Legendary Burka family finds strength in skating

A decision made on the spur of the moment, under pain of disaster and tragedy, made all the difference for Ellen Burka.

Dutch-born and very, very quietly Jewish, she had been herded into a concentration camp and asked to record her occupation. She could have written “school girl,” but she scribbled: “figure skating champion of The Netherlands.”

Those words saved her life.

The German commander of the camp was “a figure skating groupie,” Burka said on Tuesday in Toronto, where she was being feted as an inductee into the Jewish International Sports Hall of Fame, along with her world figure skating champion daughter Petra Burka. “He loved figure skating,” she said.

Because of it, Burka enjoyed privileges that others didn’t. She was allowed to work on a farm and was allowed to do some housekeeping. One day, all of the women at her camp were sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Except for Burka.

Burka survived two concentration camps. Now 92, still a spark plug and too tiny to be seen behind a podium, Burka clambered aboard a fitness step to face a crowd of figure skating who’s who and enthused, as if she was directing her Theatre on Ice: “This is absolutely overwhelming for me. I never expected it. I didn’t even know about this until six weeks ago.”

Ellen was actually inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010, but, being that it was in Israel, and too far away, she did not attend. Petra, the 1965 world champion and the first woman to land a triple jump, was inducted in 2012.

“I had no idea how I got into that,” Ellen said. “I completely forgot about it.” That is, until she got an email six weeks ago and there it was, notice of a special induction ceremony at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club where Burka had worked for so long. Behind the scenes was Toronto entrepreneur and philanthropist Sidney Greenberg, a former basketball player who was inducted himself into the hall years ago for making “a significant contribution to society through sport.” Greenberg is instrumental in programs offered at Canada House, a Canadian-founded arena in the poor border town of Metulla, Israel that brings Arabs and Jewish children together through play, specifically through hockey.

The Burkas might have been inducted sooner, but nobody seemed to know about their heritage. Ellen had kept her Jewishness quiet for many years, not even telling Petra and sister Astra until they were 16 and 18. As a single mother in Toronto, she feared she wouldn’t get work as a skating coach if people knew. When she was a youngster in The Netherlands and passionately learning how to skate, Ellen was turned back from a rink one day when she encountered a sign that said Jews weren’t allowed. She was puzzled. Her life became difficult after that.

Her story was compelling, Greenberg said. Ellen reluctantly allowed daughter Astra to make Skate to Survive, a documentary about the first 44 years of her life back in 2008, but as time has passed, she speaks more and more about her experiences.

Ellen and Petra are only the sixth and seventh Canadians to be inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall, following Cecil Hart (hockey), Lew Hayman (football), Fred Oberlander (wrestling), Fanny Rosenfeld (track and field) and Louis Rubenstein, considered the founder of the sort of modern figure skating – the artistic kind – that made Burka’s heart pump.

There are lots of figure skaters in this hall, too, aside from the Burkas and Rubenstein: Alain Calmat (France), Sarah Hughes (United States), Lili Kronberger (Hungary), Emilia Rotter (Hungary), Laszlo Szollas (Hungary) and Irina Slutskaia (Russia).

Burka lived and became an innovative force, just enough that the sport changed forever. She was ahead of her time, making it commonplace to train artistic movement every week – Theatre on Ice – that attracted skaters such as Toller Cranston, John Curry, and Dorothy Hamill to Toronto to work. And her daughter, Petra, changed the sport, too, as the first woman to land a triple jump. Without initially knowing anything about her mother’s struggle or the fate of her grandparents (who died in a concentration camp), Petra seemed to inherit the will to fight for survival, too.

“This is really quite special,” Petra said of the ceremony. “I didn’t expect this kind of reception. I really expected the medal to arrive in the mail.”

Not so. The literati of the sport poured into the reception area: Donald Jackson, Debi Wilkes, Sandra Bezic, Josee Chouinard, Brian Orser, Maria Jelinek, Frances Dafoe, Tracey Wainman, Tracy Wilson. The Consul General of Israel, D.J. Schneeweissm, had wise words from a sage: “We should never forget the past, but we should never allow it to limit us.”

“She was more than a skating coach,” said Bezic, who first met Ellen, a proud and confident woman, 50 years ago. “Training with Mrs. Burka was not for the faint of heart,” Bezic said. “She was tough and she expected her students to be tough. Now I fully understand and appreciate why.

