Taking the fall … and getting right back up

From the time you learn how to walk to later in life when you face challenges at school or work — or especially if you’re riding a horse.

It’s become a cliche.

“If you fall, get back up, shake it off and try again.”

Nowhere, perhaps, is that advice more appropriate than in ice skating. It’s dealt with immediately at the Dubuque Figure Skating club.

Those in charge of the program, know the drill.

“When they come in the door, that’s one of the first things we teach them,” said Tammy Remakel-Ryan, president of the organization. “How to fall and how to get up so that when they’re out there and they’re developing their skills and they’re growing physically, mentally and emotionally, when those falls happen, they just get right back up.”

Rebecca Menzynski, who has been the skating director for about a year, agreed. She has first-hand experience as a former U.S. World Skating Team member and performer with the touring Holiday On Ice and Disney on Ice groups.

“They have to get over the fear of falling,” said Menzynski, 36. “So many of them are afraid to fall. But if you’re not falling, you’re not learning. And that’s the beauty of the sport. You fall seven times, you stand up eight. You train yourself to land on your feet — no matter what.

“But you’re going to fall.”

Menzynski was hired by Remakel-Ryan, 52, and Jocelyn Theisen, 29, vice-president of the group. The two have run Dubuque Figure Skating since it became a 501©3 non-profit organization in 2014. Prior to that, Remakel-Ryan and Elizabeth Davies revived a local skating program in 2010 soon after the Mystique Community Ice Center opened.

Davies accompanied a small number of skaters representing Dubuque to their first competition in the summer of 2014, about the time Theisen came on board. That fall, Davies moved out of town.

There had not been a local skating organization since 1985-86, according to Remakel-Ryan, when Marilynne Field directed the Dubuque Figure Skating Association at the Five Flags Center.

There are four options: Theisen’s Learn to Skate, a beginners’ level, for skaters as young as 3; Dubuque Figure Skating Academy, the next level up, where students learn advanced spins and jumps; Dubuque Figure Skating Club, designed for high-level skaters and competitors, to be formed in the coming years to accommodate the growth of this sport in the tri-state area; Advance Hockey Foundation and Edges, an advanced, high-paced hockey class focusing on the development of skating skills and agility.

Skaters also can perform in the annual Holiday Ice Show (which will be on Sunday, Dec. 1) and the Spring Ice Show.

“The academy has grown from about three or four to a competitive group of about 18,” said Theisen, the assistant director of budgeting at Loras College. “In the Learn to Skate program, we consistently get about 200 to 300 skaters during the course of a year.”

Theisen began skating when she was 3 with the International Falls, Minn., Figure Skating Club. She skated competitively until she was 18, and coached from age 10 with preschoolers up through high school. When she and her family moved to Dubuque, she quickly became involved with the local group.

“It’s beneficial to the community and we have a beautiful facility,” she said. “We’re just trying to encourage the love of the sport we have in others.”

It’s worked with the Tom and Molly Coyle family of Sherrill. Two of their four daughters — Maggie, 9, and Arriana, 4 — are involved.

“Maggie has been skating for four years now,” Molly said. “She absolutely loves it and it is her favorite after school activity. It has helped her develop confidence both on and off the ice. I have seen her develop from a shy little skater into a confident young girl.”

Arriana has recently started the Learn to Skate program.

“She loves it,” Molly said. “She is having so much fun, and really enjoys following in her big sister’s footsteps. The instructors are wonderful, and very patient.”

Menzynski, who has 17 years of coaching experience, was hired out of the U.S. Figure Skating organization. She was situated in Chicago while her husband was working in the Quad Cities.

“I came in and (the organization) was like this little baby program,” Menzynski said. “They had their wings and they were ready to fly. So I’m like, ‘Oh, all right. Let’s move to Dubuque.’ We bought a house, we’re laying down roots in Dubuque and we love it.”

Remakel-Ryan, director of development operations and marketing for Westmark Enterprises Inc., grew up skating on the outdoor rink at Flora Park. She became passionate about skating when the Five Flags Arena opened and started figure skating lessons when she was 13.

“Any sport, but I think the sport of figure skating maybe more, is great for building a girl’s self-confidence,” she said. “It empowers her, and that is just in addition to being able to maintain her physical strength. It also gets girls out in front of a group of people and it builds their character for life.”

Theisen has seen the transformation.

“We’ve taken some really, really terribly shy skaters … their confidence blooms with performance, with having friends on the ice, with talking with adults that are not their family or their teachers,” Theisen said. “We’ve seen several skaters come out of their shells.”

Some have become very competitive. Three — Alayna Marshall, 15; Eliza Lindsey, 8; and Lilly Raskow, 6 — earned medals recently for competing in several Learn to Ski USA competitions.

“We have a lot of teenage skaters here who have not been skating very long and they’ve climbed the ladder very rapidly,” Menzynski said. “They have about five years of growth in one year of training. They are jumping and spinning and they have blown my mind.

“The kids here are so dedicated to their craft and when it comes to their training, they’re all in. They’ve surpassed my expectations.”

Hannah Winter, 15, has been with the group as long as anybody, about six years competitively. She likes the camaraderie of the competitive skaters.

“It’s kind of cool how we get to do it together,” the sophomore at Hempstead High School said. “We kind of motivate each other.”

She said a lot of work goes on behind the scenes and that “the coaches are pretty strong and strict, but I like it that way. You can apply a lot of things from skating to life.

“If you fall, you can get back up.”

Jim Swenson writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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