Road To The Olympic Games


Alaine Chartrand takes road less travelled to world figure skating championships

Alaine Chartrand, a 19-year-old from Prescott, Ont., is Canada's top entry in women's singles at the world figure skating championships this week in Boston, and reached international heights with an unorthodox schedule that has seen her dad John put some 130,000 kilometres on the family RV.

Top Canadian women's singles skater puts many miles on family RV

Alaine Chartrand felt the love from the crowd at this year's Canadian championships, where she won her first women's title. (The Canadian Press)

The story of Alaine Chartrand's nomadic skating life is written in the dozens of small circles carved in the asphalt outside the Canadian Ice Academy.

The indentations in the parking lot, which look like rings on a coffee table, are from the stabilizing legs of her family's motorhome. Each circle marks a trip to the rink. There are too many to count.

"People are always asking about the motorhome, they think it's kind of crazy what we do," Chartrand said. "It probably is crazy to the average person, our whole situation."

The 19-year-old from Prescott, Ont., is Canada's top entry in women's singles at the world figure skating championships this week in Boston, and reached international heights with an unorthodox schedule that has seen her dad John put some 130,000 kilometres on the family RV.

On weekdays, Chartrand works either with her longtime coach Mary Jayne Rashotte in Prescott, or Robert Kazimir in Ottawa.

On Friday nights, Chartrand and her dad load up the RV and make the four-hour trek to Mississauga. John drives, Alaine usually sleeps. At 6 a.m. Saturday, she makes the short walk across the parking lot to be at the rink when it opens to work with coach Michelle Leigh. She'll spend Saturday afternoon at the Toronto Cricket Club working with Brian Orser, then drive to Oakville, park at the rink there to be ready to work with Leigh again the next morning.

"It's very unorthodox," Leigh said. "Other skaters like to maybe go away for a month or a couple of weeks [to work with other coaches], but her having different coaches throughout the week is very unusual. And even having different training places throughout the week is unusual."

But it works, Leigh said. She believes Chartrand, one of a select group of women in the world who can land a triple Axel, is capable of a top-five finish in Boston. She was 11th in her first world appearance last year. Canada hasn't won a medal in women's singles since Joannie Rochette's silver in 2009.

Rock-star treatment

Chartrand began working with Leigh five years ago. At first John, a machine shop manager and self-described "gear head," would drive his truck through the night, leaving Prescott around 1 a.m. Saturday. Chartrand would sleep in the backseat and be ready to train when they arrived. They kept up that hectic schedule for about a year.

"You quickly realized that there has to be a better way," John said.

John's father was trading in his RV and John asked if he could have it.

The vehicle, which has expandable rooms, has all the comforts of home. There's a washer and dryer, two TVs, two double beds, a full kitchen and bathroom. It's like something a rock star might travel in; all that's missing is Chartrand's name on the side.

They spend their down time cooking, reading or watching TV. They recently watched the entire "Doctor Who" series.

Chartrand, 19, is happy with the arrangement. Sometimes her mom Heather and brother Andrew come along. But more often than not, it's just the two of them.

"It's been that way for a long time now, so it's not out of the ordinary for me," said Chartrand.

The arrangement has allowed her to remain living at home.

"Otherwise she would have had to leave home a while ago," Leigh said. "And having the motorhome is just such healthier living for her, rather than living in hotels, she can eat the healthy food that she wants and she can rest while they're travelling."

Always on the move

Leigh believes Chartrand's constant change of scenery has prepared her well for competition.

"It's a big advantage in a lot of ways, because she's always moving to different arenas and always adjusting to different atmospheres," Leigh said. "When you go to a competition, that's one of the skills you hope your skater has, is being able to adjust to a new arena, a new atmosphere, and she's just changing so much that it seems like less of a big deal to her because she's never only in one place."

Parents of athletes give up their own time for their children's pursuits, but John doesn't see it that way.

"I don't see it as sacrifice. Alaine and I will have something to share for the rest of our lives by doing this," he said. "Getting to Canadian championships, she's won her third medal now at Canadian championships [gold in January], she was 11th in the world last year and she's heading for much higher this year.

"I don't even think of it as a sacrifice, it's just what we do. I don't know how to explain it. It's just what we do."

Chartrand will have 16 friends and family members cheering her on at TD Garden. The family purchased a corporate box, for $15,500 US for the week, as general seating was sold out.

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