“As a coach, she was a contradiction in terms,” Bezic said. “She was a strict disciplinarian, but she also valued free spirit.” Ellen educated Bezic about music, the inspiration behind it, and the nuances of it, enough that Bezic became one of the great choreographers of the sport.

Wainman finds it poignant that her career has come full circle with Ellen, who coached her to become a Canadian senior bronze medalist when she was only 12. Now Wainman is a coach. “Mrs. Burka and I always had a great relationship,” Wainman said. “She was somebody that really understood what I was going through at all times and could relate to it. And she always really brought the best out in me.”

Still, today, if Wainman has a coaching question, she consults Ellen. In the spring, the Hall of Famer (Skate Canada Hall of Fame, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Order of Canada) came to the York Region Skating Academy to look at some of Wainman’s students. “It was really special for me,” Wainman said.

And Wainman passes along what she learned from Ellen. “She was a very hard trainer and I consider myself a hard trainer,” Wainman said. She was only 10 when she participated in Ellen’s Theatre on Ice, something many clubs have now adopted. The intent: choreography isn’t just about steps. It’s about expressing what is inside of you. That’s the world according to Burka, saved by her declaration to still guide the hand of skaters.

Beverley Smith

Top Canadian Skating Officials selected for 2014 Olympic Winter Games

OTTAWA, ONT:  Canada will have three judges at the upcoming 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia:  Jodi Abbott, Edmonton, Alta.; Karen Butcher, Ottawa, Ont.; and Karen Howard, Regina, Sask.

All judges, whether officiating at a local club competition, or qualified to judge at the Olympic level, are volunteers who devote countless hours to the sport.  They must progress through several levels of training, examination and monitoring to become qualified by the International Skating Union (ISU) to judge at the world and Olympic level.

Countries are eligible to have judges at the Olympic Games based on the qualification of their skaters for the ladies, pairs, men’s and ice dance disciplines, as long as the country  has an eligible international judge. The country names were placed into a random draw that took place in Oberstdorf, Germany in late September.  Thirteen countries are eligible to have a judge for each discipline, and Canada was selected to name a judge in three: ladies; pairs; and ice dance.

Leanna Caron, President, Skate Canada, who is also a qualified ISU and Olympic/world-level official, knows that Canada will be well represented by the individuals selected. “Together these three people bring over 40 years of international judging experience to their roles at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. They have all passed the rigorous Skate Canada and International Skating Union standards to qualify in their disciplines. Not only will we have our best skaters going to the Games to represent Canada, we also have three of our top officials as well.”

An international ice dance judge since 1999, Jodi Abbott gained her ISU credentials for ice dance in 2006, and judged that event at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.  She will again be assigned to judge ice dance at the upcoming Olympic Winter Games.

Karen Butcher received her certification in 1998 as an international judge for singles and pairs and earned her ISU credentials for both in 2004. She will be judging the pair event at these Games.  She most recently judged the pair event at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships

With the addition of a team event for figure skating, Butcher will do double duty at the Games.  She will also judge the men’s and pair segments of the team event, which takes place over the first few days of the Games.

In 2002, Karen Howard became a certified international singles and pairs judge, receiving her ISU qualifications in 2009. Also a qualified referee for singles and pairs, she has twice judged at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. She will judge the ladies event at the Sochi Games.

Canadians Begin ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in U.S.A.

OTTAWA, ON: The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating begins this weekend with Skate America, taking place at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Canada will be sending two pair teams to the event, which will run from October 18-20, 2013. Skate America is the first of six ISU Senior Grand Prix stops.

Kirsten Moore-Towers, 21, St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch, 29, Toronto, Ont., are the first of two Canadian pair entries. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch have competed at this event twice previously, winning silver in 2010 and bronze in 2011. They also started this season in the United States, defending their title at the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. Last season, they placed fourth at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch train with Kris Wirtz and Kristy Wirtz at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club.

Margaret Purdy, 18, Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro, 21, Sarnia, Ont., will be the second entry for Canada in pair. This will be their first senior international event. Last season, Purdy and Marinaro won silver at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and placed fifth at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in the senior category. They are coached by Scott Rachuk and Alison Purkiss at the Competitive Skating Centre of Strathroy.

Skate Canada Director High Performance, Mike Slipchuk, will be the Canadian team leader at the event. Shirley Kushner of Westmount, Que., will be the Canadian team physiotherapist and Karen Howard of Regina, Sask., will be the Canadian official at the event.

Gabrielle Daleman fourth at ISU Junior Grand Prix

TALLINN, Estonia – Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., came within less than five points of a second medal on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit on Saturday placing fourth in women’s competition.

