Daugh­ter of for­mer fig­ure skater finds suc­cess

For­mer ju­nior cham­pion from Har­bour Grace now coach­ing in On­tario

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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.”

Valu­able lessons

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.

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