When Michelle Gorczyca’s dad took a new job in Whitehorse in September, she had two weeks notice to pack up her entire life and come North.
That’s tough for anyone, but even tougher for an elite figure skater with Olympic dreams.
“I didn’t know what to expect… how the move would affect my skating,” said Gorczyca on Saturday at the Canada Games Centre.
But she harboured some worries, she said.
“When I found out about the facility here, it put me at ease — it’s unbelievable, better than anything I’ve trained in out east.”
For the past seven years, Gorczyca (a native of White Rock, BC) trained at the Canadian Ice Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, with coach Robert O’Toole.
Since the move, she’s been training on her own.
Three weeks ago, she headed to Vancouver to prepare for the BC/Yukon Sectional meet with a new coach, Tina Leininger.
The move paid off for Gorczyca, she finished fourth in the junior ladies competition, good enough to advance to Skate Canada’s Western Challenge two weeks from now.
“I skated a really good program, mostly I just had a blast,” she said. “There was no pressure — I did it just because I wanted to. It was one of those straight-from-the-heart performances.”
On top of training largely on her own, Gorczyca is competing against an unknown field of skaters in western Canada.
After seven years in the east, she recognized many of the skaters at the big competitions.
She said she loves change, and she’s getting a whole heap of it lately.
The 17-year-old is no stranger to the podium, she skated in pairs to an international silver medal in Slovenia in 2004, and took silver at Canadian nationals that year as well.
She switched to skating solo, and admits that she’s “just started to hit her peak now” as a single skater.
She also said that singles is way more competitive.
“The numbers are just so much bigger in singles — in pairs, sometimes it’s a little easier to get to nationals, you may not have to qualify, but in singles you always do.”
She said that even though her training has been shaken up by the move, things are going well and she’s happy to be in the Yukon.
“I was really exited, I really wanted to come here — it was hard to leave Ontario, I had a lot going on, a lot of friends.
“But I love it here so much, I don’t think I’d ever go back to a big city,” she said. “Not if I don’t have to.”
It’s a lot tougher to stay competitive from such a remote location, she said, citing the cost of constant travel for training and competition.
“I’d love to get as much help as I can, it’s really expensive,” she said.
Her family has sacrificed a lot to help her realize her dreams.
“You live and breathe it, it’s a lot of hard work and commitment, sometimes it takes away from other parts of your life. It makes school more challenging, too.”
Flush from this season’s early success, Gorczyca is optimistic.
“I’m hoping to go as far as I can, going to nationals would be awesome… I’ll go as a proud Yukoner,” she said with a laugh.
Gorczyca won’t be the only Yukoner at the Western Challenge — fellow Artic Edge skater Kevin Caron also finished in the top four at the BC/Yukon Sectionals.
Caron also knows about training on his own — before he started training this season with Charlene Donald he’s been without any local coaching.
“It’s a great help, just to have someone there to watch you — instead of just having to figure it out by yourself,” said Caron of Donald’s presence.
Previously, he’d developed a system of videotaping himself skating.
“I’ve been doing that for the last year and a half, just watching myself on the TV at home, and going back the next day and trying to figure it out.”
Caron admits it not the easiest way to progress.
Before competitions, he usually spends a few days with his Vancouver-based coaches Karen Magnussen and Adam Zalegowski.
Caron is bouncing back after an injury plagued season last year.
He had a problem with a bone in his foot.
“It popped out during westerns, so I had to deal with that, but it’s settled down now,” he said.
His best season was two years ago, when he made it to the nationals — he’s hoping to repeat that accomplishment this year.
This past week he’s been dealing with skate problems as well – finding a boot that fits well is key.
If it doesn’t, Caron said he can destroy a boot in a week.
“I’ve done that twice,” he added.
He couldn’t practice most of last week, while his skates were being reinforced in Vancouver.
“I had my dad’s hockey skates, so I could still coach,” he said.
Caron coaches Canskate, a beginners course, as well as Special Olympics’ skaters.
“This is the first year I’ve got my certification, so I’m actually getting paid for it,” he added.
It’s a development year for the 16-year-old Caron, and on top of competing in the novice men’s division — he’s training to qualify for his junior division certification.
Unlike most sports, divisions in figure skating are based on skill — skaters have to get certified to compete at a certain level.
The exception to that rule is that at age 19, all skaters must advance to the senior level.
“It’s pretty much based on the jumps you can do,” said Caron.
He’s planning ahead for next season, his first as a junior — and taking a extra-heavy courseload at school — so that he’ll only have two courses to finish next year.
“It’s so I can travel more, and be away more — and missing school won’t be as tough.”
Gorczyca and Caron will head to Mississauga, Ontario, for the Skate Canada Western Challenge, which runs December 5-9.