On top of the world

ROB BRODIE, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:49 AM ET

At a rink far, far away from the comforts of home, Jan Calnan had every reason to be consumed by nerves.

Then the music started playing.

And Calnan suddenly felt the warm embrace of familiarity.

Of knowing she'd been there and done that.

"It was like 'Oh yeah, I remember what this feels like,' " said the Rideau Skating Club coach.

She's got a long memory.

Good thing.

At 39, Calnan hadn't felt the butterflies of competitive skating in two decades. Yet here she was in Oberstdorf, Germany, receiving a championship trophy from International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta.

Best in the world?

Yes, Jan Calnan can now say that.

Twenty years later.

"It was wonderful. Very, very wonderful," said Mary Yarush, the choreographer who, along with Nepean Skating Club coach Leonid Birinberg, helped get Calnan ready for the International Adult Figure Skating Competition -- the first-ever global event of its kind for skaters age 30-65.

With her husband, Dan Sauve, in the stands, Calnan weaved a little magic with a three-plus minute interpretation of a unique piano composition by William Joseph. It was presentation which made the difference -- Calnan couldn't match the technical elements of American Beth Delano, but she squeaked out a 34.78-34.43 point overall edge thanks to her superior artistry.

CANADIAN GOLD

She and Quebecer Stephane Vachon were Canadian gold medallists at the event -- she in Masters Ladies Free Skating I, he in Gold Men's Free Skating I. Denis La Rochelle claimed a bronze in Silver Men's Free Skating 3.

Ask Calnan what brought her back into the realm of competitive skating, and she isn't sure why. Some persistent arm-twisting by one of her adult students talked her into it just three weeks before the Canadian adult championships, March 31-April 3 in Charlottetown.

"Honestly, I don't know what made me do it," said Calnan. "Five minutes before stepping on the ice at nationals and (in Oberstdorf), I really questioned my sanity, and wondered what I was doing there."

Then the switch flicked on.

And it was like she was that 19-year-old from the Gloucester Skating Club again. The young dreamer who skated on the same ice as eventual Olympic silver medallist Elizabeth Manley.

"It was a blast," Calnan said about feeling the joy of skating in front of an audience once more.

Calnan thought those days were over with years ago. She looked across the ice at Manley, and saw a skater who was progressing so much more rapidly.

"She had 4-5 triples, I only had two or three," said Calnan, whose career highlight was a silver medal at the 1983 Canada Winter Games. "Back then, there was no option to continue skating as an adult. If you hadn't made it by the time you were 19, then you weren't going to.

"So I thought I'd rather spend my money at university."

Manotick's Rideau club was in the market for a coach, so Calnan decided teaching a few classes could help pay off some of those Carleton University bills.

Little did she know the ice wasn't about to let go of its grip on her.

"I never contemplated (coaching) as a full-time career," she said. "But skating is something that takes over your life. You can't let it go.

"I have a love for it that just won't leave."

Much as she takes joy in teaching, what's gone on in the last 12 weeks has added new fuel to the flame that burns inside. Her parents, Michael and Barbara of Kemptville, have surely noticed it.

"I think it's really revitalized her. She's thoroughly enjoying it," said Barbara, who admits, with a chuckle, to "a little bit" of surprise that her daughter is competing again.

"Needless to say, we're very, very proud. It takes an awful lot of courage for somebody her age to get back to competing. We're full of admiration for her.

"The great thing is, she's in excellent condition. She looks like she's 20 years old."

Yarush believes Calnan's victory will be "totally inspirational" to adults considering a return to the ice themselves.

"This is a new avenue we're exploring," said Yarush, who'd like to coach a team of adult skaters next season. "And to have a Canadian win the first world title ... this is big."

Already a fan of the adult skating concept, Calnan hopes her efforts can help others share in it.

"I'm quite willing to be an ambassador for it," said the Manotick Station resident.

"You don't have to stop skating when you're a kid, you can keep skating for your whole life."

The existence of Canadian and world championships are vital to the cause.

"If you don't have a goal, there's absolutely no reason to do it," said Yarush. "This is their new goal."

Five Canadians made the trip to Germany, each responsible for footing the $3,500 bill to get there.

Calnan got it done with plenty of fundraising help from skaters and parents at the Rideau club.

"I wouldn't have gotten there without their support," she said.

And she's not done yet.

"We're going to keep building on this program," said Calnan.

"I'm hooked again."

AROUND THE AMATEUR SPORTS SCENE: Pro skateboarder Claude Regnier of Ottawa finished third in giant slalom, fifth in dual giant slalom and sixth in tight slalom at the Colorado Cup. The Ottawa Sk8park Athletic Club holds its Dovercourt Open in Westboro community on July 1-2 ... Canada's national canoe-kayak team has a training camp slated for June 27-July 6 at the Rideau Canoe Club.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


Videos

Photos