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December 2006 High School Athlete of the Month: Kirsten Olson

December 2006 High School Athlete of the Month: Kirsten Olson
Photo by Shattuck-St. Mary's School
School: Shattuck-St. Mary’s School
Hometown: Savage, MN
Sport: Figure Skating
Grade: 9

Just last year, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a small private boarding school in Faribault, Minn., added a second sheet of ice due to its successful hockey program. They hoped to develop a strong, competitive figure skating program. Now, in their very first season, a freshman named Kirsten Olson skates on that very ice. Remarkably, Kirsten has already qualified for nationals.

“Kirsten has many of the technical skills of our United States top female athletes,” says Shattuck-St. Mary’s Director of Figure Skating (and Kirsten’s coach), Diana Ronayne. “Her future could include International and World level competitions.”

The path to these competitions already seems paved. Kirsten won first place at the recent Junior Ladies event in the Upper Great Lakes Regional Figure Skating Championship. Then she placed third at Sections while competing against athletes from 22 different states. That earned her a spot at this year’s Nationals held in Spokane, WA on January 21st.

Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St.Mary's School

Add on two other Junior Ladies skaters that competed in the same event as Kirsten, two Pre-Juvenile girls and an Intermediate Lady who competed out of South Atlantics, plus a Japanese skater who went back to Japan, won her Regionals and eventually placed 5th in her Junior Nationals, and by anyone’s standards, this appears to be an epic start for such a fresh program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

“The goal is to offer an elite program in figure skating along with an excellent academic program,” Coach Ronayne says.

With a rigid schedule, involving 6 a.m. training before class, required study hall, strength and conditioning, skating-specific curriculum and even a ‘lights-out’ time, Shattuck-St. Mary’s seems to be ensuring just that.

“Figure skating is recognized as a school sport, but it has a very different paradigm than an academic calendar of other typical school sports where their seasons coincide with the academic calendar,“ says Coach Ronayne.

Ronayne was hired in the fall of 2005, but officially came on board at Shattuck-St. Mary’s on June 1, 2006, bringing with her U.S. and World Championship coaching experience after leaving Colorado Springs World Arena and Ice Hall. After helping with recruiting, she ran a three-week skating camp at the school and then began working with Kirsten right before the school year began.

Kirsten, of course, started her skating career much sooner than her days at Shattuck-St. Mary’s with Coach Ronayne. At age three she was already on an outdoor rink with her parents Darrell and Brenda and hockey-playing brother, Steven, of Savage, Minn.

“I really enjoyed it from the very first time I stepped on the ice and started skating. There was something about it that I just loved.”

With a natural knack and some sporadic lessons beginning at age 4, Kirsten eventually got a coach at the tender age of eight. To Kirsten, though, this was a late start.

“My first coach was Joanie Goodly. I remember pretty much everything about my skating, since I started so late. I vividly remember taking the silver medal at Junior Nationals as an Intermediate Lady.”

This type of fond memory would be repeated for Kirsten. And repeated. Proof lies in her recent success alone, earned after just a few months and intensified training at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

“Kirsten has made many changes and adjustments since September. Her skating has included more conditioning and cross training in off-ice dance, which has in turn helped her develop stronger techniques and better conditioning,” Coach Ronayne says.

Not just skating, but also her lifestyle, has changed, too. It’s the first time Kirsten has lived in a boarding school environment.

“It is good, but a very big change from regular life. It’s hard because if you are having any problems or having a tough day, your parents are not there to console you. The only thing you have is a cell phone until the weekend, when I get to see them.”

Photo Courtesy of
Shattuck-St. Mary's School

Since skating is a year-round sport, there’s never a significant rest between class, meals, training, competition and ever-present homework. Ronayne sees that as Kirsten's biggest challenge— just fitting it all in and trying to get enough sleep while she’s at it. Finding time for singing, acting, reading and interacting with her friends — Kirsten’s favorite hobbies — is even harder.

“It is all very new. To live in a dorm and [deal with] the training schedule are a lot different, but I’m managing.”

Coach Ronayne credits her confidence and strong desire to truly be better than other skaters. In fact, rather than her Triple Lutz (her most difficult element), it’s her strong technique that keeps people talking. She entered Regionals this year with the highest technical elements of them, and after completing each one in the Short Programs Final Round event, Kirsten earned the highest total score of all Junior Ladies in the country this season.

Then there’s her personal flair that gives her an advantage, punctuated by her outgoing personality.

“Kirsten has a wonderful dramatic presence on the ice and skates with speed and aggressiveness,” Ronayne says.

She wasn’t always so confident and gregarious though. Much of the change can be attributed to her experience playing a principal role as ‘Nikki the Jumping Shrimp’ in the skating movie “Ice Princess.” Auditions in LA and eventual filming of the movie helped her confidence.

“I used to be fairly shy, but after having to do lots of different things in front of so many people, the shyness melted away and now I’m pretty outgoing.”

All this combined, it’s no wonder Kirsten has found success.

“I am looking forward to taking her to Nationals and seeing if she can continue to raise her standard of skating,” Coach Ronayne says. “She is setting the standard for the direction of this new program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.”

Clearly, that standard has been set high, but for Kirsten Olson, ‘The Jumping Shrimp,’ it’s definitely in reach.

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