A purple dress and the nursery rhyme, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
Those two details stick out the most when Juneau-Douglas High School senior Laurie Balstad harks back on her first program she skated as an 8-year-old.
Ten years, two coaches, six U.S. Figure Skating regional competitions and countless hours at Treadwell Arena later, and Balstad has become the face of Juneau’s youth figure skating scene. As the most accomplished figure skater to come out of Juneau — a berth to the USFS Pacific Coast Sectionals last November cemented that designation — she is also a prized instructor and show choreographer with the JSC. Balstad also co-captains, “Team Forget-Me-Not,” a synchronized skating team that has competed at the state and national level.
An ending and a beginning
Saturday’s Juneau Skate Club Spring Show, “Nursery Rhymes to Fairy Tales,” at Treadwell Arena will be both an ending and beginning for Balstad. As one of the show’s directors and featured performers, it will be her last skating event in Juneau for the foreseeable future. It will also be the beginning of her legacy as a role model and example of what’s possible for an expanding body of Juneau club skaters with a lot of hard work and tenacity.
There are now approximately 30 figure skaters and over 50 youth and adults in the “learn to skate” programs.
“You have to be self-motivated,” Balstad said of developing into an elite figure skater in a town that only has a rink eight months out of the year. “But then you also take motivation from other kids excelling in their own way.”
For years, Balstad has been in a league of her own. Ever since she started out in the club’s basic skills courses, Balstad never settled in her training to become a better skater.
For the last five summers, Balstad has traveled out of state for one to two months at a time to continue her training. For four summers she stayed with an aunt in Minnesota while skating five days a week at the “a’Xel International Training Center” that counts among its staff a yoga coach for off-ice training.
During the school year, Balstad was known for getting up hours before class to cross train at the gym. After school, she’d spend a couple hours with a coach at the rink.
She has always liked a challenge, and figure skating, with all its spins, twists and jumps, allows Balstad to continually test her physical and mental stamina.
“Every time I came to the ice there was something new to do, and it was really exciting in that respect,” she said. “Where as I feel like in some other sports you get to the top and it’s a lot of repetition, a lot of repetition, a lot of repetition, a lot of repetition — with skating you come back and you always have something new.”
JSC founder Pam Leary has coached Balstad for the past five years. Leary says Balstad’s cerebral approach to skating is part of what has made her so successful.
“In all of her skating, she has, I think, had an idea from within about how things should be done and I think that’s really important in figure skating because it’s very individual and independent,” Leary said.
After years working with Balstad, Leary has learned what the skater’s mom has known all along.
“If you make her mad, she’ll suddenly be able to do something,” Laurie’s mom Liz Balstad said.
“Laurie doesn’t like being told she can’t do something, so very often if she’s having trouble doing something I play into that,” Leary adds. “Sometimes I say, ‘We’re not going to do that particular move,’ and that challenges her.”
Inspiring the next wave
Balstad’s can-do attitude rubs off on anybody who has ever shared the ice with her.
High school freshman figure skater Katie McKenna can attest to this.
“I’ve watched the other kids look up to her and decide that’s what they want to do,” McKenna said.
Coach Leary agrees with McKenna, and says Balstad’s given “rock star” treatment when she skates at shows like the one coming up Saturday. (See below for details)
“She is everything that each of those girls want to be — she is it,” Leary said. “And then she takes the time to give back and work with them on what makes skating great, which is line, and beauty, and just grace.”
Balstad says she wouldn’t be surprised if the next crop of Juneau’s youth figure skaters surpass her own achievements.
“It’s been really cool and really exciting to see this next wave of skaters. There’s seven or eight girls who are in 8th grade right now and they’re all going to be in high school next year, so it’s been fun to see them grow up through the years,” she said.
Balstad is interested in a career in the sciences and is still weighing her options about which college to attend. Whether she skates in the collegiate ranks or not, she knows skating will always be in her life.
“It’s such a part of my personality at this point,” she said.
To learn more about the Juneau Skating Club or sign up for a learn to skate class, go to www.juneauskatingclub.org.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2772 or firstname.lastname@example.org.