Bareneed figure skater Jenna Efford is going places. Literally.
Not long after she wraps up her Grade 7 year at Amalgamated Academy, Efford and her entire family will make the move from her home town, located east of Bay Roberts, to Chambly, Que., a suburb of Montreal, where she’s been accepted into a sports study program of excellence at Heritage Regional High School.
“The part about speaking French makes me a little nervous,” says the shy 12-year-old, competing with the Avalon figure skating team at this week’s Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games.
“I’m not that good at it.”
Language barrier aside, the move to Quebec allows Efford to start training under Josée Picard, a former national figure skater who went on to coach Canadian pairs Viktor Kratz and Shae-Lyn Bourne and Lloyd Eisler and Isabelle Brasseur. Picard also coached reigning two-time women’s champion and recent Olympian Kaetlyn Osmond when the Marystown native and her family made a similar move to Quebec.
“She’s highly qualified and she’s working with a great team there of other coaches and off-ice instructors,” Efford’s Mount Pearl Skating Club coach Lori Brett says of Picard. “It’s quite a phenomenal facility and a lot of up and coming skaters from Quebec are training under her as well.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
One needn’t look farther than the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi and the sheer number of Quebec-born athletes representing Canada to recognize that the province’s combination of sports and academics is a winning formula.
Monday to Friday at Heritage, Efford, the granddaughter of former federal and provincial politician John Efford, will attend classes from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. after which she’ll skate and train until 6 p.m. Unless she’s in competition, Efford’s evenings and weekends are hers to do with as she pleases.
It’s a far cry from the demanding schedule Efford — and by extension her mother — currently face. Since Efford moved from the Conception Bay North Skating Club to Mount Pearl’s group four years ago, she and her mother have been making daily — sometimes twice a day — trips to St. John’s for figure skating, dance classes and other off-ice training.
“That’s time-consuming and with school, trying to balance everything out is hard,” says her mother, Joanne. “But she has a great work ethic and wants to do well in everything she puts her hands into, so she makes sure she has time for her school work as well as her skating.”
Brett and fellow coach Neal Thorne laud Efford’s work ethic and her ability to manage her time and strike a balance. Both have seen tremendous growth since they took over full-time coaching duties from C.B.N. club coach Kevin Walsh, but this year in particular has show “a big change.”
“She’s grown a lot herself and that’s really affected her skating,” says Thorne. “She’s much stronger now.”
This past fall, Efford won the pre-novice division at Skate Newfoundland and Labrador’s sectionals, earning her a spot at the Skate Canada Challenge in Regina, Sask. where she placed 38th in a field of 54 skaters from across Canada.
“It was an eye-opener and she took a lot away form it,” says Joanne. “Having to go off the island to compete at 12, it was a learning experience for sure.”
Efford since came back and won the pre-novice crown at the provincial championships in the weeks leading into the Games.
The coaches say the move to a higher level of coaching and the chance at far more elite competition is happening at a good time in her athletic development.
“She’s still only 12 years old, but in skating we are an early development sport, so you see the biggest changes between 10 and 14,” explains Brett. “You kind of make it or break it.
“She’s definitely made big strides in the last number of years and it’s going to be exciting to see what happens in the years to come.”
For her part, Efford isn’t nervous about the move, having spent last summer attending a camp offered by Picard in Montreal.
“I know more people and I have more friends up there now, so I feel more comfortable going,” Efford says.
“If I hadn’t gone up and skated, I would be nervous.”
Just as she felt her abilities on the ice improved in the years since she started skating in Mount Pearl, she expects this newest move will only do the same, if not more.
“Maybe in four years I’ll make it to the Olympics because (Josée) will push me to become a better skater.
“I’m going to get more jumps, more spins, more choreography and more time with my coaches.”