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Student-run Learn to Skate program brings together community members and students

The student-run Learn to Skate program encourages people of all ages to try out skating.

The employees of the Learn to Skate program are busy.

They have to recruit and teach skaters, coordinate and choreograph programs and advertise for all of the events they put on throughout the semester.

At the same time, they’re all still full-time students.

“With most rinks, there’s full-time people and all of the coaches are not college-aged, so here is definitely very different, but it keeps a lot of life in it,” Maya Oshita, the freestyle/private lessons supervisor, said.

The skaters in the program, ranging from ages 3 to about 60 and from students to residents, learn to skate and perform in different programs at Bird Arena, Oshita said.

“I think that a lot of students at OU get caught up … with how life is on campus,” Oshita,  a sophomore studying sociology-criminology, said. “This is something where it’s available to students and it’s on campus … but at the same time you’re getting this opportunity to see people from the broader community outside of just your college campus.”

The upcoming event hosted by Learn to Skate, “Skating Through the Decades,” will feature different solo and group acts performing to different songs from the 1920s to present day, Marissa Del Matto, the skating director and Learn to Skate manager, said. The performances are separated by decades, and the skaters will come out of a “time machine” when they begin their performances, she added.

“It’s like we’re going back in time and then we’re working all the way up until present day,” Del Matto said.

The decade theme is “super approachable” for people whether they are into figure skating or not, Oshita said. She said her mom is very interested in what songs the performers would be skating to and the different ages of the skaters performing the routines.

“She gets really excited that we’re sharing the music that she grew up with with little kids now,” Oshita said.

They also hope to have an illuminated timeline behind the skaters in the back of the rink so the audience can follow along with the show,Sarah Kelly, a sophomore studying strategic communication and marketing and the supervisor of the Learn to Skate group lesson, said.

The number of members in the Learn to Skate program fluctuates between programs, but this year they have about 55 members, Del Matto said. The program usually hosts two to three programs per semester, with one large performance show each semester, she said.

Oshita began the program when she was about 3 years old. Her coach was actually the woman who started the program. She learned about the program when one of her preschool friends mentioned that she was interested in doing Learn to Skate and asked Oshita to do it with her, she said. Oshita and her family had just moved to Athens from California, so it helped them adjust.

“It also was really good for my mom because I made all of my friends here, but so did she,” Oshita said.

Younger skaters in the program often look up to the older members and see them as mentors, Oshita said. Students at OU get to know their professors who participate in Learn to Skate, she added.

“Some of the best friends I’ve made in college are from here,” Kelly said.

Del Matto understands figure skating is not exactly a sought-out sport by many, but she said people can branch out and try something new by going to an ice show or trying to skate themselves.

“You can kind of gain more appreciation for the hard work and dedication that a lot of the skaters have,” Del Matto said. “It does take a lot of work. Don’t be fooled because some of them make it look easy but it’s not.”

Open recreational skate is free for students with skates, but if a student does not have skates they will have to pay $3.50 to rent them. Kelly said she hopes students who are not interested in figure skating will take advantage of the rink.

“There’s really no limit with skating. You can really do it to any type of music and you can compete and do shows, or you could just practice and do it as a type of exercise,” Emily Harris, a sophomore student at Athens High School and a skater at Learn to Skate, said.

It doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, anyone can learn to skate, Harris said.

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Harris said she has skated in the program for 10 years since she received a flier at school advertising the program. She said she has stayed in the program not only because she enjoys the sport, but also because she enjoys the people and coaches at the rink.

“I like personally that it’s an individual sport,” Harris said. “I think that you can choose your pathway and you can take it however seriously or … nonchalant as you want.”



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