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Kaetlyn Osmond was born to skate, she worked to win

Kaetlyn Osmond smiles and waves as she arrives at St. Gabriel’s Hall at the conclusion of Saturday’s parade in her honour. - Paul Herridge
World women’s champion figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond waves at the conclusion of a parade held in her honour in Marystown on Saturday. — Paul Herridge

Women's world champion returns to Marystown, where it all began

Close your eyes for a moment, if you will, and picture a frosty hockey rink, not unlike any other across the province or across Canada, and a woman in the stands holding a small child as little figure skaters — some of them mere babes — twirl on the ice below.

It’s empty, this Marystown Arena, save for the few skaters and coaches and a couple of parents, and the little girl in the stands, in her mother’s arms, is dying to get on the ice.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Jessica Gosse, who was one of those coaches. “Jackie’s saying, ‘Won’t be long and you’ll soon have another one,’” nodding towards the little girl.

Perhaps Jackie Osmond was sitting near the visitor’s bench, where Premier Dwight Ball — himself a hockey guy — on Saturday night. Or maybe it was across the ice, near the Zamboni door, the one with the sign proudly displaying, “Home of Kaetlyn Osmond.”

Jessica Gosse didn’t have long to wait for that little girl to hit the ice. Story goes her first time on skates — might have been the second or third, but it always makes for a better tale when it was the first — Kaetlyn Osmond broke free of her mother’s hand and started skittering around the Marystown Arena on her own.

She hasn’t stopped since.

“I coached her up until her first provincials,” Gosse recalls, “preliminary ladies free skate, I believe, and she won gold.

“She might have just turned seven. She wasn’t very old. But she was good.”

Never mind the Osmond girl was often referred to a ‘Bambi’ on the ice —all arms and legs.

“She was such a fearless little thing,” remembers Jackie Fewer, who had a boy skating with Osmond back then, and is now president of the Ice Crystals Skating Club.

“If she fell, she got right back up.”

Fast forward some 15 years, and it’s frigid and blowing a gale outside the Marystown Arena. The rink hasn’t changed much, except for the name. It’s the Kaetlyn Osmond Arena now.

"She was going to be a figure skater when she grew up … She was always dancing and expressing the music. Other kids did it, too, but you could see that she was special. A song would come on, and she just had to move and skate to it … always a performer.”

Jessica Gosse, one of Kaetlyn Osmond’s first coaches

Kaetlyn Osmond, 22 and all grown up, doesn’t live here anymore —she’s gone since she was eight — but she got the hero’s welcome back in her hometown Saturday, feted in a parade that morning and made guest of honour at an ice show with the Ice Crystals skating club and reception later in the day and that evening.

The rink has played host to NHL oldtimers games — there’s a Ray Bourque-signed Boston Bruins jersey hanging on the wall in the boardroom upstairs — but for this town, there’s no bigger star on the planet than Osmond.

The arena can comfortably hold 1,150, but there’s barely room to breathe for this show, which opened with three adorable little skaters — two wearing pink helmets, and the only boy with his black hockey lid — teetering up and down the ice.

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She was queen for a day on the Peninsula, fresh off her world championship gold medal —the first Canadian woman to do so in 45 years — and a bronze medal at the PyeongChang Olympics (she also got a gold medal, as part of the Canadian team).

Marystown was awash in red and white on Saturday, Canadian flags everywhere, for Osmond’s first visit ‘home’ in four years.

Don’t tell these people she’s from Alberta, where she’s lived since she was 10.

“I’ve travelled all over the world,” said her father, Jeff, “working overseas. You know Newfoundlanders. People ask, ‘Where are you from?’ And no matter where you are living the world, you always say Newfoundland.

“We’ve met so many people, in Korea and elsewhere, and they’ll tell you where they’re living now. They don’t tell you where they originate from. That’s the thing about Newfoundlanders. No matter where you are in the world — could be living in Alberta or the States or wherever — they’ll say Newfoundland.”

“She was a very sweet little girl,” remembers Susan Brockerville, Osmond’s kindergarten teacher at Sacred Heart Academy many years ago. “Of course, they’re all sweet at that age. But I remember that quiet little girl.”

Even as a kindergarten student in Marystown, Kaetlyn Osmond knew what her future held. For career day at Sacred Heart Elementary, she wore her figure skating costume
Even as a kindergarten student in Marystown, Kaetlyn Osmond knew what her future held. For career day at Sacred Heart Elementary, she wore her figure skating costume

Brockerville recalls one career day at Sacred Heart, during Education Week, when Kaetlyn, with the long black hair, showed up in her figure skating outfit.

“I didn’t know she was into figure skating,” Brockerville said. “You should have seen her. She had the big smile on her face. That’s what she wanted to do. She was going to be a figure skater when she grew up.

“She always worked very hard, and you knew she would work hard at her skating.”

“She was always dancing and expressing the music,” Jessica Gosse says. “Other kids did it, too, but you could see that she was special. A song would come on, and she just had to move and skate to it … always a performer.

