Meno, Sand make their mark in coaching

Also happily juggling performing and family

Jenni Meno and Todd Sand with sons Jack and Matthew.
Jenni Meno and Todd Sand with sons Jack and Matthew. (courtesy of Jenni Meno and Todd Sand)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(01/08/2009) - These days, performing is a fairly infrequent occurrence in the lives of three-time U.S. pair champions, three-time world medalists and former cast members of Stars on Ice Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. Their lives revolve around sons Jack, 4, and Matthew, 2, as well as their students. The duo teaches at rinks in Aliso Viejo and Yorba Linda, Calif.

"We are coaching a lot now, so we haven't skated much," says Meno, who has been married to Sand since 1995. The pair always makes time to skate in Kristi Yamaguchi's Friends & Family TV special, which has become like an extended family reunion.

"We get to see all of our friends and their kids," Meno says. "It's really cute to see all of the kids together, because now they've all done the show. Jack's first time we did it, he was 10 months old. Now he sees Keara and Emma [Yamaguchi's daughters] and little Jozef [son of Jozef Sabovcik]. Every year all the kids get so excited to see each other."

It was also a chance for Jack to try out his skating skills. "Jack has his little solo moment. At the time he loves it, but who knows if he'll keep skating," Meno says.

Meno, 38, and Sand, 45, both of whom skated singles before becoming pairs skaters, coach singles and pairs of all levels. They had a juvenile pair and an intermediate pair at 2009 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships and will have a novice pair and a senior pair, Pacific Coast champions Lindsay Davis and Alexander Merritt, at the upcoming U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland (Meno's hometown).

"It's fun to work with the kids and see improvement," says Sand. "Sometimes it takes a while, but then something clicks. It's really rewarding."

As singles and pairs skaters, Meno and Sand trained with incredible coaches, and they're trying to bring that same positive energy to their students.

"I was so fortunate," says Meno. "I didn't have a lot of coaches. I skated with a lady named Stephanie Miller until I was 10. We're still in touch with her. She's a great coach. Then, of course, Carol Heiss Jenkins. Then John Nicks. I feel I was really fortunate in the people I had coaching me." Sand worked with Frank Carroll for singles and then with Nicks for pairs.

"We are a big influence on these kids' lives because they spend a lot of time with us," Meno notes. "Not every skater is going to be able to go to nationals, worlds and Olympics, but they still learn so much from skating."

Meno travels to local competitions as well as qualifying competitions, such as regionals, sectionals and nationals. Sand is more the world traveler these days, working as a technical specialist for the ISU. This past fall, he worked two Junior Grand Prix competitions -- Mexico City and Sheffield -- as well as the NHK Trophy. He welcomes the opportunity to give back to the sport but also hopes to see some changes to the International Judging System (IJS) allowing for more individuality.

"Everyone is doing what they have to do to get the points," he says. "A lot of the things that you could individually do to kind of put your own stamp on a program will get counted as an element, so it's not really worth doing.

"It's hard, because the number one priority for the coaches is to get good quality levels on all the elements. Then you have time for choreography." Still, he adds, "There's a lot of talent out there that can really express themselves given the opportunity.... It's going to take some time for the skaters and choreographers to figure out how to do things differently." He is excited that IJS allows skaters to make a huge jump in the standings between the short and long programs.

While interpretation and expression might be stifled a bit, Meno sees an improvement in the quality of skating. She is incredibly impressed with Davis, who also placed first at Pacific Coasts in novice ladies. Not only does she appreciate Davis' soft knees, she admires her ability to learn all aspects of pairs skating in such a short amount of time.

"To be a pair girl, you have to be fearless, and you have to be very trusting," says Meno, who credits her own fearlessness to growing up with three brothers. "You also have to be very elegant as well as have the athleticism."

Meno wanted to try pairs from the time she was 14, but her father wouldn't allow it. After two trips to nationals in senior ladies, he finally relented when she was 19. "He was leery of someone lifting me over his head and throwing me in the air. Three Olympics later, I think he's pretty happy he finally gave in," she says. Although her parents do miss her, because she's the only child who doesn't live in Cleveland.

"It's so much fun to see our students -- whatever level they're at -- because they all work so hard," she says. "They give us 100 percent because they know we're giving them 100 percent. Each and every skater that we teach, we really put our hearts and souls into making them the best they can be."