Katie’s worry for skating stars of future

IN CLASS Katie Stainsby with a group of students in the Arena at Blackpool Pleasure Beach
IN CLASS Katie Stainsby with a group of students in the Arena at Blackpool Pleasure Beach
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There is one thing really getting on Katie Stainsby’s nerves.

First the good news. Since the Winter Olympics there has been a surge of interest in ice skating, people of all ages wanting to learn the sport, which is good news for Katie and her fellow coaches at The Arena at the Pleasure Beach

The lessons are the bread and butter stuff of Katie’s life. It is how she makes a day-to-day living.

She is also, of course, one of the country’s top skaters, star of ITV’s Dancing On Ice.

In short, she’s in a great position and the envy of many.

But here is the thing that annoys her – not many of the thousands of youngsters keen to follow in her footsteps will be able to.

Lessons cost money and there is zero financial help for those who show real talent at the sport.

It’s a problem felt particularly keenly in an area like Blackpool where poverty is rife and parents have very few spare pennies.

“There just isn’t enough funding in this country for young skaters and it is really frustrating,” explained the former Highfield Humanities student, who has been skating since she was eight.

“You hardly ever see any British skaters at the Olympics for that very reason. There was only one British skater in Sochi and she was from Scotland. It is classed as an elite sport so there is no lottery funding. Everything in England is about football.”

It is very different in America or Russia, where youngsters have access to rinks and are helped from a young age.

Katie has seen first-hand gifted, talented skaters from Blackpool who are either forced to give up or decide to try and make money from the sport instead of go for Olympic glory

It even happened to her.

“I could have tried to go for the Olympics, but when I was younger, about 15, due to family circumstances we ended up with a lot less money so we had to pretty much stop my lessons,” she said.

“I could only come in once a week and someone who is training to be a really high standard just can’t afford to only come in once a week, they have to be one the ice every single day.”

She added: “Time on the ice costs and lessons costs and that is very difficult for the average parent who brings their child skating.

“As coaches we can’t do it for free because we aren’t a charity, this is how we earn a living.

“There is no actual association or group that will say, right we will put some money aside for you to do that.

“I’ve seen it happen a lot where a gifted skater has had to give up on their dreams because of a lack of cash. They get to a point aged about 16 where they think ‘right I’ll do shows’ because they want to earn money from it.

“When you are competing you don’t earn money, so you need some financial help.

“It is such a shame when you see gifted young children and you can’t help them. Really gifted youngsters need to be coming in every day and be on the ice, but the majority of parents just can’t afford that and it is hurting the sport in this country.”

Katie would like businesses in the area to come forward and help sponsor young skaters, give them a helping hand financially.

There is a nine-year-old Blackpool girl at the moment, for example, who Katie believes has the potential to go all the way in the sport. “But she can’t afford the lessons she needs so unless we get financial help for her, she’ll have to stop,” said Katie.

“That would be tragic and yet it is probably what will happen without a local business getting involved and helping.”

Katie fell in love with skating at the age of eight, after watching Hot Ice at the Pleasure Beach.

“I remember exactly where I was sat in the arena, what I was looking at, and I remember thinking this is just amazing,” she recalled.

“That was the moment I knew skating was what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

“I had my first lesson not long after and I’m pretty sure I was awful and couldn’t stand up. But I was determined.

“You’ve got to have that determination if you want to do something.”

That same year, in 1988, she enrolled on the Rangers course, now known as Skate UK, and after two years started private lessons.

She has since skated in shows all over Europe (including Hot Ice, the very show that inspired her to take up the sport) and starred in Dancing on Ice – winning the show’s Olympic special, partnering gold-medal winning rower Steve Williams.

That’s not to say she is the perfect skater. Then again nobody is.

“This is the funny thing about skating,” she said. “People are really shocked when a professional falls over but it happens literally all the time. I’m always falling over.

“People watch the Winter Olympics and see these incredible skaters, dressed in these beautiful outfits ... then they go over on their backsides and there’s a big collective gasp. But it’s completely normal in this sport.

