By Debbi Wilkes

Craig Buntin, Skate Canada International’s Athlete Ambassador, was 10 years old and had never been on a pair of skates when his family moved from Vancouver to Kelowna.

He soon discovered that skating was BIG in Kelowna. The entire community and particularly all his classmates seemed to live and breathe hockey. Of course, like every child, he wanted to belong and suddenly, learning to skate went to the top of his priority list. He’d never stepped on the ice but he was hungry to discover what made skating so great in the eyes of his new friends.

His Mom joined him up at the local Memorial Arena where the Kelowna Figure Skating Club operated.

Next he needed hockey skates. Off to Canadian Tire.

That first CanSkate lesson showed Craig that he was different. First of all he was several years older than everyone else, older and bigger, but he recognized that he was also keener and more motivated. If he was going to learn to skate, he had to do it fast. And by the end of the first week he was already skating backwards and doing simple jumps to test his daring despite being in hockey skates.

He realizes now that he fell in love with skating the second his blades hit the ice.

Part of this was due to the attitude of his first coach, Karen Bond, a patient and caring teacher whose love for the sport was contagious. (To this day if Craig is in Kelowna, he’ll make a trip to the rink to visit with Karen.)

As a result, Craig soon recognized that it was figure skating rather than hockey that was so exciting. That meant another trip to Canadian Tire to select figure skates … but they were all white! That necessitated visits to every shoemaker in town to see if those white skates could be dyed black. Everybody said, “No!” probably because his skates were likely made of plastic rather than leather. No dye would take. Finally one shoemaker agreed to see what he could do.

“I think he used black spray paint” says Craig, “but I didn’t care, my skates looked great.”

With his new black figure skates, Craig was on his way. The adjustment to those new skates, however, wasn’t as easy as he thought and he found himself tripping over his toe picks a lot, something that he admits now taught him quickly how to balance and control his speed and edges. It was either learn to balance or end up face first on the ice.

It wasn’t long before the first coaching bill arrived too, the moment when both Craig and his Mom realized that skating was an expensive sport. As a single parent, Craig’s Mom knew this could be a disappointing moment for her enthusiastic son and sat Craig down for a family meeting to discuss what this meant for the future of his involvement in the sport.

Deep down she wanted him to continue with skating recognizing that the sport teaches great skills beyond the athletics, building character and teaching determination.

At 10 years of age and after just one week of lessons, Craig already knew what he wanted to do and immediately announced to his Mom, “I’m going to the Olympics.”

If the Olympics were really his goal, his Mom agreed to support him … on one condition. He had to work hard. This was a defining moment in young Craig’s life.

The rest, they say, is history. Craig’s mother never had to remind him about their deal.

The hard work she described did indeed take him to the Olympic Games in 2006 in Turino, Italy. It also took him to the top of the national podium where he and his partner, Valerie Marcoux, won three consecutive Canadian Pair titles from 2004 to 2006; to four World Championships with Val and to two with partner Meagan Duhamel.

Craig was proud of his Kelowna roots and continued to represent the Kelowna Skating Club all the way to the national championships. Even after he changed his affiliation, the club was always there for support offering words of encouragement and inspiration.

Looking back on his career, Craig identifies sport as a guiding light in his life. It was skating that taught him all the important lessons and helped in developing all aspects of his personality, teaching him about winning and losing gracefully, setting goals, and supporting everyone involved, even your competitors. It also released his creativity to the point where he now believes there is a sense of artistry in everything.

Craig was 18 when Skate Canada International was held in Kamloops in 1998. He remembers sitting in the stands watching the event, wanting to be out there on the ice and being inspired by the competition. He also remembers thinking back to when he was starting out, 10 years old, an age in skating considered too old to realistically make the Olympic Games.

But like all great champions, he refused to let anyone else write his story, believing that wherever you’re competing, you’re closer to your dream than you think.