The Prince George Figure Skating hosted a visit last week from former Canadian Olympian Vaughn Chipeur, who brought with him some skating tips and plenty of words of encouragement.
The 28-year-old Albertan turned professional after competing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics where he placed 23rd among men's figure skaters. He is now part George Short's Future Stars program, which travels to various communities giving seminars and teaching skating skills to wannabe Olympians.
"As an Olympian it gives me an opportunity to not just promote the Olympics, which is special, but it also raises a lot of awareness in bringing an Olympian to different venues and clubs and it keeps that Olympic mentality in the back of the kids' brain," said Chipeur. "The biggest message I try to give them is the importance of sport in their life and the opportunities that sport can provide you."
In addition to his work with Future Stars, Chipeur also skates with a production company that does ice shows with the Royal Caribbean Cruises. He said the small ice surface on the ships, creates a really intimate atmosphere between the skaters and the spectators. For the past two years, the cruise line Chipeur was with ported out of New York and made its way through the east and west Caribbean. Previously he sailed the Mediterranean and has gone all around South America.
"I'm really fortunate that my job is to skate occasionally and sit on a beach," said Chipeur.
Not bad for a guy who never dreamed of competing in the Olympics until the 2010 Games were about 18 months away.
"I was a really late bloomer," said Chipeur. "When I was a kid, I trained and people would ask if I wanted to go to the Olympics. It was always a dream, but it was not considered a realistic reality until 2008."
In 2008, Chipeur started to make a name for himself on the Canadian senior men's skating scene, where he became a two-time silver medalist at the Canadian championship.
"It's when I started to feel that I belonged competing with the top athletes in the world," said Chipeur. "I always knew I was pretty good, but I didn't know I was good enough to be at that level. It felt too far out of reach, but once you start competing at that level you realize you're no different then everybody here."
Chipeur grew up in a small Alberta town near Lloydminster where hockey was the most popular sport for kids to play, but when his mom signed him up for the sport when he was six, Chipeur said he knew right away it wasn't for him. His mom agreed to let him drop out of hockey, but insisted he continue with the skating lessons since she had paid for them.
"It just sort of grew from there," he said. "I just liked being on the ice by myself that was the big draw."
Chipeur said he endured the usual teasing about being a boy and enjoying a sport that was in an "artistic environment," which "wasn't really considered a cool thing." But, in the end he earned their respect when he'd tell them he was going to miss school for a week and a half because he was going to places like China to compete.
Chipeur said he'd encourage anyone to pursue their dreams because if he can make it to the Olympics anyone can.
"I'm the son of a truck driver and a farmers' daughter and I went to the Olympics in figure skating," said Chipeur. "It doesn't matter where you're from or who you are, if you want to get it done you can go do it."