Kira GiffordAutumn Dovre

Minneota girls took similar skating paths

Gifford, Dovre looking forward to watching Winter Olympics

Two Minneota students currently involved in the Southwest Figure Skating Club in Marshall are eagerly anticipating the upcoming Winter Olympics.

“I'm very excited to watch ice skating and the other sports during the Olympics,” said Kira Gifford, a senior whose family lives on a farm outside of Arco.

“Unfortunately, my favorite skater, Ashley Wagner, did not qualify for the USA team, but I am excited to watch Brandie Tennell.”

“My favorite from USA is Mirai Nagasu,” said Autumn Dovre, who is in seventh grade and lives with her family on a farm just outside of Minneota.

“Nathan Chen is fun to watch because of all his quadruple jumps.” Although the two girls are several years apart, they have followed similar paths in skating.

They both learned to skate when they were in first grade with the Learn to Skate Program, which is offered through the Marshall Community Education program and taught by the Southwest Figure Skating Club in the Red Baron Arena.

Gifford left the skating club for a few years to participate in middle school and high school basketball, while continuing to skate on her own time.

But after participating in a reunion number for the club members celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Southwest Figure Skating Club, she decided to return to the club.

“I realized how much I missed skating with the club and having a coach,” she explained.

“I decided to rejoin (the skating club) my junior year of high school.” Dovre is now in her second year skating with the club after taking lessons for seven years, including two years with Learn to Skate at Mountainview Ice Arena in Vancouver, WA, where her family lived before moving to the area.

“I'm currently in the Free Skate 2 level,” she noted. Jodi Schreurs, who is also Gifford's coach, has been the director of the Southwest Figure Skating Club since 2008 and has been a coach with the program since 2004.

She is a native of Eveleth, MN, a hockey and skating hotbed. “I really enjoy working with the kids,” said Schreurs, an attorney in Marshall.

“The girls typically practice four days a week for an hour. The season runs from October until the end of March.

And in June and July they come in to skate for a couple of hours a week.” Currently, there are 18 skaters involved in the club from ages 6-18.

There are also several skaters involved in the Learn to Skate program that is offered on Saturdays.

“I coach five of the kids in the club,” Schreurs said. “And we hire other coaches here, too, that are usually college students at SMSU (Southwest Minnesota State University).”

Emily Vogel, an SMSU student from Springfield, is Dovre's coach. There are typically two or three competitions a year for those involved in the Southwest Figure Skating Club, Schreurs said.

The first competition was held in St. Cloud in November. Two weekends ago, there was a competition in Mankato in January. And the final one will be held in Rochester in mid-February.

There are different events the girls can compete in such as Free Skate, Jumps, Spins and Compulsory.

The Southwest Figure Skating Club puts on a season-ending ice show for the public, called “Adventure Awaits”. There will be two performances on March 17; a matinee performance at 1:30 p.m. and an evening show at 7 p.m.

Dovre's first-ever competition was this past Jan. 13 at the All Seasons Area in Mankato.

And she performed exceptionally well as evidenced by her first-place finish in Beginner Free Skate, second place in Beginner Jumps, and third in Beginner Compulsory. Gifford also competed in the annual Bend of the River competition in Mankato.

“I tested on Friday (Jan. 12), and passed the preliminary moves in the field test,” she said.

“That allowed me to move on to the next level of skills and compete at a higher level.” “That was my main goal for that weekend. On Saturday, I placed sixth in my Free Skate program, and I also placed sixth in my Compulsory program.”

Gifford injured her knee and leg when she was younger, presenting her with challenges in getting her full range of motion back in the knee even today.

“This has made competition harder for me, especially since one of the required skills involves a sit spin,” she said.

“I have been working on my sit spin all year and have been able to see improvement on that skill.”

Each of the girls enjoys their time on the ice. “I love that it is an individual sport. It allows for me to really focus on my own skills and for me to improve as much as I can,” said Gifford.

“One of my favorite parts of skating is when I finally get the perfect spin or land a hard jump that I have been working on for a long time. It is one of the best feelings in the world, because ice-skating has challenging skills and moves no matter what level you are at.”

Dovre's response was similar. “Spins are pretty fun, once you can do them without falling over. It's cool when you can land a really high jump and you're impressed with yourself for being able to do it,” she said.

As with most sports, frustration can often set in when things don’t go right for an athlete.

“If one of the girls is having difficulty with a jump or something else, I will redirect them and move on to something completely different,” Schreurs said.

“Or I will have them go back inside and tell them to take their skates off, and then put them back on and start all over.”

And now with the Olympics only a few days away, the enthusiasm for winter sports such as figure skating will likely rise.

“We typically see a spike in memberships the year the Olympics are being held,” said Schreurs.

The Southwest Figure Skating Club is open to anyone interested.

To join or for more information, contact Jodi at 507-829-1606.

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