Harmar figure skating coach trains students from across the country
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Barbara Gahagen isn’t just a figure skating coach.
She’s a parent. An adviser. A friend.
When a skater is preparing to step on the ice for a competition, Gahagen helps them maintain focus. She undergoes extra training annually to ensure she knows what to do and say if nerves crop up.
“I usually make them close their eyes, and we have a relaxation process. I’ll make them keep their eyes closed and start doing their program in their mind, and they have to do it perfect,” she said. “Different associations have seminars all the time that we’re involved in, and we learn to do that. It’s good for us, good for them.”
Gahagen, of South Huntingdon, is the assistant skating director of the Ice & Blades of Western Pennsylvania figure skating club, which operates out of the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar. The club is a member of the United States Figure Skating Association.
Gahagen has been figure skating since she was a young girl. She’s been coaching for about 30 years.
She estimates she’s had thousands of students over the last three decades.
“I train skaters anywhere from tiny youth tots to adults,” she said.
Coaching figure skaters can be time-consuming and costly.
Gahagen works with students seven days a week. Because ice time isn’t always available, she teaches at three ice rinks. Those are the Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar, the Rostraver Ice Garden and the Printscape Arena at Southpointe in Cecil.
“It is an investment, mentally, emotionally and time-wise,” Gahagen said.
Depending on their skill level, figure skaters attend competitions in different states and even countries. Because of time and financial commitment, some coaches don’t travel with their students. Gahagen does.
“If you’re a really dedicated coach it’s not going to stop you,” Gahagen said. “I’ve been to Switzerland, France, Germany, Montreal. I’ve seen just about every state in the United States.”
Gahagen’s coaching skills are so renowned that skaters from as far away as New York, Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey have come to her for lessons. Those skaters usually have primary coaches in their hometowns, but see Gahagen for second opinions on issues their coaches may not have noticed.
Paige DiToppa, 24, started figure skating with Gahagen when she was 3. She now lives in Boston but still has lessons with Gahagen whenever she comes back to visit her family in North Huntingdon.
DiToppa said Gahagen genuinely cares for all of her students. She’s also fun.
“She makes you work hard every single lesson, but the reward is well worth it,” DiToppa said.
Gahagen has watched skaters grow from children to adults under her tutelage, or go on to compete at local, state, national and international figure skating events. She said it’s rewarding to see their progress.
“This is a difficult sport. Even if a little one that’s learning to march around the ice starts to skate and glide, you’re very proud of them,” Gahagen said.
Gahagen plays games with her students, and has a marker to draw designs on the ice. If they’re struggling early on, she let’s them know things will get easier.
“If they don’t have fun, most people will not stay,” she said.