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The inside edge with Sarah and Drew

The return of Katie Orscher

Katie Orscher and her boyfriend, Timo Seidel.
Katie Orscher and her boyfriend, Timo Seidel. (Photo courtesy of Katie Orscher)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(06/16/2008) - Icenetwork.com's intrepid behind-the-scenes reporters, Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, bring another edition of figure skating scoop.

Katie Orscher's new partner

2005 national pair champion Katie Orscher spent the last two years in Germany working on a television soap opera, but her competitive fire has flared up again, and she's back in Connecticut, training and planning to skate at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a new partner, Rusty Fein. Rusty last competed at the 2006 championships, where he and Tiffany Scott won the pewter medal.

Katie called on the way home from the rink last week, and we got caught up. She told us she has been in Cologne, Germany, working as a skating double for Tanja Szewchenko in the soap opera Alles was zählt, which means something along the lines of "Everything that matters." As you probably recall, Szewchenko is a former top skater, but she hadn't skated in five years when she got the role, so Katie stood in for her on the ice.

After Szewchenko got back in shape enough to do her own jumping on the show, the producers asked Katie to train the other actors and actresses who play the roles of skaters, and she stayed on for a while doing that. But she moved back to Connecticut last month, ready to return to competitive pair skating.

"Germany was a very amazing experience," Katie said. "If anybody gets the opportunity to go and live in Europe, they should take it. I learned a lot over there, and I grew up as a person. My perspective has changed about a lot of things, especially my skating and how I think of my career."

Katie had a few pair tryouts, and then she and Rusty Fein agreed to skate together, starting next month. Rusty graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006, and he has been working for J.P. Morgan in New York City. The pair will train with Vadim Naumov at the International Skating Center in Simsbury, Conn.

"We're not going to have our debut at the Indy Pair Challenge," said Katie. "We thought that we could try, but after two years off, one month is not enough time to get ready. We want to compete at nationals this year."

"Rusty is a very determined skater, and he's very focused. He's very different from me; he likes to analyze a lot of things. I just go wherever the wind takes me!"

After the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Katie didn't know where the wind would be taking her. It had been generally assumed that she and Garrett Lucash would be going to the Olympics. When they finished third, however, they weren't placed on the team. Afterwards, she said, "It broke my heart, and I didn't want to do anything."

It took Katie at least a year to get over the experience. "I had a lot of anger. I thought, 'Maybe I can come back and get a new partner quickly,' but I was skating for the wrong reasons, and I didn't want to have anger all the time. Now, coming back into skating, I'm in a better mindset."

"Skating with Garrett was an amazing experience, but I only lived one side of my life. I was skating all the time. I had no social life; I had nothing. During these last two years, I could have that second half of my life, and now I'm trying to have a balance. If I give it my whole life again, I will go insane."

We wondered what it was like, living in Connecticut again after two years in Europe.

"I definitely want to move back to Europe after this is over. I have a boyfriend in Europe, and we've been together for a year and a half. I really want to go back and raise my family in Europe. I feel that the culture there is richer.

"In Germany, they're more environment-friendly. I've totally changed to such a green person. I'm always trying to save energy, and I eat an organic diet. I'm more politically aware now; I used to never read the newspaper. Now I'm up-to-date about what's going on in the world. I care about what's going on."

Katie is paying all her own skating expenses now, so don't look for her at New York hot spots very often. "I've gone out and partied, and now I'm past that. I'm more of an adult now.

Bonnie's three

We continue our series on skating moms with a chat with Bonnie Gilles, the mother of ice dancers Todd and Piper and 2008 U.S. junior ladies champion Alexe. She didn't have any idea what she was getting into when Todd started learn-to-skate classes in Rockford, Ill.

"It was the ice shows that really hooked us," says Bonnie. "It seemed pretty harmless at the time! In the first show, he was a fireman. However, in the next ice show, he was a Ninja Turtle, and that was it."

After the Ninja show, the Gillies' bought Todd his first pair of real skates. "At the time, it didn't seem too expensive for a boy; it was really just about the skates, no costumes or frilly dresses, just a nice pair of black pants."

The park district sometimes invited famous guest skaters, and Todd's first crush was Rosalyn Sumners! The Gilles family added more skaters to the rink scene too, as soon as Piper and Alexe were old enough to put on skates. "They loved the ice immediately, when they were two-and-a-half years old. I did lobby duty, which included the potty and lunches."

With three elite competitive skaters in the family, Bonnie spends a lot of time at competitions. She says she fills the time and keeps herself calm by knitting, doing Sudoku puzzles and playing Tetris. She also helps the girls with their hair, as she has ever since they were little. "We usually have a few laughs, and it seems to calm our nerves!"

Needless to say, Bonnie has watched a lot of competitions, and she likes to cheer everyone on.

"I do get excited when my kids skate! It's like watching a football game. There are great passes [jumps] on the offense and then a touchdown [good program] is scored. I know if a jump has been giving them trouble, so I cover my eyes and hope for the best. I pump my arms when they do well on a circular footwork pattern that they have been working on. I also know when to clap for dance: after lifts, footwork and spins.

"I was so excited for Alexe at nationals. She had really been struggling with growing last fall, so I was so excited for her. I knew she was on a roll, and I was screaming and jumping up and down for her, even with my broken leg. I was so proud of her, and so were Todd and Piper."

It must be hard for Bonnie to imagine life after skating, but she knows that the kids will eventually move on. Alexe is the only one who has expressed an interest in coaching when she's done competing. Piper is interested in fashion or interior design. Todd is currently interested in archeology, but he is also interested in languages, and Bonnie thinks he might end up being a judge.

And we had one last question for Bonnie: How do you DO it?

"Some days I do it well, and some days I don't. It is one day at a time, or you get overwhelmed. It is sort of like running a small business with a full-time job too! I see my children improve every week -- sometimes it is a big improvement and sometimes the smallest thing. We like to host skaters from all over the world. It makes our house full of laughter and certainly never dull."

Fireflies

It's the off-season, so we should have death in our soul with no competitions to gossip about. But June is such a lovely month! The field outside our house is full of fireflies in the evenings. We could get all clever and make a comparison to rhinestones or sparkling skaters, but it's enough just to sit and watch them. And the Broadmoor Open is coming soon, anyway...

- Sarah and Drew
To contact Sarah and Drew, email them at sarahanddrewblog@gmail.com