Daughter of former figure skater finds success
Former junior champion from Harbour Grace now coaching in Ontario
Rebecca Babb and her younger brother Josh were household names on the provincial figure skating scene after winning a national junior title in ice dance back in 1998. Now the Harbour Grace native’s daughter is following in mom’s footsteps.
Rebecca Babb’s path to a national junior title in figure skating with her younger brother Josh started on the ice surface of S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium back in the 1980s.
Close to 17 years after hanging up her skates, the Harbour Grace native is getting to see her eldest daughter succeed on the ice.
Sophie Strachan of Waterloo, Ont. partnered with Everest Zhu in December, 2015, for a Skate Canada challenge event in Edmonton. Competing in the pre-novice ice dance competition, Sophie and Everest placed second.
This year, at the 2017 National Skating Championships in Ottawa, 12-year-old Sophie and her 13-year-old partner moved up a level into the novice category.
Facing skaters as old as 19, the pair found themselves in first place after the initial pattern dance.
“They were the little people in the event — let’s put it that way,” said the proud mother, who teamed up with brother Josh to claim the 1998 national junior title in ice dance.
“They were standing there waiting to get on the ice, and they were up to most people’s shoulders ... There was zero expectation this year with them, so they just went out and did their thing; winning the first dance was a bit of a shocker, especially to the kids.”
They fared well in the second pattern dance, dropping to third place, but some stumbles towards the end of their free dance — the most valuable skate when it comes to points — left them in eighth.
“It went really well until the last 30 seconds, and then we had a stop, drop and roll. That’s never good in a skating competition,” Rebecca said with a laugh. “But it does happen.”
All three of Rebecca’s children regularly lace up their skates. Sophie’s younger siblings, Norah and Silas, both play hockey.
“We spend a lot of time at rink,” laughed their mom.
Norah and Sophie both started out in Skate Canada’s CanSkate program, with Norah eventually deciding she wasn’t interested so much in skating on her own. All three children played hockey up until last year, when Sophie decided to fully devote herself to figure skating.
When Rebecca and Josh moved to Ontario in the 1990s, they joined the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. Rebecca is now a coach with the club.
“Being a parent-coach, you have a tendency to maybe be a little more sceptical and a little harder on your own kids,” she said. “(Sophie) always had an enjoyment, which is first and foremost my main concern as a parent, and she seemed to really love to skate, which was really what we were after.”
Over the last few years, Sophie has worked with a number of different partners in ice dance. Her duo with Everest has proven to be a good fit.
“You always have hopes and dreams for your kids,” said her mother. “I don’t know if skating nationally or internationally was the hope and dream for my kids. Coming from that, there was a part of me going, ‘Oh no, no. Please don’t do it.’ But the fact that they’ve had such great success and really have found a groove with each other, it’s awesome.”
Taking into account her own experience, Rebecca views skating as a sport that can provide valuable life les- sons, giving children a sense of responsibility, respect and accountability.
For Sophie, that means getting up at 5 a.m. and skating for over two hours before heading to school, then training again in the afternoon.
“There’s not a lot of 11 and 12 year olds that are disciplined enough to do that and get their work done and do their extra curriculars outside of skating and school as well,” said Rebecca, adding the sport has also allowed Sophie the opportunity to travel across Canada.
Reflecting on the experience this year at the national championships in Ottawa, Rebecca was more than pleased.
“I think considering the excitement of it all, being the first national championships, being the babies of the event, they handled themselves incredibly well,” she said.
When she retired from competitions in 2000, Rebecca wasn’t sure whether she’d remain involved in figure skating. But she found her way back to the ice after a few years.
“I’m pretty lucky in that I get to share my joy of skating through choreography and teaching, which is a place that I’m very happy with right now,” said Rebecca.
She has worked with some notable skaters, playing a role in the development of Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and world medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
Josh Babb too has stuck with skating south of the border. He’s currently director of the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team in Connecticut and New York state.
“It’s kind of funny, because if you’d have asked me ... 20 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘No, there’s no way I would’ve stayed in skating,’” said Rebecca, who worked in radio and television for a number of years following her retirement. “For some reason, it hauled me back ... And it doesn’t surprise me that Josh has remained in skating. He’s extremely talented and does an amazing job with what he does.”
I don’t know if skating nationally or internationally was the hope and dream for my kids. Coming from that, there was a part of me going, ‘Oh no, no. Please don’t do it.’ —Rebecca Babb
Ice dance partners Sophie Strachan and Everest Zhu finished eighth in the novice division at the 2017 National Skating Championships in Ottawa, held Jan. 16-22.
Sophie Strachan and Everest Zhu are members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club.
Rebecca Babb, a former Canadian junior champion figure skater from Harbour Grace, now coaches with the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club.