Serafima Sakhanovich led Russia to a 1-2 finish with with 164.48 points.  Elizaveta Iushenko was second at 159.86 and Miyabi Oba of Japan third at 152.13.  Daleman, fifth after the short, scored 147.89.

“I got my two combos in so that was good,” said Daleman, 15, third at last month’s junior Grand Prix in Poland and sixth at the world junior championships last season.  “All my jumps weren’t there but I kept fighting and I was happy about that.”

Larkyn Austman of Coquitlam, B.C., was eighth in her international debut.

“It was a great experience, a lot better than I anticipated,” said Austman, 15. “I felt very well prepared for the competition so the nerves of competing for the first time internationally was not an issue. I wish I could have skated better but it was good for me to do this.”

In ice dancing, Anna Yanovskaya and Sergey Mozgov of Russia won the gold medal.  First-year partners Brianna Delmaestro of Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum of Burnaby, B.C., were fifth while Katie Desveaux of Toronto and Dmitre Razgulajevs of Ajax, Ont., were seventh in their international debut.

“We were very happy with our performance,” said Delmaestro.  “We improved many elements over our Grand Prix performance in Poland earlier this year.  We’re now going to prepare for nationals with a lot of confidence.”

Louis Daignault

Canadian pair sixth at ISU Junior Grand Prix

TALLIN, Estonia – Tara Hancherow of Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing of Woodstock, Ont., placed sixth in pairs on Friday at the last stop of the season on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

The first-year pair were also sixth at their first Junior Grand Prix together last month and improved their overall score to 124.44 on Friday.

“Tara was amazing on the throws,” said Killings, 20.  “We improved upon many elements including our two lifts, twists and death spiral. The speed and flow of the program is what hurt us today.  Still we’ve adapted well to each other and already have our timing down.  I’m excited about this partnership.”

“We’re pretty happy despite a few mistakes,’’ added Hancherow, 17.  “”It was a good experience and we are making a lot of progress.  It’s just going to get better from here.”

Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin of China finished ahead of two Russian couples for the gold.

In ice dancing after the short dance, Brianna Delmaestro of Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum of Burnaby, B.C., are fifth and Katie Desveaux of Toronto and Dmitre Razgulajevs of Ajax, Ont., are seventh.

In women’s competition after the short program, Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., is fifth and Larkyn Austman of Coquitlam, B.C., seventh.

The free dance and women’s free skate are on Saturday.  There were no Canadian entries in men’s competition.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/jgpest2013/

Louis Daignault

Geoffrey Tyler brings tap dancing to the ice with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s 42nd Street short dance

Geoffrey Tyler is a Toronto-based dancer, singer, actor, director, and a musician. He’s had a stage career and a screen career. He’s been on radio. He played the Artful Dodger when he was 10. But now this gregarious hoofer can also call himself a performance coach and a choreographer for figure skaters.

This season, Tyler has choreographed a competitive figure skating program for the first time in his varied career. Nothing was going to stop Tyler from attempting this new life experience when ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje approached him with their latest interesting quest: They needed a short dance routine to music from “42nd Street.” Weaver came up with the music; she had skated to it when she was six years old.

“That was in my wheelhouse,” Tyler said. After all, last year, he played a role in the Stratford production of the musical about a musical. Poje figured he knew the production inside out. The dance team was looking for authenticity.

“We wanted to bring something different to what we were doing this year,” Poje said. “We wanted to bring something a little fun. He was excited as soon as we asked him to come on board.”

It’s not as if Tyler was a stranger to Weaver and Poje. They turned to him as a performance coach for their poignant “Je Suis Malade” routine for the 2011-2012 season and listened to his performance philosophy: look at each other, commit to authentic, honest communication because the audience will recognize sincerity.

And that season they did listen and learn. Weaver and Poje competed a lot that season with “Je Suis Malade,” with the intent of winning a medal at every competition they entered, a tall order. They came close. They did three Grand Prix events, winning silver at each, and made it to the Grand Prix Final, where they were fourth. They used “Je Suis Malade” to finish fourth at the 2012 world championships in Nice, France. Most notably, Weaver and Poje received standing ovations at all of these performances, even Nice. Coach Anjelika Krylova was moved, too. She wiped away tears on the sidelines in France.

“On the ice, we still really relate to people trying to communicate with each other,” Tyler said. “I start by asking: ‘What is your piece about? Why are you doing it? What do you like about it? What does this say about unrequited love?’ They took to it like ducks to water. Kaitlyn said: ‘This is what we should be doing.”

