Small-town figure skaters head to Olympic stage in Sochi

A pair of Olympics-bound figure skaters are doing their last-minute preparations in Manitoba and proving that athletes don't always have to move to bigger cities to train.
A pair of Olympic-bound figure skaters are doing their last-minute preparations in rural Manitoba, showing that athletes don't have to move to bigger cities to train. 2:05

A pair of Olympics-bound figure skaters are doing their last-minute preparations in Manitoba.

RudiSwiegers, 26, and his partner Paige Lawrence, 23, grew up in small towns in Saskatchewan but train in Virden, Man.

Their coach, Patricia Hole, said it's a huge feat for small-town athletes, proving that they don't need to move to bigger cities to get to the world's largest stage.

Rudi Swiegers and Paige Lawrence chat with coach Patricia Hole. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
“We have given hope to small-town kids that live out in the middle of nowhere that anything is possible.I think we are able to give kids [the message] that you are able to dream big and [have] those dreams come true,” she said.

Lawrence grew up in Kennedy, Sask., and has been skating since she was four. Swiegers was born in South Africa and moved to Saskatchewan when he was a boy.

Lawrence says growing up in a small town, the rink was where people hung out. While being on the rink is one of her most comfortable places, Lawrence says the ice at Sochi will be a whole new experience.

"That's what gets me butterflies in my stomach — is stepping out onto that ice and seeing the [Olympic] rings, the spectators," she said.

Swiegers and Lawrence trained out of the same club in Wawota, Sask. Hole, who is from Virden, had for years commuted the 80 kilometres to coach young skaters.

She eventually became the coach for Swiegers and Lawrence, training them separately before deciding to pair them together.

That was in 2005. They've been working together ever since.

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers pose at the Virden rink, where they are doing their final training sessions before the Olympic Games in Sochi. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)
Their breakout year was in 2008 when they placed 2nd at the Canadian Juniors. That's when people began asking them where they would train as most athletes move to big centres, said Swiegers.

"The thought crossed our minds, like 'OK, where are we going to go?' And then we really thought about it and said, 'you know, what we have all of those things here in Virden. We have all of those things in Saskatchewan, all the things we could ever possibly need, we have," he said.

"So why would we ever move to a bigger centre when we have everything here?"

Hole said the pair is proof that it doesn't matter where you live or train as long as you have the drive to succeed.

Qualifying to represent Canada at the Olympic Games in Sochi has only served to accelerate that drive.

Swiegers and Lawrence train every day for 3½ hours on the ice in the morning, followed by off-ice work outs, physio and massages in the afternoon.

"We really just want to go out there nail everything, and so I think our biggest challenge right now is to train that way, you know, come out every day with the expectation that we're going to be competing in front of millions of people," said Lawrence.