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Regina figure skating pair jumping to new heights internationally

After a banner year in 2022 with plenty of international success, figure skating duo Ashlyn Schmitz and Tristan Taylor are hoping to carry that momentum into 2023.

Among the highlights from previous year were gold medal finishes at the Skate Canada Challenge in Winnipeg and the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria. Schmitz and Taylor also finished with bronze at the Junior Grand Prix in Latvia in September. Now, they have their sights set on another top performance at the 2023 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Oshawa, Ont. from Jan. 9-15. From there, the top teams will be selected to represent Canada at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, set for Feb. 27 – Mar. 5 in Calgary.

“Performing in the world championships in front of a Canadian crowd would mean a lot,” said Taylor.

“It would be amazing especially because family could come and watch,” added Schmitz. “My family doesn’t get to watch me skate a lot since we’ve been mostly out of country so it would be really nice.”

In fact, family means a lot to both Schmitz and Taylor. However, each will be missing a big supporter in the stands after a tough year away from the rink in 2022. This summer, Schmitz’s grandmother passed away, while Taylor lost his father in the fall. And as tough as each of those losses were, the pair kept coming to the rink, receiving support from each other, their coaches and fellow skaters.

“It’s been a nice outlet for when things aren’t what you’d like them to be,” said Schmitz. “Some days it’s harder to put those things to the back of your mind and skate but you try to so you can just focus on what you’re doing.

“We kind of understand when to talk and when to maybe be quiet about things,” said Taylor. “Everyone here at the rink is super supportive and knowing we are going through what we are, our coaches especially, they understand where we are coming from.

“It’s been a nice way to get away from everything in life.”

And that support the pair received from the coaches at Skate Canada – Saskatchewan was exactly what they needed off the ice, while trying to continue to put in the practice hours on the ice.

“You’re looking after the person first and the athlete second,” said Dave Schultz, the High Performance Director at Skate Canada – Saskatchewan. “It’s our responsibility as coaches to give the person what they need first, then the athlete.”

In fact, Schultz believes the pair grew closer through the adversity, forming a stronger connection on and off the ice, something that wasn’t always necessarily there when the duo was first paired up nearly five years ago in May 2018.

“It wasn’t instant chemistry,” said Schultz, who helped initially form the team. “It was mutual respect and a common goal.”

At age 16, after several years as a single skater, Taylor, now 20, expressed interest in becoming a pairs skater. He had a few trial skates with Schmitz, who was 12 years old at the time, and the coaches decided to keep them together even though it was a bumpy start.

“They hit the ground running as two pretty good singles skaters for their age and their level,” said Schultz. “And in their first year, it looked like two singles skaters holding hands occasionally.”

The other challenging part was the distance. After spending the early part of his life in Wolseley, Taylor has lived in Regina for the last several years, where he now calls home. Schmitz though, was living in her hometown of Shellbrook – a four-hour drive from Regina. But after making dozens trips back-and-forth from Regina to Shellbrook, Schmitz and her family eventually decided the best decision for her development would be for her to move in with her other grandmother, who also lived in Regina. And that move seems to have paid off for both skaters.

“It’s been amazing to be able to have this opportunity to do pairs,” said Schmitz.

“It’s been a difficult journey geographically, especially for Ashlyn,” added Schultz. “It hasn’t been without bumps, but it’s been awesome.”

One of those early highs for the pair came in 2019 when they placed third at the Canada Winter Games.

“I think that little bit of success galvanized them,” said Schultz.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, competitions were cancelled and training together became more difficult. Then in 2021, the pair faced more adversity as Ashlyn tore a muscle in her hip flexor and another muscle in hip.

“I was off for quite a while dealing with that,” said Schmitz. “It was hard to come back just with the fear that it would get worse or I would do something else to it.”

But the pair stuck together and had arguably their most successful year as a team in 2022.

“It’s a success story and any success story come with adversity,” said Schultz.

And through it all, Schmitz and Taylor remain proud of being ranked one of the top junior pairs in the world while still being able to call Saskatchewan home.

“To say that these two kids, her being from Shellbrook and him originally from Wolseley and living in Regina, for them to be on a world stage, it’s a big deal,” said Schultz.

“It’s nice to be able to represent where I’m from and it’s not the same as everybody else,” said Schmitz.

“It’s been awesome to have a high-performance training environment in such a small place like Saskatchewan is,” added Taylor. “It’s nice to show that it can be done out here as well.”