When Jennifer Kuehne, 44, was a child, she was an avid skater and gymnast. Her parents taught her how to skate, and she would glide on Lakelse Lake with her grandparents.
“My grandmother used to love to figure skate on the lake,” she said.
As Kuehne got a little older, the time came to choose a sport on which to concentrate.
“There was no question that it was skating for me.”
It wasn’t long before she tried her hand as a coach. At the age of 11, Kuehne started out as a program assistant helping with CanSkate programs at the Terrace Skating Club. “I loved it right away, like totally loved it,” she said.
When Kuehne turned 16 she registered as a level one coach and has never looked back. Over nearly 30 years, Kuehne has worked to build the Terrace Skating Club into a regional force as a coach and the director of skating, even spreading her knowledge and love for skating to sun-baked Australia.
Kuehne said she loves watching her skaters more than she used to love performing. As a self described “picky coach,” she won’t sugarcoat performances that are not as good as they could be, while also giving credit where credit is due.
“I just like to see them progress and I also like to instill time management, I like to instill respect, I like to have a place for the skaters where whatever’s happening at home or in the rest of their life they can come and escape to,” she said.
Kuehne likes her skaters to do well, but it isn’t all about winning. Medals are icing on the cake, but the feeling her skaters get when they do their best and are happy with a performance is paramount.
“When you come off the ice and you’ve done your best and you’re so excited, and the [skater] wants to re-watch their video over and over again, you can never beat that,” she said.
“Twenty years from now, they’re going to watch that video, but they’re not going to necessarily remember that they won a medal with it. They’re just gonna be like, ‘remember that, that was my best skate ever. I skated clean.’ They’re going to remember that.”
One thing Kuehne will never forget is her stint coaching in Adelaide, Australia. Originally she wanted to coach in Germany, because her grandparents and father were born there. She sent out resumes to clubs in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia.
Two weeks later Kuehne received a call back from the Silver Blades Skating School in Adelaide. The arena there was run by the uncle of Jennifer Botteril, the Canadian women’s hockey player and three-time Olympic gold medalist. The club flew her down and she signed the contract.
There was one skating club in the entire city with a population of around 1.5 million people, compared to Terrace which has one club and Prince George which has two. She taught school groups how to skate as part of their physical education curriculum and coached figure skating at the club.
“I had a great time, it was like the time of my life. I got to travel a lot. I went to Fiji, I went to New Zealand, and Hawaii a lot because that was a stopover on the way home,” she said.
Kuehne said that the Australian attitude towards cold weather, snow and winter sports was much different than in Canada. There is a mountain near Melbourne that gets some snow, and locals would call trips there “going to the snow.”
“A lot of them just had no desire to go there. It’s funny that they had their kids in skating lessons but still had no desire to ever go to the snow. They’re like, ‘why would I want to be that cold ever?’”
It was not uncommon for people to ask Kuehne if living in Canada was expensive because of need for extra clothes, and what it was like to drive a car on ice.
After coaching in Australia for three years Kuehne had to make a choice. Staying longer would have required her to become a permanent resident. In 2002, she decided to return to Terrace.
“I always wanted to come back and make my club really strong, and that was always something I felt passionate about,” she said.
Since her days as a skater, a lot has changed for the Terrace Skating Club. Ice is available for more months during the year than it used to be. There is better education around off-ice training for skaters so they can improve and work on their skills even if there isn’t ice available. That includes yoga, fitness class, and even spinners — small plastic pieces with a slight rocker on the bottom that a skater stands on to practice spin positions off-ice.
Now, Kuehne is leaving town again. Her husband secured a job transfer to Vernon, where they already have friends. She is looking forward to the drier weather and Okanagan lifestyle. She said she will miss Terrace, the club and her skaters.
“Normally we have an end-of-year banquet and that would be nice for me to be able to say bye to everybody,” she said.
“We weren’t able to do that, but those things are really just cherry cherries on the top of the cake, right?”
Kuehne said the club is in good hands, and she doesn’t feel like there is any unfinished business. Whether she will continue coaching is an open question, for now she’s focused on settling in and relaxing for a while before making a decision.
Regardless of what happens to her coaching career in the future, Kuehne said she has been touched by all of the support in the Terrace community and will certainly be back to visit.
“I really want to thank all the sponsors, and the Terrace Standard and the radio station, TV, everyone in Terrace has always been really good to the club.”