Young skater overcoming training bumps as Nationals approach

Jake Ellis. Photo courtesy @etam_images.

A Windsor-Essex figure skater has jumped through as many hoops as double-axels as he trains for this week’s national championships.

Sixteen-year-old Jake Ellis, who has been skating for South Windsor Skating Club for the past nine years, is on his way to Ottawa to compete in the men’s junior division of the Skate Canada National Championships.

His coach, Lori Lafferty-Vilneff, told he had been aching to get back to competition, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a crimp in those plans.

“We’ve been to nationals before, but last year we were not because Windsor-Essex was in shutdown, so we did not have any ice,” said Lafferty-Vilneff. “The Skate Canada National Championships were cancelled last year. The year before we did go. He was a novice man then, and he finished fifth in novice. Now he’s competing junior this year.”

The trouble started when the Ontario government went to a modified Stage Two reopening plan to curb the spread of the contagious Omicron variant. Most public ice pads were closed. Lafferty-Vilneff said those skaters on the “Olympic pathway”, the ones most likely named to the Canadian Olympic team, had easy access to ice in Toronto.

Jake was left scrambling for a local place to practice. The provincial restrictions, however, allowed for elite amateur status to be granted for figure skaters. It’s the same designation that was given to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to allow teams like the Windsor Spitfires to continue playing. Lafferty-Vilneff then jumped on the computer and sent messages to the City of Windsor and the Towns of LaSalle and Essex.

“What happens is that the province and Skate Ontario coordinate a letter that is sent to all high-performance athletes and their coaches that allows them to continue to train even though the facilities have been closed,” said Lafferty-Vilneff. “Essex was the first to reply, so we are training in Essex.”

With training settled, Jake and his coach were dealt another roadblock. They were forced to find another way to the nation’s capital after their flight was cancelled.

“He has to practice Tuesday, and we were going to fly in the morning and practice in the afternoon up in Ottawa, on the competitive ice pad there. So now, we’re driving,” said Lafferty-Vilneff with a nervous laugh. “We’ve had a few roadblocks, but we’re going to get it done.”

Jake will compete in his short program Wednesday afternoon at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Other skaters with Windsor-Essex connections heading to Nationals include Katharine Karon of the Riverside Skating Club, who will compete in women’s juniors. Abby Bouma, previously with Riverside and Skate LaSalle, will also compete in women’s juniors. South Windsor’s Kieran Thrasher will skate with Quebecer Chloe Panetta in junior pairs.

—with files from Millar Hill