as she can remember, Austin made the leap to pairs skating after a tryout in Montreal in the spring, getting paired with Braeden Donaldson, 22, of Victoria, who has been training in Montreal for a couple years.

“Maybe in the back of my mind I thought, ‘That would be a really fun thing to do,’” said Austin. “It’s different from singles, obviously, because you have to do lifts and a bunch of crazy things. And I thought that would be a fun thing to do and it finally became a reality.”

Since beginning practice in June, Austin and Donaldson have performed in two competitions, most recently over the weekend at the Souvenir Georges-Ethier event in Trois Riviere, Quebec. At the competition, which is more a practice event and not used as a qualifier for larger meets, the new pair finished fifth.

“We have what you would call a clean program, which is where you don’t make any mistakes, you don’t fall, or anything like that,” said Austin. “It was clean and it gave us confidence and in the future we’ll increase the difficulty of everything we’re doing.”

The pair’s first competition was Augusts’ BC/YT Section Summerskate Competition in Burnaby, BC, a small competition where they finished second.

“Sometime it’s hard in pairs when you go to competitions. Not a lot of people get into pairs skating because it’s hard to match people up and it’s hard to find coaches too,” said Austin. “So it was a small competition for pairs.

“But I loved it because it was my first official competition in pairs. And it was good to get it out of the way.

“It was good because the nerves I have as a single skater aren’t there in pairs because you have another person there with you. It’s a lot more relaxed, you can help each other and calm down.”

While Austin still has plenty of technical aspects to learn in her new discipline, one thing she is trying to keep in mind is she’s not alone out there, which can sometimes be easy to forget for a lifelong singles skater.

“There’s a lot of things to get used to, but one of the hardest things is remembering that there’s always a person there skating with you, so you can never just make up something as you go,” said Austin. “You always have to make sure your partner is on the same page as you.”

After a smaller competition next month in Quebec, Austin and Donaldson will be heading to the BMO Skate Canada Challenge Western and Eastern Challenge in Mississauga during December. From there the two hope to compete at the BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Victoria early next year.

“If this what we can do already in the season, and it’s only just started, then it shows that by the end of the year we’ll be really good,” said Austin.

An accomplished singles skater, Austin has won a gold and a bronze over three separate appearances at the Arctic Winter Games, and also competed at the Canada Winter Games in 2007, finishing 16th.

In her last season of singles, Austin made it on to the BC/YT Provincial Development Team for her seventh-place finish at the 2010 BMO Skate Canada Sectionals (BC/Yukon Section) in Richmond, BC. She also won gold at the Autumn Leaves event in Kamloops, BC, last October, placed sixth in the Wildrose Competition in Edmonton and second at the Vancouver Island Skate International Competition.

At the Summerskate in August, Austin was joined by four former teammates from the Arctic Edge Skating Club. Whitehorse’s Rachel Pettitt took gold in the juvenile women’s category while teammate Bryn Hoffman came seventh in the pre-novice women’s division. In junior bronze ladies, Kelsey Armstrong finished in 10th and Teneil Caron was 13th in novice ladies.

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