The judges are one thing, the audience another. “People come to be moved,” Tyler said. “Technical is exceptionally important. But performance is what makes it magical. I try to take the technical and make it magical.”

If you do it right, Tyler mused, people will think you are not doing anything technical at all. He knows he’s done his job when coaches remark to him that they forgot to watch their skaters’ feet.

“We had good success [with Tyler] in the past,” Poje said. “We knew this would be a good endeavour.”

None of this is new to Tyler, really. He met Kurt Browning by chance at a time when Browning was venturing beyond figure skating, playing a Peter Pan that soared high above a Toronto stage. There was a meeting of the minds, two artists reaching into each other’s playground. Tyler taught the skater how to play a guitar, Browning taught the dancer to skate. Eventually, Tyler helped Browning make a program he had in mind come to life. Curious, Tyler translated ideas onto ice, with Browning’s fanciful glide. And one year, at the Toronto stop of Stars On Ice, Tyler appeared on ice with Browning – and sung his music for him while on skates.

Tap dancing is another story. There is no glide in tapping, unless you’re one of the Nicholas Brothers of the 1940s. They defied gravity and friction. In the Broadway musical “42nd Street,” the curtain rises on 40 pairs of feet tapping. Translating that onto the ice “is a huge problem,” Tyler said. “But I know how to smooth things out.” He makes it seamless, another Tyler habit.

While Weaver recovered from surgery last spring, Tyler taught the team to tap dance. “I was off ice for a month,” Weaver said. “I did physio all day. But before we were allowed back on the ice, we started tap dancing a little bit because we knew we were going to go down the “42nd Street” route.” She could not skate with an incision in her ankle. Lessons were hard.

“Tap dancers make it look way easier than it is,” Weaver said. “It’s quite challenging, really, but we thought this would be an interesting route to go down. I think this program suits us very well. The tap was very necessary for us to get the right feel of the program.”

Tyler taught them steps off the ice, then they developed them together on the ice, and took what translated best. A couple of months later, Tyler was hoofing it, himself, on a stage in Barrie, Ont. “I’m hoofing like a mad cat …while we all sing and dance,” he wrote on his website.

“It’s really hard to get the ankles to move that quick,” Poje said. “We try to push our limits every year.”

Tyler has travelled far to practice his craft: all over Canada, and the United States, Europe, including London’s West End. But skating has taken him even further. During last spring, Tyler spent a month in Asia with Browning for Artistry on Ice in China and Yuna Kim’s All That Skate in Korea.

An artist born in Georgetown, Tyler rarely sits still. Just check out his twitter handle: @mypantsronfire. It all fits somehow.

Beverley Smith

Tallinn, Estonia Marks Final Stop on 2013-2014 ISU Junior Grand Prix Circuit

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will send eight athletes, for a total five entries to Tallinn, Estonia, for the seventh and final stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating. The event will run from October 9-12, 2013 and Canada will have competitors in ladies, pair and ice dance.

Canadian silver medalist Gabrielle Daleman, 15, Newmarket, Ont., will be one of two Canadian entries in ladies. Daleman won bronze earlier this season in Gdansk, Poland. Last season, she competed at two ISU Junior Grand Prix events, placing fifth and sixth in Chemnitz, Germany, and Linz, Austria, respectively. She also represented Canada at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, placing sixth. Daleman is coached by Andrei Berezintsev and Inga Zusev and trains at the Richmond Training Centre in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Larkyn Austman, 15, Coquitlam, B.C., will also represent Canada in the ladies division. This is her first international assignment. Austman is the 2013 Canadian champion in the junior category. She is coached by Heather Austman and Eileen Murphy at the Connaught Skating Club in B.C.

Tara Hancherow, 17, Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing, 20, Woodstock, Ont., are the sole Canadian entry in pair. Hancherow and Killing earned a sixth place finish in Kosice, Slovakia, in their first international assignment. They are coached by Annie Barabé and Maximin Coïa at CTC Contrecoeur in Quebec.

Katie Desveaux, 17, Toronto, Ont., and Dmitre Razgulajevs, 16, Ajax, Ont., are one of two entries in ice dance for Canada. This is their first international assignment. Desveaux and Razgulajevs placed seventh in junior dance at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. They are coached by Juris Razgulajevs and Carol Lane at Scarboro FSC in Ontario.

