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Behind the scenes of figure skating - May 15

Audrey Weisiger - from Grassroots to Champions

Audrey Weisiger on the ice at her home base -- the Fairfax Ice Arena.
Audrey Weisiger on the ice at her home base -- the Fairfax Ice Arena. (Laura Malischke Photography)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(05/15/2008) - Audrey Weisiger's home base for most of her coaching career, the Fairfax (Va.) Ice Arena, is not a fancy training center. The arena, which is owned and operated by Henry Weisiger, Audrey's husband and a former hockey player, and his family, is primarily a recreational ice rink known for group lessons and public sessions. Amazingly, quite a few high profile skaters have emerged from this low-key rink, most of whom began training with Weisiger at the beginning of their careers. Among them are 1998 U.S. novice ladies champion Elizabeth Kwon and former U.S. men's champion Michael Weiss, who Weisiger coached for 18 years, during which time he went to two Olympic Winter Games and won two world bronze medals.

"We do, I think, a very thorough job of developing skaters," says Weisiger, who seeks to share her approach through her Grassroots to Champions seminars (www.grassrootstochampions.com). "I tell young, developing coaches that they are the foundation with which a skater's career is set. If they are a good grassroots-level coach, then they can develop into a great, elite, championship-level coach, because they are going to lay the proper basics and the proper mindset for that athlete. The athlete doesn't have any limits, and, therefore, the coach shouldn't have any limits on himself or herself.

"Hopefully I'm a role model for young coaches that are working in some rink that doesn't have a lot of competitive skating," she adds. "You can make it happen. You just have to have a long-range vision of what you want to see at the end of that skater's career and even at the end of your coaching career."

Weisiger says that when she first saw a nine-year-old Weiss she declared she would make him into a great skater. Fellow coaches would roll their eyes, but she shut them all up, as Weiss became the U.S. and world junior champion, a three-time U.S. champion, a two-time Olympian and a two-time world bronze medalist.

What she teaches young coaches in her seminars is if you teach a kid a really solid, sound double toe loop, then that skater will likely be able to land triples and quads later on. "You just have to make sure that you are thorough in their preparation, so if they do have the desire and the athleticism, they will be able to do a quad toe," she says.

One of Weisiger's proudest accomplishments is seeing former students succeed as coaches. She speaks enthusiastically about Darin Hosier, coach of U.S. lady Chrissy Hughes, who won two Junior Grand Prix events last fall and qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Weisiger feels for young female coaches with children and expresses undying gratitude to her husband, parents and in-laws for helping her out when daughter Kelly, now 23 and a third grade teacher, was growing up.

"When Michael Weiss made the '98 Olympic team, we were in Philadelphia. Kelly had a clarinet concert that next morning," Weisiger recalls. "As soon as Mike got his medal, I hopped in the car and drove home to Fairfax. I went to Kelly's clarinet concert and then got back in the car and drove back to Philadelphia for the Olympic team meeting.

"It can be done. I'm not saying it was easy, but it can be done."

In addition to skaters who regularly train at the Fairfax Ice Arena, such as Tommy Steenberg and Parker Pennington, other skaters come to work with Weisiger, utilize the Dartfish program or work on the jump pole. Weisiger also takes her Grassroots to Champions seminars to other venues. Some young coaches turn to her for mentoring, which she happily accepts.

She has curtailed some of her traveling to competitions but accompanied Steenberg to the 2008 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. There are definite perks to international travel. "I love hanging out with my friends. The skating world is its own strange little world," she says.

There are also young skaters for whom she provides some input, in addition to their full-time coaches. "Even unknowns that you may never see, we've given them a little bit more foundation and their coaches a little bit more information to help that skater meet their potential," she notes. "When I say 'Grassroots to Champions,' in my book a champion is someone who is fulfilling their potential. That can mean a gold medal, but it doesn't have to.

"Sports are supposed to teach more than just that particular sporting skill. We're supposed to teach these kids life skills that can translate into success further on in their lives. I have a lot of former students that are successful in other fields, and I'm very proud of that, because I think they learned how to become champions in life."