Charbonneau coming into her own

Kate Charbonneau, 17, is the 2009 Canadian Junior national champion.

Sometimes out of tragedy comes great triumph.  Kate Charbonneau, Canada’s 2009 junior ladies singles figure skating champion knows this all too well.

“I started skating at three years old when we still lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba,” said the American-schooled high school junior.  “I started then because my grandma was dying and wanted to see me skate before she died.”

Charbonneau didn’t immediately take to the sport, but stuck with it so that she could fulfill her grandmother’s wishes. “I really didn’t like it at first,” she said sheepishly,  “but then one day, I learned to go fast.”

Fast is a great way to describe Charbonneau’s rise into the upper echelon of skating – going from virtually unknown in 2008, to one of the brightest young stars in Canadian figure skating today.

Charbonneau is coached by her mother Lorie, and trains at the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minn.  The family left their native Canada thirteen years ago when Charbonneau’s father was transferred by his employer.  The family now lives in Prior Lake, Minn.

Before her success on the national level in Canada, Charbonneau competed in U.S. Figure Skating competitions, finishing fourth as an intermediate in 2006, and then competed on the regional level the following season as a novice lady.

“We are all Canadian citizens and Kate has always been  proud of being Canadian,” Lorie explained.  “It was Kate’s dream to compete for Canada from the time she was 8 or  9.  She told me back then that when she  wins her first International competition she had to hear “Oh Canada”  playing or it just wouldn’t be special.   When she was at a level to be considered for International competitions,  she was still sure that it was Canada she wanted to represent, even though at  that time we had no idea she would actually end up being on Team Canada. Kate  was used to having no family at any of her competitions in the United  States.  In London at Canadians this past  January, there were ten family members there cheering her on.  It’s been great”

Last season Charbonneau was selected to compete on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, and made her debut in Poland where she finished in eighth place.   “I was trying to be better then ever and I ended up freaking myself out and not skating well at all,” Charbonneau said of the international debut.  “I took that disappointment and I turned it into determination for the next competition.”

And it worked.  Charbonneau went on to win a silver medal at her second assignment in Croatia, and was named as the third alternate for the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final.

“I am working even harder now so that I can be ready for the Grand Prix circuit in a year or two,” Charbonneau confessed.   “I have had great success over the last little while, but I have a long way to go and I want to get a lot better. I try not to think about what I have done so far and I focus on where I want to be in four years.”

After the Junior Grand Prix season was over, Charbonneau focused on making her senior debut at the Canadian National Championships.  When the competition was over, she finished in an impressive yet somehow disappointing, seventh place.

“I really was not that excited to place seventh at Canadians because I did not skate very well,” Charbonneau confessed.   “I guess for a first season in senior it wasn’t too bad, but because I didn’t skate well I was not happy. I am really training hard to make sure I skate a lot better this year.  I would love to be on the podium.”

Based on her strong season to that point, Charbonneau was named to the Canadian Team that would skate at the 2010 Junior World Championships in The Hague, The Netherlands.  As an added surprise, Charbonneau learned about a week before the competition that her friend and training mate, American Kiri Baga, was named to the US Team as well.

“I love her so much and I don’t think I would be as good a skater as I am now without her,” Charbonneau said of Baga.  “I push myself to hard to keep up with her and we are so competitive it’s almost like sibling rivalry.  At Junior Worlds we proved we are very competitive with each other and with the whole world.  We push each other to be better everyday.”

Charbonneau finished in sixth place in The Hague, while Baga finished in seventh.       To help her realize her full potential, Charbonneau has a large support team that has her best interests at heart.  In addition to ‘Coach Mom’, Charbonneau also works with coach Robert Tebby when she trains in Canada a few times a year.

A team of choreographers including Ann Eidson, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Sebastien Britten, and Kelly Benzinger-Grelle create programs that match Charbonneau’s maturing style, and help her to develop her program components.

Off ice, Charbonneau works with Lisa Zamarippa, a former ballerina and world-level ballroom dancer, and Anthony Shulzetenberg, a personal trainer.

In working with her daughter on the ice, the elder Charbonneau is aware of the division between her roles as coach and mother.

“This part we got right from the beginning,” coach Charbonneau explained.  “We never brought skating home when Kate was younger.  We talked about skating at the rink, worked hard at the rink, and then Kate came home and did all the things the other kids were doing.  It has only been in the last few years that we started to discuss skating at home.  It is a passion we both share.”

But Lorie also admits to struggling to remain calm during competitions while her daughter is on the ice. “Just like any parent, it is very difficult to watch your child put their dreams on the line at a competition.  I am very confident at each event that Kate will do her best and that she has trained as hard as she can.”

Lorie also relies on her experience as a coach to keep her emotions in check. “Robert Tebby has also been very helpful to Kate and to me this season. Robert and I work well together at competitions to make sure “Lorie the Coach” and not “Lorie the Mother” shows up at rink side!”

In the off season, Charbonneau plans to work on perfecting the triple loop as well as her flying camel in order to be more competitive should she be invited to the Junior Grand Prix circuit once again. “I hate triple loops but I am able to do one. I have no reason not to like it but I am going to learn to love it.”

Charbonneau has decided to keep her Malaguena short program for the 2010-11 season, and will skate to Hymn to Love for the freeskate.

“I think that I will do another year in the Junior Grand Prix,” Charbonneau said hopefully.  “I think I will be able to earn more International Skating Union points on the Junior Grand Prix than I could on the Grand Prix.”

Coach Charbonneau has high hopes for her daughter this season. “I would love for Kate to start skating in competition the way she can skate in her practices,” she said.  “Junior Worlds this year was a big step forward.  Kate is capable of landing all the big jumps including her triple toe-triple toe combination.  I would love to see her step up and become a top contender in Senior Ladies.”

Outside of the rink, Charbonneau enjoys riding her bike and especially reading books. “I am so passionate about reading and I read a book every week in the summer or more  if I can.”

But Charbonneau doesn’t have much time for extra-curricular reading during the school year due to her heavy course load that she is taking at Connections Academy.  “I am currently taking Mandarin Chinese, Honors English and History, Chemistry, Pre-Calculus and a prep course for the ACT exam,” Charbonneau offered.  “After high school, I would like to study at a college that has online classes for two years, and then transfer to the actual college until I graduate.”

Charbonneau has two younger siblings, a fifteen year-old sister and a twelve year-old brother, who both play hockey.   Her father spends time on the ice as well joining her siblings in hockey skates both as a player and a coach.

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