Brianna Delmaestro, 17, Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum, 18, Burnaby, B.C., are the second entry in ice dance for Canada. Delmaestro and Lum placed fifth at their first international assignment in Gdansk, Poland. They are coached by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe at the BC Centre of Excellence.

Petra Burka of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian team leader and Dr. Hemen Shukla, also of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian doctor onsite. Ron Conacher of Toronto, Ont., and Susan Heffernan of Roberts Creek, B.C., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

Virtue and Moir Start Season off Golden in Finland

OTTAWA, ON: Tessa Virtue, 24, London, Ont., and Scott Moir, 26, Ilderton, Ont., came out strong in their first international competition of the season. They took gold in the senior ice dance category at the Finlandia Trophy, a senior international competition in Espoo, Finland.

Virtue and Moir won the short dance with 67.23 points and then went on to win the free dance with 100.64 points, for an overall score of 167.87 Following the Canadians in second and third were Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the USA with 143.06 and Justyna Plutowska and Peter Gerber of Poland with 131.71.

The reigning Olympic champions will compete next in Saint John, New Brunswick later this month at the 2013 Skate Canada International from October 25-27, 2013 at Harbour Station. This will be Virtue and Moir’s first of two competitions on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.

Tickets are still available for the 2013 Skate Canada International and can be purchased online at www.harbourstation.ca, by phone at 506.657.1234 or toll free in NB, NS, PE and ME at 1.800.267.2800, or in person at the Harbour Station Box Office.

Louis Daignault

Edwards and Pang reach podium at ISU Junior Grand Prix

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Ice dancers Madeline Edwards of Port Moody, B.C., and Zhao KaiPang of Burnaby, B.C., collected their second medal this season on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit earning the bronze on Friday.

Edwards and Pang posted the second best free dance of the day for third overall with 133.39 points finishing less than two points behind the winners.  Betina Popova and Yuri Vlasenko of Russia took the gold at 135.16 and Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons of the U.S., were second at 134.73.

Last month at the Mexico City stop, Edwards and Pang won the silver medal.  The national junior champions now have four Junior Grand Prix medals over the last two seasons.

National novice champions Danielle Wu and Spencer Soo of Burnaby were fifth in their international debut earning the fourth best score in the free dance.

In pairs, Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin led Russia to a medal sweep in another close competition.  Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., were fourth only three points from second spot.

Séguin is also competing in women’s singles and is ninth after the short program while Kelsey Wong of Burnaby is 17th.

In men’s competition, Mitchell Gordon of Vancouver stands 13th after the short program.

Louis Daignault

Skater, Olympian, Artist, Choreographer, Coach, Ambassador… Who is Shawn Sawyer?

So now that Shawn Sawyer has been chosen as the athlete ambassador for the 2013 Skate Canada International Grand Prix in Saint John, N.B., (appropriately enough, in his home province) what does it mean?

The 28-year-old artist (on and off the ice) is, according to dictionary’s best efforts, a diplomatic agent of the highest rank, a plenipotentiary (which sounds very important), an internuncio (it always sounds better in Italian), or an apostolic delegate, a chancellor at this important pre-Olympic contest.

Never mind that Sawyer has never been a Canadian champion, has never won an ISU Grand Prix event and didn’t make it to the Vancouver Olympics. He’s never really played the understudy, what with his incomparable flair:  the incredible stretch of his legs, his flexibility beyond compare, his chameleon-like nature to portray anything on ice, his spins, his spirals, his art.
That’s what Canadian icon, Toller Cranston, spotted when he chose Sawyer to portray himself as a young skater at his tribute show in 1997, when Sawyer was an unknown 12-year-old kid from Edmundston, N.B., a paper mill town.

‘‘“Toller wasn’t a part of my past, or my present or my future at the time,” Sawyer said. “He wasn’t part of anything, and didn’t talk much to me. But he was part of me. He got who I was and who I was going to become. He just knew. And I knew that he knew. He’s a kind of person that has had a huge impact on my life without having to be there, without having to hold my hand the entire time.”

During his skating career, Sawyer was novice and junior champion in Canada, sixth at a world junior championship, three times a bronze medalist at the Canadian championships, and at his final national championships, a spine-tingling second with an inspired free skate as the Mad Hatter to the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack. He once finished third in a short program at a Cup of Russia to Evgeny Plushenko and he earned a silver medal at the 2009 Skate America behind Evan Lysacek.

