Camel spins and toe loops: Older figure skaters find joy, competition

Gaye Cail took some time to reflect when she turned 60. Part of that reflection included stepping back out onto the ice. 

That was five years ago.   

She recently took home gold and bronze medals at the International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Ottawa, sponsored by the International Skating Union.

Her club, Capital City Figure Skating in Fredericton, sent her along with Beth McCluskey-Pelletier to the competition, but Cail said they never expected to do as well as they did. McCluskey-Pelletier also won a bronze.

“It was kind of icing on the cake that we just were able to come home with medals,” said Cail.

Gaye Cail had long-retired her figure skates, but now tt she is skating again it has re-ignited her love of the sport and desire to compete. (Submitted by Gaye Cail)

She said competing on an international stage was overwhelming. when she first got back into skating, it took her awhile to get comfortable. Now she’s able to complete toe loops, flips, loop jumps, waltz jumps, sit spins and camel spins. 

McCluskey-Pelletier started figure skating as a kid and stopped around the age of 15. Then she picked it up again when she was 45. Her daughters were skating by then and adults were allowed to skate for an hour at the same time. 

She said at first it was just for activity, but then she started getting a little more competitive. 

Gaye Cail won a gold medal and a bronze medal at the ISU International Adult Figure Skating Competition. (Submitted by Gaye Cail)

“I go on the ice and I [don’t think] about anything else,” said McCluskey-Pelletier. “It’s a getaway from work, family. So it’s just my time. And because I am a little competitive, I want to do better and I want to improve.”

‘My happy place’

Other New Brunswickers also competed at the international competition in Ottawa, including Pat Noddin from Moncton.

“[Noddin] was out on the ice and everybody was kind of in tears because here she’s 86-years-old and she still loves figure skating,” said Cail. 

Pat Noddin’s friend, Jan Calnan, skated beside Noddin, holding her hand, during the opening ceremonies in Ottawa. (Skate Canada/Patinage Canada & Scott Grant Photography)

Noddin started figure skating in her late 50s and competed for the first time at age 60. But she said she had always loved skating.

When she was a kid and would skate outside on the ice, she said she didn’t know figure skating was a thing. She called it “fancy skating.”

Noddin said sometimes in the winter it can be hard to motivate herself to get up and go to the rink. But she said when she does, “it’s just like floating.” 

Pat Noddin did her program in Austria after recovering from a broken hip. (Submitted by Pat Noddin)

Noddin has been at big competitions before, but when she went to Ottawa, she wasn’t expecting to actually compete this time.

Three years ago Noddin broke her hip. She also has back and knee pain that made her unable to do the jumps like she used to. But she signed up for the competition in Ottawa just to participate in the opening and closing ceremonies and to spend time with her skating friends. 

During the opening ceremonies, she wasn’t sure she would be able to compete. Only about a week before the event, Noddin was out for a walk when her knees started to hurt so bad she had to get help from a stranger to get back to her apartment. 

Her friend Jan Calnan helped her out, offering to skate right beside her, holding her hand. 

Pat Noddin embraces her friend Jan Calnan after their skate during the opening ceremonies of the international competition in Ottawa. (Skate Canada/Patinage Canada & Scott Grant Photography)

Along with breaking her hip a few years ago, Noddin also has osteoporosis, making her more timid on the ice. But she said she’s happy to skate when someone is right there next to her. 

“I’m just lucky to be out there skating and just doing what I can do,” said Noddin. “It’s still my happy place.”

No regrets

A few years ago when Noddin was only a few months post-operative, she was set to compete in Austria — a competition she had already signed up for before breaking her hip. 

Although she wasn’t able to do all of the elements she had hoped to perform, Noddin was thankful she did it.

“I came off the ice and I was really, really nervous. I was shaking and I was scared,” said Noddin. “But I came home with no regrets.”

Skating family

Noddin said there are so many parts of skating that make it her passion. One of those things is her skating family.

She said the adult skating community is starting to get recognized a bit more, especially through Skate Canada.

She’s made friends from England, Germany, France, Australia — and she gets to see them at competitions or catch up with their lives on social media. 

“We don’t compete against one another, we compete with one another,” said Noddin.

“It’s just a real close-knit community. … I’m really blessed to have so many friends like that.”

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