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Local figure skaters deal with COVID-19 putting their activity on ice

Ashley Harris performs during the 2020 Ice Show in February last year at the New Ulm Civic Center.

NEW ULM — Despite the pandemic making things tough for everyone over the past ten months, the New Ulm Figure Skating Club (NUFSC) has been working hard to help keep its skaters happy, active and involved.

It’s no easy task with rinks being closed on and off due to COVID-19 restrictions. The NUFSC has done what it can to ensure its skaters stay as active as possible with the time they’ve had. NUFSC Board President Chad Ebert said this has been a tough, sensitive time for everyone, but many different things have been done over the harsh 2020 to maximize efforts and results for the club’s skaters.

“Going all the way back to the summer, we’ve done off-ice training,” Ebert said. “In the summer, some of our local coaches would meet and work with our kids in the park socially-distanced and working on things like balance and spin and those sorts of things. We’ve also done virtual Zoom meetings. We’ve had nationally recognized coaches work with our kids on some of those similar jump and spin type of things where you can put them on a monitor or you can do it at home and they can work along with the coaches. Even though we can’t always be on the ice, we work on key things to help them that when they have been able to get back on [the ice], they haven’t been just completely cold.”

The club currently features 62 skaters from 48 families.

Ebert said the NUFSC board has continued working hard to keep skaters happy and healthy and he’s proud of how the club has done in these times of uncertainty.

Elizabeth Borgen and Emma Hoffmann perform together during the 2020 Ice Show in February last year at the New Ulm Civic Center. photos by Rachel Hoffmann

“We have worked to be aligned with not only the ISI (Ice Skating Institute), the governing body of skating that we work with … we need to be consistent with ISI, Governor Walz and his directives, and also the facilities,” Ebert said. “There’s several differences between facilities. So making sure that we’re doing the same thing that hockey’s doing, making sure that as an ISI club that we’re doing the same thing as the Super Rink in Blaine. There’s a lot of work that goes into putting ice on in a safe way and trying to make sure that we’re meeting all the guidelines and keeping our kids safe and still giving them the opportunity to skate.”

After the club had its festival canceled this past November and has had to deal with limited rink time, the New Ulm Civic Center opened up again for their skaters during the week of Jan. 4 with guidelines in place. Masks were required for all participants, coaches, skaters and parents anywhere in the building. One parent was allowed to help their child tie skates and assist but had to leave during practices.

The club also had to make a tough decision to postpone this February’s Ice Show for a later date to be determined.

For many skaters, time on the ice was cut short quite a bit in 2020. But many skaters, along with the NUFSC, found ways to handle it.

(Elizabeth Borgen, 11 years old, New Ulm)

Members of the New Ulm Figure Skating Club pose together on the ice. “Legends and Divas” was the theme of the Ice Show last year. This year’s show has been postponed.

Elizabeth Borgen began her skating career at 4 years old, taking up hockey first. Borgen’s mother Carolyn signed up for figure skating lessons with the club to help her daughter and actually ended up in an Ice Show before her daughter. After Elizabeth Borgen attended that Ice Show to watch her mother, she decided that she wanted to figure skate also, playing hockey and figure skating until she was 9. After that, she decided to concentrate more on figure skating.

Once the pandemic hit, Borgen went from nine to 12 hours of skating per week to none. She eventually started participating in off-ice workouts with group classes and private lessons. She was getting tailored workouts to help build strength and conditioning as well from her coaches.

With rinks being shut down and having limited time indoors to skate in 2020, Borgen said that she began working more on off-ice activities.

“It affected me because with the rinks being opened and then shut down again, I started working more on off ice things and that helped improve my skating a lot,” Borgen said.

In addition to Borgen’s efforts to stay active anywhere she could, the NUFSC also continued assisting her.

photos by Rachel Hoffmann Delaney Sellner, Alaina Beranek and Cassy Rewitzer pose for a picture together.

“The NUFSC had private ice sessions before the rinks were closed down again,” Borgen said. “Before the pandemic started getting really bad, they held an outdoor class. And also I got to have private lessons off the ice by video.”

Borgen and her mother have been traveling to Braemar Ice Arena once a week for lessons. This arena was one of the first to open.

After that, they rented ice in Mankato for the opportunity to skate more in the summer.

Borgen also participated in a camp this past summer at Breezy Point called “Pops Camp.” It was a week long with a half day of skating.

After the second shutdown in 2020, Borgen continued to skate outdoors at The Loop in Maple Grove, which is a free outdoor rink that has a zamboni.

Borgen sets many goals for herself and she has a few key goals in mind for 2021.

“A goal or hope I have for this new year for skating is that I’d like to get my double flip and my double Salchow,” she said.

(Ashley Harris, 16 years old, Searles)

Ashley Harris, skating since she was 3 years old, had to adjust her typical skating routine after the COVID-19 pandemic hit to be more virtual and from home.

“Due to the pandemic, I have been doing off-ice training with my coach via Zoom,” Harris said. “I have also continued stretching and doing workouts at home.”

