Changing of the guard for skate club

Sandy Shores Figure Skating Club sees bright light in the future as training centre

Sandy Shores Skating Club's new director of skating Richard O'Neill

Sandy Shores Skating Club's new director of skating Richard O'Neill

Sandy Shores Figure Skating Club has marked the start of its summer season with a changing of the guard.

In a move meant to take the club in a new direction, SSSC has replaced the husband and wife team of Larry and Leslee Rushton, co-head coaches for 27 years, with new director of skating Richard O’Neill, and new club coach, former Sandy Shores standout, Shannon Light.

Born and raised in Toronto and an accomplished skater himself, O’Neill, 55, has been in the business since 1979 and spent the last 11 years coaching in Mexico.

Career highlights include coaching at the World Championships in Calgary and the 2009 World Championships in L.A. with his Mexican national champion.

“It sounds strange but it’s big there,” he said at a recent SSSC meet and greet at Oceanside Place, adding the decision to come to Parksville wasn’t a hard one.

“I really like the way Skate B.C. is organized — I think it’s light years ahead of other parts of the country in many respects so… It was perfect timing for me, perfect timing for the club who had coaches leaving, so it really was a win win situation in every sense of the word.”

“I love it here,” he said.

He and Light have been meeting regularly since he arrived.

“She knows the skaters obviously better than I do, she knows the club — it’s great to have an inside source. We’re going to spend a lot of time this summer getting to know each other on the ice so we can better coordinate our efforts — that’s our first priority.”

O’Neill’s only other trip to Vancouver Island was four years ago for a competition, “It’s a wonderful facility, and the organization seems to be great,” he said, adding “the objective here is to deliver a fine-tuned operation that will allow all those components to come together and to produce a better skater, and to make this into a training centre of recognition.”

In figure skating, coaching contracts are done on a yearly basis.

Light, 27, a Ballenas Secondary Grad, skated with SSSC for 15 years (from the age of five to 20) and coached for a year and a half, and is coming off a five and a half year posting doing skating shows at sea for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

Besides her on-ice coaching duties, Light will also oversee the club’s dryland training.

“Definitely” she said when asked if she’s excited about what awaits. “It’s a fresh start for the club.”

IN THE MEANTIME, “the future looks bright for Sandy Shores,” said SSSC president Launie Elves.

Sandy Shores SC, she said, has begun working with neighbouring clubs in order to offer a better training environment for skaters,” pointing out the club’s June ice sessions saw coaches and skaters from the Comox Valley Skating Club and Mount Arrowsmith Skating Club both training at Oceanside Place.

Light began working with the SSSC skaters off ice at the beginning of April, “which will improve the skaters on ice performance.”

The club will continue to offer off ice classes during the summer and winter season.

SSSC’s summer school kicked off July 2 “and we have skaters coming from Alberta, northern B.C., and Vancouver Island.”

At the end of the summer school, the skaters will be going to B.C. SummerSkate Competition — Pond to Podium (August 16 to 18).

The summer program offers sessions for advanced CanSkate pre-junior, junior, intermediate and senior figure skating programs.

In September, SSSC will be a six-days-a-week skating club (Monday to Saturday) offering four sessions of full sheet CanSkate — Learn to Skate.

“Our CanSkate program focuses on fun, skills and fitness. The program gives a skater the skills they need to excel in hockey, ringette, speed skating, figure skating or to just be able to skate on a public skating session with their friends,” said Elves, and made the point “we operate 46 weeks per year and offer programs for all ages and levels.”

The club, which participated in the Canada Day Parade, is also a sponsor of the Canada Day events.

SSSC, the club and coaches goal she said “is for Sandy Shores SC and Oceanside Place Arena to become one of the top training facilities in B.C. for figure skaters.”

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