More than 6,500 miles away from East Lansing, Madison Hubbell and her partner Zachary Donahue took to the ice earlier this year the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
Their performance in the rhythm dance segment of the team event saw the duo set a new personal best score to help earn Team USA a silver medal. Hubbell and Donahue then went on to set new personal records in the Ice Dance competition, earning a bronze medal.
Their Olympic success may seem a world away, but it started in part at the Lansing Skating Club about a mile from Michigan State University. Hubbell was raised in Okemos and represented the Lansing Skating Club as she began her figure skating career.
“It’s what every little kid who starts skating dreams of,” said Alex Gamelin, a coach at the Lansing Skating Club who began skating at 7 through the U.S. Figure Skating’s Learn to Skate program. “Being able to do that, when so few actually get to that point, is a super surreal experience. It still kind of feels surreal now,”
Gamelin competed in the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, and he is the 2017 and 2018 South Korean National Ice Dance Champion. He said his most memorable moment as a competitor came from his time representing South Korea at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games.
Now, Gamelin is among the coaches guiding the next generation of figure skaters at Lansing Skating Club, where he helps lead the Learn to Skate program. He began coaching at Lansing Skating Club while going to school at Michigan State University, where he studied linguistics.
The club was founded in 1947 and includes national and international competitors.
“It’s been really rewarding,” Gamelin said. “Learn to Skate starts as young as 2 or 3, and my oldest students are in their late 70s.”
Gamelin said coaches play an essential role in developing athletes in a healthy and balanced way. This role was underscored by the controversy surrounding 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva during 2022 Olympics. The Russian skater was mired in controversy after she failed a drug test.
“That is a case in which the coaching team failed a child,” Gamelin said. “She is unbelievably talented, and I think for their own gain they abuse them. It’s not what we do here.
“We really try to find that balance between pushing our students to achieve the best they can while still keeping in mind that they are children. We need to nurture their love for the sport and them as people.”
Hannah Miller took up coaching after stepping away from competitions at 22. Some of her favorite memories as a competitor include a second-place finish at the 2012 Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, and her final competition at the 2019 U.S. Championships in Detroit.
“They were my last U.S. championships,” Miller said. “A bunch of my family and friends were able to come, which hadn’t happened previously.
“I didn’t end up on the podium or anything like that, but it was just such a fulfilling event because I had the opportunity to have all my supporters there.”
Miller said it takes physical and mental strength to reach the highest levels.
“You invest so much, and then you go to competition, and you have a short program and a long program,” she said. “Together, those add up to about seven minutes. So you get seven minutes to basically show everything that you’ve been training for.”
Miller said she tries to pass down her own experience from skating to her students, while still allowing them independence in the sport and their training.
“I let them choose how hard they want to push themselves because I think autonomy is really important,” Miller said. “No matter who it is, no matter what level they’re at, I want them to enjoy their skating.”
Sarah Capizzo started coaching at 16 after sustaining an injury that prevented her from competing. She continued to coach while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Michigan State.
“It was a fun side job and I got a psychology degree, started applying to grad schools and got my last grade for my last final and kind of had this like, big ‘aha’ moment,” Capizzo said. “I was like, ‘I want to coach, this is what I want to do.’”
Capizzo enjoys seeing her students grow not only as athletes, but as people. Her career in coaching allows her to follow students throughout their time at the club, from their first steps on the ice to competing at high level competitions.
“I have a new group of little guys who are coming and it’s amazing to think like, ‘Oh gosh, what are they going to be like in 10 years?’ And like, I get to see that. That’s such a privilege to be a part of their lives,” Capizzo said.
Capizzo said being a good coach means more than just giving your students a great on-ice education. She said it’s important to understand what her students are like off the rink as well.
“If I have a good sense of what my athletes are like outside of the rink, then I can do a better job with how I handle them inside the rink.”
“At some point, they’re going to leave us.” Capizzo said. “I want to do my part to make sure that I instill as many positive things in them whether that’s good sportsmanship and integrity — in addition to their technique on the ice — so that they are great people when they leave us.”