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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Pandemic hurts figure skating coach Derek Schmidt, but there’s a possible silver lining

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

The global COVID-19 pandemic has left figure skating coach Derek Schmidt frustrated and excited at the same time. While he has taken a hit financially, he could attend his first world championships.

Derek Schmidt. Photo: Milton Skating Club

“I’m good, but I’m not working very much. It’s not good,” said Schmidt, who is in his fourth year teaching and coaching at the Milton Skating Club, after 15 years in similar roles at the Minto, Nepean and Gloucester clubs.

But on the other hand, one of his two national-level skaters – allowed to train under provincial rules – is in a potential position to attend her first world figure skating championships next month, if Skate Canada names a team.

Madeline Schizas won the virtual Skate Canada Challenge senior women’s title last month against the country’s best. Since the national championships have been cancelled, Skate Canada Challenge can be seen as nationals, which is the world championships’ selection qualifier.

In 2020, Schizas, who turns 18 on Feb. 14, also won the Skate Canada Challenge title and placed third at the National Skating Championships, finishing less than one point away from the silver medal.

“I’ve never been to worlds. It would be very good for me. I have coached 20 years. That would be one silver lining to this pandemic,” said Schmidt, a former Gloucester Skating Club athlete, who competed in five senior men’s nationals.

“We haven’t heard from Skate Canada, if the worlds are a go. She won Skate Canada Challenge and it was the only time the top girls competed against each other. She had a very good score last year (nationals). She definitely has a shot.”

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Canada is qualified to send two women’s singles skaters to the March 22-28 world championships in Stockholm. Schmidt added Skate Canada high performance director Mike Slipchuk has monitored Schizas’s skating progress this season in Milton.

Madeline Schizas. Photo: Skate Canada

While the Milton Skating Club rink has been closed because of the province-wide lockdown, Schizas, who lives in Oakville, has been travelling to Hamilton and Richmond Hill for shorter training sessions because of the cost of private ice.

“Our off-ice training is not hampered, but we must use the ice time we have more wisely and come prepared,” Schmidt added. “We only have two hours instead of four.”

He trains Schizas in Richmond Hill, while Nancy Lemaire trains her in Hamilton.

Coaches hurting from COVID

Meanwhile, Schmidt has had to resort to teaching fewer classes for his other younger skaters through Zoom sessions. He has divided his skaters into three groups for one-hour sessions, working on jumps, rotation and staying tight.

The pandemic has mainly thrown his coaching career into quadruple frustration. While he can’t train his skaters properly, there’s no competitions and he misses working with the club’s coaching team, it’s also painful on the monetary side.

“It’s more on the financial side. I like being at home. I like being at the arena, being around the kids and a team of coaches. I don’t get to see (the coaches), either. That’s not fun,” Schmidt, 46, said.

“It’s setting the kids back. I have pre-novice and novice skaters who haven’t competed in about a year. There’s no ice, no competitions. There’s a big developmental period between high performance and making your way up.”

When Schmidt has free time, he and his wife Elizaveta Stekolnikova, a former two-time Olympic ice dancer representing Kazakhstan, turn their attention to hockey. Sons Roman and Gabriel are high-level players.

Roman is a top-ranked, 6-5, right-shot defenceman playing for the United States U18 team in Michigan. He previously played two seasons for the Ottawa Junior 67’s U14 and U15 teams (2015-17). He has committed to Boston College for 2021-22.

Gabriel, 12, plays, mostly practice sessions these days, at the AAA level for Markham. He also benefits from a 20-x30-foot backyard rink.

Schmidt built the outdoor rink for Gabriel, but he’s not ready to open it for his figure skaters.

“I’ve thought of that, but I don’t want to see the bylaw enforcers,” he said with a laugh.

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