Figure skating has been a part of Janice Grochalski’s life since she was seven years old, first as a competitor, then as a coach, and also the mother of a talented young skater.
But most of her time in the sport has been spent as the head coach of the Estevan Skating Club. This season marks her 30th year with the club.
“Estevan is recognized as one of the strongest clubs in the province at every single level,” Grochalski told the Mercury. “I’m really proud to tell people that I coach in Estevan, and I’m so fortunate to have great parents who work so hard at running the club, and have helped make it so great.”
When she was growing up in Yorkton, Grochalski’s family lived about two blocks from the arena. She and her sister were entered in every sport that was available at that time. Grochalski stuck with figure skating and fell in love with it.
“I did a lot of different sports, and this is the one that stuck with me,” said Grochalski.
After graduating high school, she started coaching professionally right away, beginning with a stint in Langham, coaching part-time while she went to university.
After she moved to Estevan with her husband Ken in 1989, Janice Grochalski coached in Midale and Oxbow for a year until a position opened in Estevan.
“I’ve been coaching in Estevan here for 30 years, but a total of 38 professionally, and I’ve basically been on the ice right since I was seven years old.”
There have been so many rewarding moments during her time in Estevan. She achieved her national coaching status, which is a source of pride.
Eight skaters have qualified for Western Canadians, and many qualified several years in a row.
Her daughter, Kristen, qualified for the Western Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, B.C. Only four kids from the province make it to the event, which is held every four years.
Figure skating is a wonderful sport, except for the cold, Grochalski said. She loves kids, thanks to their creativity, energy, honesty and happiness, and they’re fun to be around.
“Every time I go to the rink, it’s a fun environment,” said Grochalski. “Kids are always happy. They’re always smiling, and it’s just a great place to be.
“I also love going to all of the competitions and stuff, and I’ve met a lot of coaching friends along the way. There is probably only a handful of us who have been in it this long, so we’ve gotten to be pretty good friends. We only see each other a couple of times every year, so it’s always nice to see them.”
And she has found herself coaching the children of kids that she taught many years ago. Some of those second-generation skaters are already 12 years old.
“They always come to me and say ‘You used to coach my mom,’ and sometimes the little ones like to guess how old I am, knowing that I taught their parents. The consensus, when they ask me that, they always think I’m 24, and that always makes me laugh.”
Ten years ago, the club made the move from the Civic Auditorium to Affinity Place, which was also a step forward for the club.
“I spent so many hours and early mornings in the Civic, and it was sad to see it go, but we’re so fortunate to have a new, beautiful facility in our city,” said Grochalski. “We are the envy of every skating club across the province.”
When she first started, the club offered figure skating and ice dance. They skated at 6 a.m. just to get all of the disciplines enough time to practice. Now the sport has shifted more to the free skate, and the on-ice dance component has disappeared because partners might not be available.
The judging system has also changed.
“Our sport and our activity on the ice here in Estevan has evolved along with all those changes,” said Grochalski.
Her tenure hasn’t always been easy. She suffered a broken arm early on in her career, and a broken femur sidelined her for part of a season. But at the first possible opportunity, she was back coaching from the players’ box.
And this year has been unquestionably unique. She praised the skaters for wearing masks while practising, and for coping with having just eight kids on the ice at a time. There haven’t been any competitions, but they get to focus on skills rather than competitions.
“We’re still fortunate to still be on the ice, actually, when so many activities for kids have been cancelled. But figure skating is mostly a practice sport. We spend very little time doing events, so our year, basically, hasn’t really changed.”
The toughest part has been saying no to the CanSkate program.
Based on enrolments during the season, and time spent coaching during the summer months, Grochalski believes she has coached about 3,000 different skaters over the years.
Grochalski expects she will be coaching for a while yet. It doesn’t feel like work, and she still loves working with the kids and seeing their improvements. Each day she goes to rink it’s still different from the last.
And there’s one more incentive to keep coaching: Grochalski’s daughter Kristen had a baby six months ago, and so it would be wonderful to coach another generation of skaters in the family. Kids can join the CanSkate program at age three.
“It would be a whole cycle, another generation, as … the fall I started, I was actually pregnant with her (my granddaughter’s) mother,” said Grochalski.
Grochalski is grateful for the support of the parents over the last 30 years who have allowed her to “share in the skating experience” with all of these kids, and it’s been a privilege and an honour for her to have met so many young people and their parents along the way.