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Gilles gang: skating times three is golden

Skating's all in the family for these elite athletes

Alexe, Todd, and Piper Gilles.
Alexe, Todd, and Piper Gilles. (The Gilles Family)

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By Jocelyn Jane Cox, special to icenetwork.com
(02/07/2008) - It's difficult enough for parents to keep up with one competitive skater in the family. Between costuming, equipment, coaching, practice sessions, and all those competitions -- it's hard to keep everything straight.

Some families manage to nurture two elite athletes, but one family caused quite a stir at the 2008 U.S. Championships in Saint Paul, Minn., the Gilles family from Colorado Springs, Colo. Not only did they have three athletes in the competition, but each of them earned impressive results.

This 'family affair' has been competing for years, but now the Gilles kids are really starting to climb the ranks. Todd, 21, earned sixth place in the senior dance category with his partner Jane Summersett. Alexe, 16, won the gold in junior ladies, and her twin sister, Piper, garnered the silver in junior dance with partner Tim McKernan.

Icenetwork.com caught up with Bonnie Gilles and her kids after they returned home from Saint Paul.

Bonnie, we understand you also have two other children and several pets. Can you tell us about them?

I have two other children who currently do not skate. Kemper, is 17, and used to love doing the ice shows in Rockford, IL. until they made him wear a pink jumpsuit. He is a junior in high school and very involved in the L.E.A.D program, an educational program for students with learning disabilities. He is a mentor to children at the elementary level, and gives presentations to students, teachers, and the community, to increase awareness. Kemper has helped me so much with driving kids, and with just the day-to-day chores; since my husband lives in Oklahoma.

Shelby is in 8th grade. She plays tennis, and her goal is to make the high school team next year. She also sings in the choir, has had several solos, and has been in school plays and musicals. She also used to compete on synchronized skating teams.

We currently have five poodles, two cockatiels and several fish tanks. Our poodles have also had poodles, who live as far away as Duluth, MN. In fact, the owners of that dog were so kind when we were in Saint Paul, that they gave Alexe a ride to a practice rink, since I had broken my leg (shoveling the driveway) and couldn't get around much. Most of the dogs have been bought by skating families, so we still get to see them.

What is your travel schedule like?

I went on every Junior Grand Prix assignment with the girls this year. That makes five trips, plus I went to Liberty and the Lake Placid Dance Championships. Fortunately, Todd was home for most of the trips and between him and Jane (Summersett) during the week, and my husband on weekends; we made it!

One of Alexe's international competitions was in The Hague, Netherlands. This was very close to my heart. I am 100% Dutch and have Dutch relatives who came to see Alexe skate. My first visit to the Netherlands was when I was her age, so it was fun to see her experience it for the first time too.

What is it like to be at Championships with three competitors?

This year, Championships was really overwhelming since I broke my leg about a week and a half before the competition. Our coaches Becky Calvin and Patti Gottwein really were a tremendous help to me and my children, and got them where they all needed to be. The international experience really helped them to know where to be, read their schedules, and ride the bus.

Todd, you seemed to have blazed the skating trail for the rest of your family. How did you get started and what prompted your move from Rockford, IL?

I started when I was four and it was basically because, at the time, I was trying a lot of different sports (mostly soccer and baseball) and skating just happened to be one of them. I continued with those sports until I realized that overall, I was just way more into skating.

I think what prompted our move was the fact that we weren't happy about driving into Chicago to skate 6-7 days a week. My family decided that if we were to really dedicate ourselves to the sport we would have to move to a training center of some type. It also helped that Colorado is beautiful and a great place to live, not to mention the schools are great.

Do any of you skate on the same sessions? Do you ever give each other any tips?

Piper: Todd and I skate most of the same sessions and we sometimes work on lifts together. We never give each other tips, but we sometimes try to go faster than each other.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges and advantages of having such great skaters in your family?

Alexe: I think the biggest challenge is keeping up with everyone. But, overall, we push each other in positive ways.

Piper: When Alexe won her championship, I really wanted a medal too and that really motivated me and Tim to skate our hardest.

Todd: I don't see a lot of disadvantages. I think it's great! It definitely validates our move and the sacrifices our Dad has made by working away from Colorado Springs.

Alexe: Have you done any ice dance? Todd and Piper: What is your freestyle background?

Alexe: Well I did do some ice dance but not for very long. I did it when I was younger and when I was working on edges and skating skills.

Piper: My freestyle level is juvenile. When Tim and I won intermediate, I only wanted to do dance. However I did have a double Axel and sometimes a triple Salchow. I can still do a slightly cheated double Axel!

Todd: I did freestyle until I was probably 15 then I tested out through senior. For about two years, I did both freestyle and dance before deciding to hang up the longer blades and bigger toe picks. I competed, I believe, in the 1999 Midwesterns; the last year they had Intermediates go through Sectionals. I think I competed against a lot of guys who are still around, like Wesley Campbell, John Coughlin, and Jeremy Abbott.

All three of you are alternates for prestigious competitions in the upcoming months: Todd, Worlds and Four Continents; Alexe, Four Continents and Junior Worlds; and Piper, Junior Worlds. Can you describe your mindsets right now?

Piper: I would love to go to junior worlds but maybe next year. We are going to work really hard again to gain that spot.

Todd: Jane and I are continuing to train our programs just in case. Trina and I were first alternates for junior worlds about four years ago, and it's not an easy task, continuing to train for a competition you may not go to but, on the other side of the coin, it feels good to stay in shape to be ready to go and compete.

Are you starting to think about next year yet?

Alexe: Yes, I am going to be going senior and maybe getting new programs. We are excited to start again!

Todd: Actually, Jane and I got slightly ahead of ourselves right after our international this year, and started working a few freedance possibilities with Chris Dean. So we did a lot of video work, and now we're trying to piece the ideas back together while still training our old programs.