Vise and Baldwin look into the mirror for success

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin teamed up and began competing in the 2009-2010 season.

Following  the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Tiffany Vise, 25, and Don Baldwin, 33, found themselves without a partner with whom to  compete. Vise’s longtime on ice  companion, Derek Trent, decided to retire from skating, while Baldwin  ended his one year partnership with Jennifer Brunn. With both skaters at a  crossroads in their respective careers, Vise and Baldwin  reluctantly agreed to a try out to determine if this was the right move for  both of them.

“When I  first found out that Donny wanted to have a tryout with me, I didn’t want to  give it a shot,” Vise admitted candidly. “At the time, my coach said for me to give  it one tryout and see how it goes. I was shocked at how well we felt skating  together. We would do  stroking patterns, and we easily matched. It felt natural.”

At the time,  Baldwin was contemplating retirement, and had  his own reservations about entering into the partnership.

“My parents  approached me with the idea of having the tryout,” Baldwin  recalled. “I felt that if I wanted to continue skating (after the split with  Brunn) I would have to have a partner that was a better match for me in my  skating style and ability. I reluctantly agreed to give a tryout with Tiffany a  chance.”

Like Vise, Baldwin realized that the raw potential in the  partnership was palpable, and soon committed to teaming up for the 2009-10  season.

“On the  first day of the tryout I knew that Tiffany and I were a very good match,” he  said. “It was the first and only time I had ever felt this way in a tryout. In  the past I usually had to be convinced to give it a little time to develop to  see what could happen. This time it was obvious to me that I had found a good  match for my ability. It was still a difficult decision for me to continue  skating and move from California, but in the end this was going to be the only  shot I had at finally being able to have success as a pairs skater.”

With the partnership confirmed, the duo settled on training at Vise’s training center in Peoria, Ariz., with former Olympian Jill Watson. Since July of 2010, they have trained in Scottsdale, Ariz., with another Olympian, Doug Ladret.

“I was  hoping that Donny was willing to move to Arizona  to skate with me,” said Vise. “I have lived in Arizona since 2005 and I have made it my home.”

Once Baldwin was settled in his new surroundings, the duo  began preparing for their first competitive season. As with any new  partnership, Vise and Baldwin were up against the clock to not only create  programs for the first time as a team, but also had the additional challenge of  learning the technique involved in skating as a mirror team.

“This was  one of the reservations I had about skating with Tiffany,” Baldwin  confessed. “I was not sure how I would be at throwing in the opposite direction.  There is very little in skating that I have been scared of, but this was one  thing that I did not have confidence in. I decided to put my fear aside and  give myself a chance to learn. Other than the throws I was not worried. I knew  that if we did the other elements well, there would be very little to  scrutinize with regards to being mirrored. Just like in conventional teams,  spins, when matched well, can be very impressive. Jumps can be the same as  well.”

Vise, who is  in the minority of skaters who rotate clockwise, was used to skating with  partners who rotated in the opposite direction. In fact, she finds it more  comfortable to do so at this stage of her career.

“I learned  all of my pairs elements counter-clockwise,” she explained. “I only do throws,  jumps, and side by side spins in my direction. When learning to skate pairs, it  was safer to do everything the man’s way so that he would be comfortable on his  feet. Before skating with (Trent), I did have tryouts with clockwise rotating  skaters, but even a pairs spin felt awkward and I honestly preferred doing it the  way I learned. I have competed pairs for 16 years now so trying to do pair  elements my direction would be hard to get used to.”

That’s not  to say that everything comes easy for the team.

“For me, the  twist is the hardest thing to do because I am rotating in Donny’s direction,” Vise  said. “I don’t think many people realize that I’m not rotating my normal  direction. We have an easy beautiful double twist which gets a lot of height,  and a lot of people including skating judges ask us why we don’t do a triple.  The problem I have is crossing my feet in the air. I can get by with not  crossing my feet tightly for a double, but for triple, my legs aren’t tight  enough to make it all the way around in time to be caught.”

Though he  isn’t the one rotating in the air, Baldwin was  and is most concerned about executing throw jumps.

