It takes an army of volunteers to pull off an event the size of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, and Tillsonburg’s Avery Vanwynsberghe and Taya Steadman are going to be part of the 2013 ‘army’ in London.
The two 12-year-old skaters applied online to audition for the Nov. 14 ‘flower retriever’ tryouts. A group of 50-plus skaters met Skate Canada requirements and were accepted for tryouts, but only 18-20 were actually selected – including Vanwynsberghe and Steadman – with official notifications going out yesterday.
“I thought it would be cool to see how the skaters from different places deal with what they’re going through before they go on the ice to do a solo – I want to see what they do,” said Vanwynsberghe. “Just sharing the same ice with them would be cool.”
“I want to see how they calm their nerves,” said Steadman.
Skaters auditioned in their competition attire.
“You just had to do the basic stroking and go in-and-out of pylons,” said Steadman. “You had to skate, stop, pick up stuffed toys or flowers, then drop them again.”
“It was pretty exciting because there was only 50 kids,” said Vanwynsberghe. “We did an on-ice circuit – a slalom thing – and they had two roses on the ice. You had to stop at the roses and pick them up, then just drop them. After that there were teddy bears on the ice and you had to pick them up while moving. It was basic stroking, I wasn’t nervous.”
“But you have to know where the cameras are,” Steadman added with a laugh. “I think they had cameras set up (on the 14th), and you had to be really ‘presentive’ because they want you to be really…”
“Graceful,” said Vanwynsberghe.
“Yeah, they wanted to make sure you’re able skate with your arms up,” Steadman nodded, “and push properly. They sort of told us what they were looking for at the beginning, but they didn’t tell us everything.”
“What to do with our arms, they just told us to skate naturally,” said Vanwynsberghe.
Both passed with flying colours. Or they hoped they did. It took two weeks for them to find out.
“Some people wanted to be different, so they skated with their arms up and they were doing arm movements,” said Vanwynsberghe. “We could definitely see a difference. Some were doing toe pushes, some weren’t.”
Speed was important, said Steadman.
“They didn’t time us, but they wanted to make sure we had speed to get out there fast enough.”
Technique was also important, but flower retriever technique is not quite an exact science.
“They told us not to bend down and pick it up right in front of the cameras, bend from your knees,” said Vanwynsberghe. “But for the teddy bears we’re moving so you kind of have to do both, bend from the upper body and from your knees.”
It wasn’t a race. Each skater, divided into groups of eight, retrieved one at a time.
At the end of the session they had to do ‘lines,’ skating to the blueline, back, redline, back, etc.
“It was kind of hard because I didn’t know if they were looking for speed… so I kind of did both. I did ‘nice and pretty’ and ‘nice pushing’ for speed.
“Then after that they threw a whole bunch of stuff on and we were pretending that it was actually Worlds. They told us what part of the ice we had to pick up, like ‘you go to the Home Hardware sign in the corner…’”
Unlike traditional Teddy Bear Toss nights you see at hockey games, this was precision retrieval.
“You don’t want to drop any, you don’t want to trip. It was weird skating back because I didn’t know whether to have my arms out or arms in.”
Vanwynsberghe made two retrieval trips, so she did both – arms out and in.
There’s a chance they could be on TV next March, briefly, in front of a worldwide audience.
“You could catch a glimpse of it (flower retrieving) while they do the marks,” noted Vanwynsberghe. “Not much, but you’d definitely see some of them. It’s pretty neat.”
Short interviews with Skate Canada followed the audition.
“They asked you why you wanted to be a flower retriever,” said Steadman. “I said I wanted to be a flower retriever because I want to be at Worlds some day. And even though I’m not there yet, I still want to be part of it.”
“Then they asked us how we calm our nerves,” said Vanwynsberghe. “I don’t get nervous a lot, but when I do, I take deep breaths and say ‘I’ve done this before’ and just have fun.”
Both skaters have been at the Budweiser Gardens (formerly John Labatt Centre) to see the Canadian nationals. They know what it’s like when the arena is full.
“At Canadians we were ‘trying’ to get on camera, that was our goal, to get on TV,” Vanwynsberghe laughed. “We had big posters and we were yelling ‘camera guy!’”
“We were right beside him and we got on TV for like 10 seconds I think,” Steadman smiled.
“I think it was a good experience, even if we don’t make it, but I think we will,” said Steadman, and Vanwynsberghe quickly agreed.
“If Taya makes it and I don’t, I’ll support her and stuff,” she said, aware that it was possible only of the two Tillsonburg skaters might make it.
“I think we both did pretty good though,” Steadman concluded. “I think we’ll both make it.”
Steadman and Vanwynsberghe will have a training session in February and orientation session in March to help prepare for the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, March 12-17.