Skater in Residence – Debbi Wilkes and Tinkerbell!

My love affair with figure skating had a bumpy start when I was almost 5 years old. I can’t remember exactly how it all began but I do remember one instance that fall when my Mom took me to the local club in Unionville, paid the 25 cents, and pushed me out on the ice in my double runner skates.

As the neighborhood would have attested … my reaction was ear-piercing … screaming banshee comes to mind … I was having none of it!!

Fast forward a year.

My sister Sue, nine years older and a great athlete, took it upon herself to initiate me into the wonderfully magical world of skating, this time not in an arena but outdoors on a frozen pond out in the back forty on our farm. She was patient … I was not … but soon with her support and that of a sturdy chair I pushed along in front of me, I could make it across the pond without falling. I think it was also that year when I got a REAL pair of skates (with toe picks!) just in time for my Mom to sign me up for REAL skating lessons at the Unionville Figure Skating Club.

I soon learned my sister was right … skating was magical! Gliding free, feeling the beauty of the body as it discovered that perfect position, testing yourself to control movement … and then there was the MUSIC. It spoke to me in a way that inspired me to be whoever I wanted and to express what the music said to me alone.

Like many other clubs at that time, Unionville’s was just finding its “legs”. With the Central Ontario Section (COS) still in its infancy, most clubs were loosely banded together by a set of guidelines around national testing standards for figures and ice dance.

In Unionville there was always an annual ice show too. At the age of 6, I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant but I was game … and when I got a solo as Tinker Bell in Peter Pan … the sport grabbed me forever!

That year … and all the years that followed … I discovered the true meaning of teamwork and creativity. Watching the tireless volunteers build sets, sew costumes, do make-up, monitor dressing rooms, run spotlights, act as ushers, cook food, assist with rehearsals, edit music, write scripts … and a million more tasks … I’ve come to understand the true meaning of community.

Just last month (April), I saw it all at work again and witnessed the glorious symphony produced when volunteers, coaches and skaters come together. It was Unionville Figure Skating Club’s 50th Ice Show which I was honoured to host as the guest announcer. I’m a life member at UFSC, something bestowed upon me back in the 1960s, but I’m ashamed to say that since then my visits have been few and far between.

Something unexpected happened to me that weekend.

Looking out at the ice in that old historic Crosby Arena, seeing the performers of all ages, the costumes and choreography, the stage and lighting … I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude to the Club for dedicating decades to the sport of skating and all the possibilities it presents and to skating for teaching me some of life’s most important lessons.

As Tinker Bell so many years ago, I had no idea the major defining role skating would have in my life.