“The person that is most surprised about my career is myself,” Sawyer said. “I can’t believe I actually made it to the Olympics Games, and I can’t believe I have a spin named after me [it’s the one where he raises his leg up beside his head in a straight-line, full split position.].” He was always flexible, but he’s more flexible now than ever. He’s worked at it. “Let’s say I show up at an international championship with a Michelle Kwan spiral,” he said. “I can’t show up the next year and have a normal spiral. I have to move up to a Sasha Cohen spiral.” Few men do spirals.

Sawyer has made a career out of that incredible stretch, but now he’s making a career on Stars on Ice with his concepts. People have come to expect him to emerge from the curtains “with something a little bit out of the box,” he said, and the tour indulges his abilities. “Every year, they give me a blank piece of canvas,” he said. “They say they trust me, just don’t go too crazy.”
His signature pieces as an Olympic-eligible competitor were both David Wilson masterpieces of choreography and perfect for Sawyer: his complex Amadeus routine that he used for two seasons and then, Danny Elfman’s Alice In Wonderland.

Playing the Mad Hatter holds a special place in Sawyer’s heart and in Canadian championship folk lore. Sawyer had quit skating, having missed the Vancouver Olympics. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with skating,” he said. Then one day, he saw a photo of Johnny Depp in full costume as the Mad Hatter, red crazy hair and rings for eyes, quite off the wall, really.  The photo had an immediate impact. “Oh no, no, don’t see the movie. Don’t listen to the music,” Sawyer told himself.

The next day, he watched the movie and bought the CD. Then, he started to cut the music. He called up his coach, Annie Barabé and told her: “Guess what? I’m coming back!”

His Mad Hatter routine that he performed at the 2011 Canadian championships was one for the ages. He skated as if inspired.

“I have no words to describe it,” he said. “I don’t know where that came out of me.”

A standing ovation ensued. Strangely enough, Sawyer doesn’t remember skating it. He only remembers feeling as if he was going to faint five minutes before he went onto the ice. He could hardly walk.

That performance qualified him for the world championships, although he eventually gave up his spot after delays from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. He already had commitments with Stars on Ice, which started about the same time. But in retrospective, he ranks that performance ahead of his Olympic appearance. “It wasn’t about what I was going to get out of it,” he explained. “It was just me, pouring my heart out.”

He does this in other ways, too. Off the ice, he’s an artist, too. From his childhood, he’s always sketched. About five years ago, he discovered something important. He hadn’t really liked art class. “I thought I was painting with a broom,” he said. “It was really hard for me to do details.”
Then he began to see that details weren’t important. He was already steeped in exacting skating detail through the day. His art was to be different. Now he feels a balance in his life by tossing red wine and coffee onto canvases.

“They are my two favourite things in the world,” he said. “Obviously, they stain everything I own.” He’s amazed at the variety of colours he can produce out of those two media; he even extracted a peacock blue-green from a 30 cent bottle of wine he once bought in Paris. He paints mostly female heads, necks, crazy hair. Think Lady Gaga, with an extra explosion. He’s ready to do an art exhibition, if only he had time. Currently, Sawyer spends a lot of time on the road, touring, coaching and handing on the gifts of choreography that he’s learned from some of the best.

“I wouldn’t recommend that path I chose to get where I am right now,” he said. “But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything.  It’s all about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. Whatever you want to achieve in life, there are always obstacles.”

Beverley Smith

2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships Event Ticket Packages On Sale NOW!

OTTAWA, ON: Event ticket packages for the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships will go on sale Friday, October 4, 2013 at 10 a.m. (ET). The event will take place in Ottawa, Ont., the birthplace of the championships, at the Canadian Tire Centre from January 9-15, 2014.

This year Skate Canada will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the championships. Included in the 2014 event will be special centennial activates and celebrations taking place at various locations throughout the city.

The 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships will also act as the final step in the 2014 Olympic qualification process. At the conclusion of the senior events, Skate Canada will nominate the 17 member Olympic figure skating team to the Canadian Olympic Committee for selection to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Senior Championship Package
This package includes all senior practices, competition and the exhibition gala from January 9-12, 2014. This package costs $125-$185 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is reserved.

Junior & Novice Championship Package
This package includes all novice and junior practices and competitions from January 12-15, 2014. This package costs $40 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is general admission.

Both ticket packages must be purchased separately. Fans can buy their tickets online at www.capitaltickets.ca, by phone at 1.877.788.FANS (3267) or 613.599.FANS (3267), or in person at the Canadian Tire Centre box office.

Single event tickets will be available in November based on availability. Fans who order all-event tickets will also receive their tickets in the mail around that time.