Camel tricks and toe curls: older figure skaters find joy and competition

Gaye Cail took some time to reflect when she turned 60. Part of that thinking was getting back on the ice.

It was five years ago.

She recently won gold and bronze medals at the international adult figure skating competition in Ottawa, sponsored by the International Skating Union.

Her club, Capital City Figure Skating in Fredericton, sent her and Beth McCluskey-Pelletier to compete, but Cail said they didn’t expect to do as well as they did. McCluskey-Pelletier also won a bronze medal.

“It was kind of the icing on the cake that we were able to go home with medals,” Cail said.

Gaye Cail had long since retired her figure skates, but now that she is skating again, it has rekindled her love of the sport and her desire to compete. (Submitted by Gaye Cail)

She said the competition on an international stage was overwhelming. When she got back into skating, it took her a while to feel comfortable. Now she is able to do toe curls, somersaults, loop jumps, waltz jumps, sit spins and camel spins.

McCluskey-Pelletier started figure skating as a child and quit when she was 15. She then took it over at age 45. Her daughters then skated and the adults were allowed to skate for an hour at the same time.

She said at first it was just for the activity, but then she started to get a little more competitive.

Gaye Cail won a gold medal and a bronze medal at the ISU international adult figure skating competition. (Submitted by Gaye Cail)

“I go on the ice and I [don’t think] anything else,” McCluskey-Pelletier said. “It’s a getaway from work, from family. So it’s just my time. And because I’m a bit competitive, I want to do better and I want to improve.”

‘My happy place’

Other New Brunswickers also participated in the international competition in Ottawa, including Pat Noddin of Moncton.

“[Noddin] was on the ice and everyone was a bit in tears because here she’s 86 and she still loves figure skating,” Cail said.

Pat Noddin’s friend, Jan Calnan, skated alongside Noddin, holding his hand, during the opening ceremonies in Ottawa. (Skate Canada/Skate Canada and Scott Grant Photography)

Noddin began figure skating in his late 50s and first competed at age 60. But she said she had always loved skating.

When she was a kid and was skating outside on the ice, she said she didn’t know figure skating was a thing. She called it “fantasy skating.”

Noddin said sometimes in the winter it can be hard to get motivated to get up and go to the rink. But she said when she did, “it’s like floating.”

Pat Noddin completed her program in Austria after recovering from a broken hip. (Submitted by Pat Noddin)

Noddin has competed in major competitions before, but when she went to Ottawa, she didn’t expect to compete this time around.

Three years ago, Noddin broke his hip. She also suffers from back and knee pain which prevents her from doing the jumps as she used to. But she signed up for the competition in Ottawa just to attend the opening and closing ceremonies and to hang out with her fellow skaters.

At the opening ceremonies, she wasn’t sure she could compete. Just about a week before the event, Noddin had been out for a walk when her knees began to hurt so badly that she had to seek help from a stranger to get back to her apartment.

Her friend Jan Calnan helped her, offering to skate right next to her, holding her hand.

Pat Noddin hugs her friend Jan Calnan after their skating at the opening ceremonies of the international competition in Ottawa. (Skate Canada/Skate Canada and Scott Grant Photography)

In addition to breaking her hip a few years ago, Noddin also suffers from osteoporosis, which makes her more timid on the ice. But she said she was happy to skate when someone was right next to her.

“I’m lucky to be out there skating and doing what I can do,” Noddin said. “It’s still my happy place.”

No regrets

A few years ago, when Noddin was just a few months post-surgery, she was due to compete in Austria – a competition she had already signed up for before she broke her hip.

Although she wasn’t able to do all of the elements she hoped to perform, Noddin was grateful that she did.

“I came off the ice and I was really, really nervous. I was shaking and scared,” Noddin said. “But I came home with no regrets.”

skating family

Noddin said there are so many parts of skating that are his passion. One of those things is his family of skaters.

She said the adult skating community is starting to get a bit more recognition, especially through Skate Canada.

She has made friends from England, Germany, France, Australia – and she can see them at competitions or catch up with them on social media.

“We’re not competing against each other, we’re competing against each other,” Noddin said.

“It’s just a tight-knit community. … I’m really lucky to have so many friends like that.”

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