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My Dream:
Putting her old life on ice

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Lisa Hansen, 31, started skating one summer in college, when she took the child she babysat to skating lessons at Sunblades Ice Skating Center in Clearwater. She’s skating again.

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 9, 2002

People who learn to skate as adults rarely get good enough to turn pro. But Lisa Hansen, 31, wants to land a job skating.

I grew up in Sarasota and St. Petersburg, and I was a gymnast when I was a child -- skating was not part of my life. I skated only a couple of times, here (at Sunblades Ice Skating Center) and at Countryside Mall. I remember it was fun, I liked the feeling of gliding, and I desperatedly wanted to spin and jump, but I never came back.

I went to the University of Central Florida, and in the summer I came home and worked as a nanny for a little girl to earn money for college. She took lessons here, and I remember seeing adults skaters in class, and I thought if they can do it, I can do it! So when she took lessons I'd take group lessons. It's difficult, you struggle for every three-turn, every edge, but it was a lot of fun; it's challenging.

Then I went to Minnesota to graduate school. The funny thing is, I didn't skate there -- I guess because it was so cold you didn't want to go anyplace. I finished my master's degree and came back here in 1997 and worked for Operation PAR. I was a research assistant on a grant -- I worked with teenagers with substance abuse problems. It was during that time I decided to skate. I finally had some free time, and I started taking group lessons here.

It reminded me of gymnastics. You can be creative and put a program together. I love that feeling of flying through the air and having a good centered spin. When you're finally able to do a move, it feels so good. I met adults who competed and tested -- you work hard for that little patch, it means so much.

Then I had two really great coaches who showed me so much, Bobby Denard, who coached national pairs champions and had his own show, and Vanessa Valle Zamba, whose mother and father were world pro champions. She was a show skater, too. I picked up a side job for two years cleaning condos to get extra money for lessons, I loved it so much. I skated five or six days a week plus about three days of Pilates or ballet to improve my strength or off-ice training with Bobby. I would get by as cheaply as I could so I could skate. It was my top priority after food and shelter and student loans. That's where all my money went.

Last summer I met a skater here -- he's now my boyfriend -- and he skates for Disney on Ice. He was an electrician with them for eight years, but he learned to skate as an adult like myself. He got a job skating with the show, and I started thinking if he could do it maybe I could.

The project I was on ended in September, and they had no more work for me so I sought jobs in my field but also went to New Orleans and auditioned for Disney on Ice. They ask you to wear something black and form-fitting so they can tell you're in shape. I was nervous and excited -- luckily I had some competition experience, and I think that helped. They ask everybody to do the basic stuff. If you're good enough to a principal skater, you'll get a lead role, but obviously I was auditioning for the chorus.

There were two other girls, and we skated about an hour and a half. They were about 10 years younger than me. I was concerned not only about my age, but also that I didn't start until I was an adult. There were skaters there who had been in the show for 10 years, and this was the age of retirement for them.

I didn't get a job then -- they said I needed to work on strength and power -- but they encouraged me to reaudition.

Last month, Vanessa mentioned to me that Ethan English, who is with a company that casts for Busch Gardens' ice shows, called to see if she knew any girls interested in trying out for the chorus of a show. I called them up and on Oct. 12 I went to Busch to audition. It was on a little stage and it was great. Strength and power were not so much of an issue.

It was the Tuesday after that I got a phone call, and they offered me a job. I was so happy I was crying and laughing. I still can't believe it's true. It's in a traveling Christmas show -- Holiday Spectacular on Ice -- that starts the day after Thanksgiving Day and goes through Dec. 15 in Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina. They may extend it for a week in Florida, which would be great because I have a lot of friends and family here.

There's 10 of us chorus people, two soloists, one pair and one variety act. It's really family-oriented. I don't know what kind of costume I'll be in, but I would be the happiest elf or Christmas tree you've ever seen.

The money, it's not bad. I've worked in social services, and you don't make a lot of money even with a master's degree. I got in the field to help people, but I'm ready to do something new. Substance abuse can be a lot of heartache -- right now I just want to make children smile and laugh.

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