Harris said that when the indoor rinks were closed, she has traveled to Maple Grove to skate at its outdoor rink. She also said that she skated at a rink in Wisconsin.

With the NUFSC, Harris participated in outdoor activities over the last year.

“I have participated in socially-distanced outdoor club workouts,” Harris said. “I also participated in an outdoor t-shirt/mask tie-dye activity through NUFSC.”

Harris said that she most looks forward to rinks re-opening and continuing in-person training. She said that she also looks forward to skating in the Ice Show, which is currently postponed.

She is also hopeful that test sessions and competitions will be allowed to resume soon.

(Emma Hoffmann, 11 years old; Ellie Hoffmann, 9 years old, Lafayette)

Sisters Emma and Ellie Hoffmann have both been skating since they were able to walk. When the pandemic hit, they had to turn to many alternate ways to stay active with skating.

“When the pandemic started and we were unable to skate on the ice, we did off-ice spin classes and a few strengthening classes via Zoom with my coach,” Emma Hoffmann said. “As time went on, nothing compared to being on the ice with my coach and friends.”

Emma and Ellie’s mother Rachel said that when the New Ulm Civic Center didn’t put ice on in the spring and summer of 2020, the girls took a few lessons at the Dakotah ice rink in Prior Lake. In addition to that, the family drove twice a week to Mankato for June and July and attended skating camp in Breezy Point for a week, but it was much different from camp in the past, with parents driving their skaters up daily. The skaters were placed into small groups and did not interact with any of the other skating groups the whole week.

The outdoor rink in Maple Grove was another spot the two were able to skate. The Hoffmanns also took advantage of a few outside classes at the park put on by the NUFSC.

The most interesting project the Hoffmanns took on was creating an outdoor rink on the lake.

“Perhaps our most adventurous project was making an outdoor ice rink on the lake,” Rachel Hoffmann said. “We even tried to make our own zamboni. Lakes and ponds are very difficult for skaters to skate on and can be dangerous to jump and spin on due to it being uneven and cracks in the ice. So, lake skating is more for fun and not to work on skills.”

The Hoffmanns usually skate year round, with a small six-week break in March and the beginning of April, but 2020 was quite different due to restrictions.

With many skating events and activities canceled in 2020 and with the NUFSC taking things day by day and considering all options for future events, Emma and Ellie Hoffmann both are ready to get back on the ice as much as they can in 2021.

“I would love to see an ice show happen even if it is postponed,” Emma Hoffmann said. “Would also like to get back to competitions.”

Ellie Hoffmann echoed her sister’s thoughts on wanting to get back to competing again.

“I would like competitions back to be with friends and be able to cheer each other on,” Ellie Hoffmann said.

(Malia Wagner, 18 years old, New Ulm)

New Ulm’s Malia Wagner has been skating for 12 years. When the pandemic hit, Wagner had to take up a few other activities to stay active and keep in shape.

“I had to stretch and do a lot of workouts off-ice,” Wagner said. “I took up running and I tried to go for a run every day to help stay fit. I had to take a break from skating for a while because of all the arena closures and there was really no way to get around that.”

Wagner said that it was hard to find consistency in her practice schedule and that she had to skate whenever she could. She also went to other arenas to skate in both Prior Lake and Mankato.

Despite the struggles of finding ice to skate on, Wagner actually skated more in 2020 compared to previous years due to the end of her prep soccer career and graduation from high school.

“I actually probably skated a lot more than I had in the past because I used to play competitive soccer,” Wagner said. “But because I graduated this spring, I don’t play anymore and I had a lot more time to look for ice, drive to other places and prioritize my skating.”

Wagner said that in addition to Zoom workout classes and off-ice classes put on by the NUFSC in 2020, the club also had professional skaters and other high-level skaters as speakers, which she thought was really cool.

Wagner hopes the new year can bring her a more consistent skating schedule.

“Having a more consistent practice and coaching schedule would be nice so that people can plan other things around them and be more ready for competitions and testing,” she said.

(Mallory Larson, 6 years old, New Ulm)

Mallory Larson, younger sister of Malia Wagner, is new to skating with two years of experience. Larson’s mother Tracy said that Mallory lost out on some skating momentum due to the pandemic coming right after the 2020 Ice Show.

During the shutdown in the spring, Larson learned to ride a bike and rollerblade. During the summer she enjoyed swimming and fishing. More recently she found another winter activity to enjoy in downhill skiing.

In June and July of last year, Larson had the opportunity to skate with her sister Malia and others in Mankato. She was also able to attend some group and private lessons in 2020.

Larson hopes to skate in her second Ice Show this year and have camp with Olympians, an event that was planned and ultimately canceled in 2020.

Traci Larson said that 2020 was a tough year that reminded her how much she missed seeing all of the skaters, coaches, families and competitions.

“As parents, we find joy in watching our skaters learn and achieve new things as well,” Traci Larson said. “It’s been a tough year with all the guidelines and changes to do that. The time away and slowdown of activities reminded me how much I enjoy watching all of the skaters pushing each other along, reaching their goals and achieve new heights. We definitely missed seeing the skating families and coaches during the breaks, as many of them have become like family.”

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