“Not only  did I have to learn Tiffany’s timing and technique, but having to do it in the  opposite direction has been a challenge,” he explained. “It was interesting  because we were able to do triple throws very well in the very beginning, but  as time went on it became a little harder because both of us became more  comfortable and began to revert back to our previous techniques and problems  started happening.”

It has been a struggle, however, Baldwin and Vise  have finally become much more  comfortable and confident in their throws.

“It is kind of funny because throws  have always been the least I would worry about, but now it is something I have  to actively think about,” Baldwin explained. “After skating for so many years in one direction your  body becomes accustomed to it and builds strength in your muscles to do  elements in that direction. You then have an imbalance that is hard to  overcome, and it takes time to build new connections between your brain and  muscles to feel comfortable. Having confidence going into an element makes a  big difference under pressure and having one more thing to think about in a  program can make a big difference in the effort being put out.”

With just a  summer of training under their belts, Vise and Baldwin qualified for the 2010  U.S. Championships in Spokane,   Wash., where they finished in an  impressive eighth place.

“Our first  year was all about getting experience together competing,” Vise said. “We  wanted to show that we are a strong team with strong elements, and we wanted to  get the judges and fans talking about us. We went into nationals to attack our programs and show no fear, and we  definitely accomplished that.”

Before the  competition, Baldwin suffered a shoulder injury in an off-ice lifts class, and  was forced to get Cortisone shots in order to compete in Spokane.

“We only did  the lifts that we needed to do, saving them for our programs,” Vise said of the  week in Spokane. “After the competition, Donny  got an MRI done and found out that the labrum in his shoulder was torn. In  April 2010, he had surgery to repair it and had the arthritic AC Joint shaved  down to relieve the pain. He got back on  the ice late May, and he didn’t start lifts again until the end of July. As a pair,  we didn’t get back to 100 percent until October.”

Despite the  injuries, Vise and Baldwin were impressive enough in summer competitions to  earn an invitation to skate in the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria,  in November 2010. They won the silver medals.

“We were so  thrilled to have the opportunity to represent Team USA,”  Vise said. “Winning a medal gave us a boost of confidence heading into  nationals, and will help us if we get assigned to Grand Prix events in the  future.”

Heading into  the national championships in Greensboro, N.C., Vise and Baldwin  had the luxury of time on their side for the first time in their partnership,  and were excited to showcase all of the hard work that they had put in over the  summer.

“We improved  on all of our elements from the previous year, and just having more time to  skate with one another helped out with getting each element more comfortable,”  Vise explained. “We really worked on our connection with one another on the  ice. Although we are very strong and fast skaters, we wanted to show off our  softer side and connection in the slow music in our free skate.”

Their sixth  place finish was nothing short of miraculous given the fact that Vise wasn’t  even sure if she would be able to compete.

“The bottom  of my landing foot started hurt a few weeks before the competition,” Vise  shared. “I developed plantar fasciitis, and I got a Cortisone shot about a week  before to get the inflammation down. It  hurt so bad that my coach told me to not do any throws or jumps. For two full weeks before the competition, I  was not allowed to do jumps or throws, which was very hard. We got on a plane  to Greensboro not knowing if we were going to be able to compete.”

At their  first practice in Greensboro, Vise further injured her foot, and was forced to  leave the ice because she was in so much pain.

“I did a  single loop and my foot hurt instantly from the take off and landing,” she  recalled. “After that it hurt doing crossovers so I had to get off the ice  because I was in pain with every step. I was thinking about pulling out of the competition.  The next day, I had an appointment with the medical staff provided for by the  championships. I got an ultrasound on my  foot, and the doctor found no tears. The  plantar fasciitis had some inflammation but was not bad. I had pain in the  posterior tibialis tendon, and the ultrasound showed two pockets of fluid  around the tendon. The doctor gave me a lidocaine injection that morning and I  was able to jump on my first practice.”

After the  competition, Vise did not skate for two months in order to let the foot heal  properly, and she and Baldwin are now preparing for their third season as a  team.

