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In her element
Ginnie Gietl passes her love of skating to her students
By Blake Toppmeyer

Abbie Steelman just couldn't quite perfect the jump. Abbie was trying to master a double salchow during an ice skating practice session at the Nelson Center this summer.

The jump requires a skater to take off backward on the inside edge of one foot, elevate, make two rotations in the air and land on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. And it was no small task for Abbie, age 9, to perfect.

After each practice attempt, Abbie received feedback from longtime ice skating instructor Ginnie Gietl, who was watching Abbie from her nearby spot on the ice. Abbie is one of Gietl's 15 ice skating students.

Finally, after one of Abbie's last attempts, she earned Gietl's approval.

"Much better," Gietl said.

The key to improvement, Gietl said later, was simply adjusting Abbie's takeoff point.

"She was not rotating all the way around, not pulling in, getting her leg across over to the right side," Gietl said. "(At the end) she was doing it better, getting it better, because I changed her takeoff position.

"Sometimes you have to work with kids to get takeoffs changed, do what makes it easiest for them to get through the jumps."

Gietl described the takeoff point adjustment matter-of-factly. That could be because adjustments like the one she helped Abbie make have become second nature to Gietl, who is nearing completion of her 28th year as a figure skating coach at the Nelson Center. Only Mark Beck, who has been coaching skating for more than 30 years, has been at the Nelson Center longer than Gietl.

Gietl's students, such as Carly Gold, a freshman at Chatham Glenwood High School, have come to appreciate the manner in which Gietl delivers feedback.

"She gives instructions really well," said Gold, who has been skating for five years and started taking lessons with Gietl a few months ago. "I can understand it. Some coaches get really unpredictable, but I can understand what she's saying."

Gietl was born and raised in Erie, Pa. It didn't take long for her to become hooked on ice skating. Gietl's mom took her to watch an ice skating show when Gietl was 7. The skaters' performance costumes immediately sparked her interest in figure skating.

"It was little girls in those cute little sparkly outfits, and I wanted to wear one of those outfits," Gietl said.

Soon after the skating show, Gietl was on the ice herself, participating in a group skating class, which is where most kids begin skating.

By the time she was 9 years old, Gietl was taking private lessons. This led to competitions, which Gietl continued to participate in until she was 18.

"I did not have an individual desire to go do team sports," Gietl said. "I wanted to skate. That was my desire."

Gietl traveled all over the eastern United States to compete, making stops in New York, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. She performed well, but it was at a high price for Gietl's parents, who also had to foot the bill for her brother, Garrett, who played ice hockey.

"I did OK," Gietl said as she recalled her competition days. "The biggest thing they always told my parents was that I was always a really good, strong skater, but my parents didn't have the money because it's a very, very expensive sport.

"And they said that I could've probably gone further, but there was a limit to my parents. They had a budget. I had a sibling that had to skate, too. He was in hockey. And I understand that."

In 1981, the summer after her sophomore year at Kent State University, Gietl joined her former skating coach in Springfield to be a junior skating coach at the Nelson Center. Earlier that year, on a trip to Springfield to skate in an ice show, Gietl had met her future husband, Greg. At the time, Greg was a building supervisor at the Nelson Center.

Gietl returned to Kent State in the fall, but she left for good in December, returning to Springfield and becoming a year-round skating instructor at the Nelson Center in January 1982. Gietl finished her degree at Illinois College in Jacksonville.

"My husband overwhelmed me with love, so I had to move," Gietl said with a laugh.

Although Gietl's days of competitive skating are long gone, her competitive nature carries on through her students. In the mid-1990s, three of Gietl's students went to figure skating nationals. Another of her students went to junior nationals about 10 years ago.

Not all of Gietl's students, who range from age 2 to 16, skate competitively, however.

In fact, she said some of her favorite work comes with students who skate only for joy. Korey Yemm falls under this category. Korey has Down syndrome, and Gietl has been coaching her for about a year. Gietl said she gets as much pleasure watching Korey skate as she does watching some of her most competitive students.

"She's a delight to teach," Gietl said. "In fact, I find more joy sometimes in what she accomplishes because it takes her so long to accomplish it. When she gets it, it's like, 'Wow.' And the expression on her face is just wonderful.

"Whereas, the competitive kids, when they get things, it's great, but they've worked really hard in a shortened amount of time period."

Gietl arrives at the Nelson Center five to six days a week in the morning, usually around 6 a.m. After a few hours of coaching morning practices, Gietl leaves to go work at her day job at Denton-Merritt-Dycus Insurance Agency in Springfield. In the evenings, she returns to the ice for a few hours of coaching. All told, she devotes 25 to 30 hours a week to each job.

But while coaching skating is a job, Gietl said it also can make for fun days, especially when she's working with some of her younger students.

"The little ones are more fun," Gietl said. "The old ones are fun, but they're taking it more seriously now. So the little ones, you know that they're not into it just yet. So they're fun. And the comments you hear from them, whatever they say to you, is hilarious.

"I get all kinds of stories. You wouldn't believe what I get off of kids. They'll tell you everything. It's just fun. It's great to see them have fun, but I also enjoy it, too." 


Story published Friday, September 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 5 )

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