Figure skating a slam-dunk for Friess

Kaitlyn Friess's cousin, Jordan Yu, tried to recruit her for basketball.

Considering her family bloodlines as a close relative of the Yu family that produced local high school hoops legends Jordan, Lee-Wei, Nathan and Reena Yu, and that Friess stands five-foot-10 without wearing shoes, she probably could develop a knack for the game if she gave it a try.

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But Friess doesn't have time for basketball. She's too busy being a figure skater.

If she's not practicing her own jumps, spins and step sequences trying to climb the recreational ladder as a STAR 5 skater she's likely to be at the Kin Centre rinks volunteering her time as a coach helping her Prince George Figure Skating Club develop the next generation of ice-capaders.

"My cousin Jordan owns Northern Bounce Basketball Academy and that whole side of the family wants me to play basketball but I'm no good, I don't have hand-eye coordination," said a smiling Friess. "I'm the tallest skater in my club by a lot and that's challenging in group photos because I'm always just there. But I find it benefits me (in skating) because I have more power going through all my elements."

Friess, who turns 16 on Jan. 28, is among a large group of local figure skaters from the Prince George club and the Northern B.C. Centre for Skating competing at this weekend's Cariboo North Central regional championships in Quesnel.

"I'm just hoping I can do my best and can skate - instead of aiming for a medal I just want to get a personal best," said Friess, entered in the STAR 5 13-and-older category. "If I get a medal it's just an added bonus.

"I'm not really a showy person so it really stresses me out to show what I can do. But when I get to a competition that's the one thing I need to do is show off so I really try to put myself out of my comfort range and get my program going. I want to see my artistic side pop out more. I really hope I can push myself more than what I'm used to."

Now in her eighth season as a figure skater, she's close to making the jump to the STAR 6 level and wants to advance as far as she can in the recreational division before her adult life takes over and school or work commitments end her competitive career. In March, she plans to compete in the STARSkate Super Series event in Kelowna.

"There's been a lot of on-and-off in my skating but this year and last year I've been working on my confidence going into a competition instead of focusing where I'll place on the podium," Friess said. "So I've gained my confidence back after years of me breaking down in competitions."

Not only is she mentally stronger, her body is better conditioned for the physical demands of skating as a result of her work in the gym with personal trainer Janna Coleman at The Movement Fitness Mecca in College Heights.

"All my jumps are coming along finally, so I can do all my doubles pretty much," Friess said. "All my jumps are pretty much good and my spins are my better half of skating."

Friess had four years of ballet behind her by the time she started skating at age eight and that early dance training refined her balance mechanisms and gave her muscle tone that helps her generate speed and stability in her skating stride. She discovered about a year ago she has curvature of the spine (scoliosis) in two places, which adds to the difficulty of aligning her body movements on the ice.

"Throughout my skating years, trying to do weird back contortion moves I always complained to my coaches that my back hurts," Friess said. "Last year my physio said I had scoliosis and everything kind of clicked into pace why I was hurting so much after practices. I just go to the gym a lot now and work on aligning everything."

Friess, an honour roll Grade 10 student at College Heights secondary school, skates pretty much year-round, missing only the month of June, when there is no arena ice available in the city. She aspires to be a physiotherapist and plans to step up her coaching commitments once she's done with her own competitions. She helps out now with the club coaches in the CanSkate program for three- and four-year-old beginners.

"What makes Kaitlyn special this season is that she's probably the most prepared she's ever been heading into a competition," said PGFSC coach Jennifer Auston. "Her level of readiness is about as good as it can get for her. She's confident, her skills are there to back her up and she's going to skate well for herself.

"(Her scoliosis) affects how we train her and affects her own ability to do things, so we have to adapt, but her determination is there to make it work."

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