Figure skating club offers path to success on and off the ice.
Kathleen Gazich was just a preschooler when she started skating with the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club in Edina. More than 50 years later, she’s still there, these days sharing head professional duties with fellow coach Loni Keenan. Together, they have achieved great success for the club—especially in the last year.
In July, eight of their skaters qualified to compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Excel National Festival in Boston. They proudly returned home with both gold and silver medals in tow. And in August, they took 17 skaters to the Minnesota State Championships and watched four of them stand on the podium after placing in the top four.
“It was a really huge accomplishment,” says Holly Dau, president of the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club. Her daughter, Lucy, took second place in the Excel Nationals Intermediate Plus division. It was the result of years of hard work and perseverance, but the Edina resident still remembers how it all began. She first put Lucy in skates at age 3. Less than two years later, she enrolled her in figure skating lessons at Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club when they moved to Edina in 2014. “She loved it,” Dau says. “It was the first time I saw that sparkle.”
Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club has become a second home for Gazich, Dau and Lucy, as it has for so many throughout its lifetime. The Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club has been around in various forms since 1959. It began as the City of Lakes Figure Skating Club with home ice at the Minneapolis Ice Arena. When the Braemar Arena was constructed in Edina in 1966, a new club—the Braemar Figure Skating Club—was born. A year later, the Minneapolis Ice Arena was demolished and the two clubs merged to become the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club.
The mission of the club is to promote the sport of figure skating by “developing each skater’s interest and potential within an environment of support.”
“The goal is to introduce everyone to figure skating and grow their confidence,” Dau says.
The nonprofit, volunteer-run club attracts skaters from across the Twin Cities Metro. It features five levels of memberships including Junior, Home Club, Associate, Sustaining and College, which offer a variety of skating benefits. The club has more than 130 members this year—most of them ranging from ages 5–18. Nine of those skaters are graduating seniors.
Ashley Blanton is one of those graduating seniors. The 17-year-old Edina High School student has been skating at Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club since she was 5. She says she fell in love with figure skating because it combined intense athleticism with the artistic aspects of dance. Simply put, skating made Blanton feel both strong and beautiful. “It’s a pretty unique sport,” Ashley says. “You don’t get the same feelings doing anything else.”
Ashley can be found at the Braemar Arena most days of the week. In addition to training 1.5–2.5 hours a day, she also teaches young skaters. But with college on the horizon, Ashley knows that soon she won’t be a regular fixture at Braemar. It’s a bittersweet notion. She says that Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club has become like family over the years—with their bond growing especially strong as the pandemic began to wane. She says that the whole skating club community—both coaches and fellow skaters—are “super positive and friendly … I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Ashley hopes to participate in inter-collegiate skating after high school. “I would like to stay on the ice,” she says. But until that time, she is spending her senior year skating for herself. “When I was younger, it was all about seeing that ‘Number One’ on the score sheet,” Ashley says. “Now that I’m older, it’s less about winning and more about beating the score I got in the last competition.”
Dau says that roughly half of their club skaters compete on some level and have access to top notch coaches. “We’re known for having such high-level coaches and accelerated options,” Dau says. “At any given time, we have one or two coaches that have been in the Olympics.”
That has formerly included three-time French Olympian Surya Bonaly and currently includes 1988 Olympian Caryn Kadavy, who recently coached club member Delia Lawson to a juvenile gold medal at the Minnesota State Championships.
Ashley says all of the coaches at Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club are different. “They bring different personalities to the ice, which is really great.”
Keenan started coaching figure skating in 1982 and started coaching at Braemar in the early 2000s—but her history with the club goes back much further. “I spent my own personal years skating with the Braemar City of Lakes Figure Skating Club,” she says. “It was my home throughout training.”
Keenan took a break from teaching at Braemar when her daughter started skating there, but she promptly returned in 2006 when her daughter left for college. (She continued coaching elsewhere but didn’t want to coach at the same club where her daughter trained.)
She and Gazich were named co-head professionals for the club in 2013. Together, they are determined to help their skaters be the best they can be. “I hope to instill passion and the love of sport in my athletes,” Keenan says. “I love being part of the process of learning about hard work, discipline, goal-setting and accomplishments as lifelong learning skills.”
Gazich, whose professional skating career includes coaching, as well as stints with Stars on Ice and Disney on Ice, says that she strives to share her love of skating with her students and to help them realize their own skating goals, big or small. “No matter the goal, I want to coach skaters who are committed to working hard to realize their goals,” she says. “Coaching is about being able to communicate and motivate. It’s learning how to say the right thing that will inspire a skater to be better.”
Ashley has been trying out her own coaching skills since 2020, teaching Learn to Skate classes at Braemar Arena. The classes cover basic skating skills for kids between 3.5 and 5 years old. Ashley said the job is challenging, but all the hard work is worth it. “It’s really rewarding when they get it,” she says. That’s one of the big lessons Ashley has learned from her skating career thus far. “Hard work does pay off,” she says. “It’s really cool to watch people reach their goals.”
Keenan says skating offers plenty of valuable lessons and skills applicable outside of the rink, too. “When we fall, we get up. This is a big life lesson, as we know that many times we need to re-group or try again at many different things in life,” she says. “Skating teaches that failure is not a problem, but it can lead to greater discoveries about goal setting and working through challenges.”
Ashley agrees. She says, “Skating has taught me not to give up on myself.”