“This is the  first year for Donny and me to be able to have a full year to train,” Vise  acknowledged. “This year we have all  this time before to work on being creative on transitions in and out of  elements before we compete for the first time in August. Hopefully we will be  injury free so that we can compete healthy.”

In addition  to working on the basics and their connection on the ice, Vise and Baldwin are  looking to increase their technical content this season.

“We have  been working on triple twist for about a month now,” Vise shared. “We had to  take a little bit of a break from it because I sprained my ankle on it, but we  plan on working on it again within the next couple weeks. We are also working  on triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loop combination to add to the  long program. We plan to keep our triple Salchows in the program as well.”

The couple  has decided to keep their Pirates of the Caribbean short program from last  season, and is currently working on a new free skate to an instrumental version  of Time to Say Goodbye and selections from the movie Legends of the Fall.

“We feel  like we can build on the short program and make it better, and except for  the twist, we have planned all level four elements,” Vise explained. “We selected the music for the free skate  because we want to show a more lyrical side that many people wouldn’t expect to  see out of us.”

The team has  lofty goals this season, and is hoping to make their Grand Prix debut in the  fall.

“At this  point we are only eligible for Skate America because we have not previously  competed in either a Grand Prix or ISU Championship to gain a season’s best  score,” the ambitious Baldwin said. “We want to medal at nationals this  year. It’s anyone’s game. We want to complete two decent programs at  each competition this year and peak at Nationals with two clean programs.”

Off ice Vise  and Baldwin are romantically involved, but want to set the record straight  about their rumored engagement.

“We have  heard also that we are engaged but that came as news to us,” Baldwin laughed. “It  seems like someone started that rumor recently, but it is not true at this  time. We would definitely let our fans know if this happens.”

The couple shares a house in Peoria, Ariz., and have recently taken in a new roommate, so to speak.

“We have  recently adopted a baby…” Baldwin said sheepishly. “A Kitten. His name is  Lightning, and he is three months old.”

Both Vise  and Baldwin come from families heavily involved in skating. Vise’s parents were heavily involved with the  Broadmoor Skating Club in her hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo. Her younger  sister Brittany was also a pairs skater who competed on the Grand Prix circuit  and at the Junior World Championships twice.

“She has  been in South America performing in skating shows for the last year and a  half,” Vise said of her younger sister. “Currently she is traveling around  Venezuela performing as Snow White in the company Hollywood on Ice.”

Baldwin’s  family has a very rich skating tradition—his father was a junior national  champion in pairs and singles and was an alternate to the 1972 Olympic team in  singles, and his mother competed nationally several times. His younger sister  Donna competed in novice pairs and dance on the national level with Baldwin,  and is preparing to enter college in Texas. And of course, Baldwin’s older  brother John, Jr. had a long career in figure skating, and competed in the 2006  Olympic Games with Rena Inoue.

“John and  Rena are now working full time in the family’s car business and medical billing  professions, respectively,” Baldwin shared. “They are expecting a baby in  November.”

Baldwin has  a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from the University  of California-Irvine. Like his big brother, he works for the family’s car  business.

Vise coaches part time at the rink, beginning at 6:45 A.M. each day until she  and Baldwin begin training in the middle of the morning. After lunch and more  training in the afternoon, Vise puts her coaching hat back on until her day  ends at 6:00 P.M.

“It keeps me  busy but I love teaching and passing my knowledge along to my students is such  a rewarding gift,” she said.

Outside of  the rink, both Vise and Baldwin enjoy being outdoors and like being adventurous  whether in just about every facet of their lives.

“We just  returned from Cabo san Lucas, Mexico, where Tiffany improved on her surfing  skills,” Baldwin said proudly. “We were  able to swim with dolphins, and we traveled up the East Cape to a small  village called Cabo Pulmo where we had the amazing opportunity to snorkel with  a sea lion colony. We also traveled up the Pacific Side to a great surf break  and visited an old colonial town. We also love to travel in my 1989 VW Vanagon  Camper Syncro to go camping and snowboarding in Flagstaff, AZ. We had the great  opportunity to go snowboarding in Austria after we finished the Ice Challenge  international competition. We both enjoy eating at new and interesting  restaurants and traveling to new places.”

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