“She just had it. And it’s like the jumping ability. She got her jumps very young.”

By now, everyone knows the story. Kaetlyn and her older sister, Natasha, an outstanding skater in her own right, left Marystown when Kaetlyn was eight to live and train with coach Josee Picard in Montreal.

Two years after that, the entire family moved to Edmonton where they still reside.

“It was hard,” Kaetlyn recalls, “but probably harder on my sister. I was only eight, and like, ‘Cool! I get to go somewhere.’

“My parents had it the hardest. They were in Marystown all their lives and they just packed up and moved.”

Osmond’s ascent to the Olympic Games and eventually top spot on the world championship podium didn’t come about by accident. Part of it, as her kindergarten teacher alluded to, was her desire, coupled with a strong work ethic.

In Edmonton, where she trains at Ravi Walia’s Ice Palace Figure Skating Club (Jessica Gosse is now an assistant coach at the club), Osmond skates at the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre and the West Edmonton Mall where the high school boys, on their lunch break, will sometimes snicker when she stumbles, while the girls look on with envy.

These days, Osmond is a virtual athletic machine. Her sister says Kaetlyn is often up and gone at 6 a.m., home by 6 p.m. In between the three one-hour on-ice training sessions five days a week are the daily off-ice training sessions, a combination of strength training, cardio, stretching and massage.

Then there’s the ballet work, and meetings with sports psychologists and nutritionists.

There’s not a lot of time left for much else. By all accounts, she does not have a boyfriend. She can’t live without her Nintendo Switch or her coffee, or her Cockapoo dog, “Rasquette” (apparently, the pooch is a rascal, so Kaetlyn put the lady spin to it) which she loves to take to the park.

“It’s been a life-long pursuit for her,” Walia says from Edmonton. “Figure skating has taken over every aspect of her life. The dedication it takes to be at the top is enormous.

“She has put all her attention into succeeding in figure skating. You live, eat, breath, sleep … everything revolves around this sport.

“But the difference is, what separates her from a lot of other athletes is she also loves what she’s doing, so that makes it easier to go to the rink every day and put in the hours of work that’s needed.

“It’s hard work, but she’s happy being there. She’s loving it.”

Osmond burst onto the national scene at the 2012 Canadian championships where she won the bronze medal, just a year after placing sixth in the junior ranks.

She won nationals in 2013, 2014 and 2017, making her world championship debut in 2013 with an eighth-place showing (oddly enough, she says it’s only the last two years she’s come to the realization that she’s, well, good).

She skated in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, finishing 13th, but missed all of 2014-15 with a broken leg (in two places, no less) that required a couple of surgeries.

Osmond helped make Canadian history at the 2017 world championships, where she won the silver medal to share the podium with teammate Gabrielle Daleman, who won bronze. It was the first time two Canadian women had stood together at the world championship top three.

Walia won’t go so far as to say he saw all this coming, but he got a glimpse into the future shortly after he began coaching her. It’s a story well-known within skating circles, but one nonetheless worth recalling: they were in Vancouver and Osmond was the final skater of the day. While the judges were scoring the previous skater, Osmond waited by the door leading to the ice, anxious to get the show on the road.

Most kids are usually a bag of nerves in this instance. Not the little girl from Marystown.

“She’s always loved competing and performing, and she’s always loved being the centre of attention, and always rose to the occasion in competition,” he says.

“When she was young, that was something she looked forward to, and that’s really rare for an athlete … to love it as much as she does. She’s never really been afraid of competition, mostly speaking when she was young, of course.”

For the next little while, Osmond will be busy with Stars on Ice, touring across Canada, and later Korea.

Given Kaetlyn Osmond’s successes of the past few months, Marystown will probably need to update this ‘Welcome’ sign coming into the Burin Peninsula community.
Given Kaetlyn Osmond’s successes of the past few months, Marystown will probably need to update this ‘Welcome’ sign coming into the Burin Peninsula community.

For now, she has committed to another four-year Olympic cycle, though she’s quick to add she’s taking it year by year.

The physical demand on the body, not to mention the mental toll, is immense.

Regardless of what the immediate future holds — as for the long term, she’s taking communications courses and would love to get into broadcasting — Osmond can always say she reached the top with her big win at the world championship last month in Milan, Italy.

“Ever since she put on skates, she was known around Marystown, and worked her way to be known around the province,” said Matthew Power, her friend and former teammate with the Ice Crystals, who trained with her at the Ice Palace and is now the head coach with the C.B.S. Skating Club. “As long as I can remember, I’ve heard, ‘She’s going places. You’ll see her on TV.’

“When you come from a small town, in your mind you think, ‘Yes, she has a lot of potential, but …’

“To actually witness it happening is pretty incredible. She’s defied all odds. When I hear young athletes say they want to make it to the Olympics, I tell them it’s really, truly possible because I’ve seen it happen right before my eyes.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s  sports editor

He can be reached by email at robin.short@thetelegram.com

Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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