“You are never ever completely safe. You can fall doing the simplest of things.

“I’ve fallen in Hot Ice before and it is really embarrassing. It just takes one second of not concentrating. If you are doing the same routine for the umpteenth time and you think ‘what shall I have for dinner tonight?’ ... bang, you are on your backside.”

The reason, says Kate, is because there are so many things to think about, for ice skating is one of the most technical sports around. There are 10 things to think about at any given moment, explains Katie.

“Bend this, straighten that knee, arms out, straighten your back ... and the more advanced you get the harder it becomes. Just getting on the ice and enjoying it goes out of the window quite quickly because you have to think so much, but some people enjoy that – it is a release for them.”

It’s clear Katie loves the sport and that the sport has served her well.

It’s just a pity that it appears you can only achieve your dreams if you have a bit of cash, a commodity that, in a town like Blackpool, is in short supply.

n Any businesses interested in sponsoring young skaters can contact Katie on Twitter at @ktstainsby

Watch out for me at next Olympics!

Like everyone else, I spent many an hour during the Winter Olympics watching people dressed in tight clothing hurl themselves about on snow and ice.

Whether it was a spot of energetic housework (curling) or sliding down a hill stood upright on a sledge (snowboarding), it was all rather exciting, plus we got to see a lot of Claire Balding, who seems to have become most loved Brit since Winston Churchill, which is remarkable given her haircut.

What I wasn’t sure about during all those tele-watching hours though was the ice skating.

I mean how hard can it really be?

It’s just sliding on ice, with a couple of twirls and jumps thrown in.

Granted you have to wear a truly awful outfit but aside from that, it seemed straightforward and unchallenging.

I told my boss at the paper this and he asked if I’d been skating before. I conceded I had, once, in about 1985, heading to my local ice rink to have a bash at Torvill and Dean’s Bolero routine.

It was a disappointing experience on two levels. Firstly I couldn’t persuade the manager at the rink to play the Bolero – he didn’t have it on vinyl but said on the upside he could play anything by Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet or Jilted John, though trying to do a dramatic twirl to Gordon is a Moron just doesn’t cut it.

Secondly I discovered I couldn’t stand on the ice without falling rather heavily to the floor.

At one point I was helped to my feet by a five-year-old girl, who, after checking I was OK, then preceded to skate away doing a pirouette and a double-somersault while shooting me a look that said ‘loser’. I’ve stuck to non-ice activities ever since.

My boss suggested that given my view of ice skating as an easy-looking sport, I should perhaps put my money where my mouth is.

Never one to shirk a challenge – or more accurately, before I’d had chance to make up an excuse – he had given me the phone number of Katie Stainsby.

Katie gives lessons daily at the ice rink at the Pleasure Beach (everyone from beginners to advanced are welcome) and reckons that she can have anyone on their feet and skating after 15 minutes.

I explained I had the balance of George Best after a particularly heavy night on the tiles but she insisted she could sort me out.

Turns out, much to my surprise, she could.

First she had me walking on the ice. Quite literally walking. Holding out an arm to support me, this then gradually turned into sliding, slightly shakily, before after 15 minutes, as promised, I could skate, sort of, back and forth across the rink.

I fell over once, but this may have had something to do with the fact I got a little carried away and attempted to do a three-quarter pike with a triple axel.

Katie is very nice,explains things very clearly, and has the patience of a saint.

“Occasionally it can get a bit frustrating as a coach but that’s usually with the more competent skaters because you want them to get a movement right or land a jump, that kind of thing,” says Katie.

“But I love beginners because it is so lovely teaching someone how to actually skate and watching them really enjoy it. You do get the odd person that can’t quite grasp it.

“But I’ve never had anyone that has not been able to literally walk on the ice.

“That is the basics of skating – just getting on there and walking on the ice. I could have anyone doing that in 15 minutes.”

Katie reckons it takes three weeks to get someone to a level where they are competent and safe. A few more lessons and I may well be one to watch out for at the next Winter Olympics.