Episode #8: Diana Ronayne

An interview with Diana Ronayne: coach of Ryan Jahnke, Dan Hollander, and others, and now Director of Figure Skating at Shattuck St. Marys’ School in Minnesota. 39 minutes, 42 seconds.

Thanks to Fiona McQuarrie for transcribing these interview highlights:

On her most embarrassing skating moment:  When I was a little kid, I was just starting to skate, and the coach wasn’t there. So a very famous person and I were having fun and fooling around, and pretending that we were coming on the ice for a big grand opening.  And we came on the ice for our big grand opening, and I tripped and fell on my knees and sat right on the end of my blade.  I got the blade in my butt. It required stitches. And that was even more interesting, trying to explain it to somebody else [laughs].

On training with coach Slavka Kohout: She was a taskmaster. We had a fear of her because she expected a lot of us, and she expected us to toe the mark. And the parents all supported it, and that was our routine. We skated a lot of hours. Some of us were there before school. Janet Lynn and I, a lot of times we would have to climb in through the ticket booth because the rink wasn’t open. Slavka never got there right on time [laughs]. So we’d crawl in there and then skate, just the two of us, from about six to eight in the morning, and then go to school, and then come back in the afternoon and skate until about seven at night. We did homework in the car, and homework in between. And on Saturday morning, Slavka started getting a big group of kids that she was taking to regionals and nationals, and we started having our famous Saturday morning patch. It was a three-hour patch. Three solid hours of going around and around in circles. And the whole ice would be just be a patchwork of circles by the time we were done. In the bitter winter, when it was very cold, she would give us a break after an hour and a half, a time to get off, and the Zamboni would go over the ice, and we would go back on for another hour and a half.

On coaching Dan Hollander:  [At first] he was very very shy and almost reclusive. He loved to skateboard, was almost a fanatic at skateboarding, and when his parents came to me to ask me to teach him, he had almost quit skating. He had decided he really didn’t like it, didn’t like figures, and didn’t like performing. I then found out after the fact that the first time when he went out to compete as a little boy, he was petrified, and it took his father going in to the locker room and basically bribing him to get out of the locker room to perform. So I met with the parents and Dan and basically got a bit of background on him and how he hated performing. And at the time he was a junior man and had a double axel, but he didn’t have any clean triples. And he had a great deal of difficulty spinning. And so it became obvious that we had to come up with some creative stuff. And one of the things we came up with was for an ice show, the director and I came up with the idea that he could be a French mime, like Marcel Marceau. So we used that. Dan and I took mime lessons, and we learned the miming, and we got the full costume and all of that. And I also encouraged him to do weightlifting, because that would make him be buff, and that was kind of cool for a guy that age to be buff [laughs] and not just, you know, a figure skater.  So he got into weightlifting, and doing the mime, and then he also got excited about wanting to do the backflip. So we got working on that, and we had the help of Michael Weiss’ father at one point, who helped him get it. So we ended up incorporating all of that and it became a great hit – the idea of a mime in a show, who hid behind a mask, and the idea of things like tripping over a rope, it gave him an out. If he missed a [jump] he could always treat it like he tripped over a rope or something. It offered him the opportunity to try not being afraid of things and falling. So that helped to start bring him out, and I think that started his creative juices of looking for characters and things to do, to be a character when he was skating.

On coaching Ryan Jahnke: He was a joy in all of my life. I started with him when he was eight years old. I was teaching at St. Clair Shores [in Michigan], I came in the morning, and at this point I was bringing my three children because I was a single mother. So the three children would do their homework or eat breakfast in the lobby. And I started noticing this mother bringing this young boy in, and one morning he had the scribe [for tracing figures] and he didn’t know how to use it. And his coach wasn’t there, I never saw him with a coach, so he asked me if I could show him how to use it. So I showed him, and showed him how to go around using it, and a couple of days later, I guess, his coach had decided she wasn’t going to come in the morning, so the mother asked me if I would teach him. So I checked him out, and that was the case, and I started working with him. And that was when he was eight years old, right from the beginning of his skating career. From the very first learning of the basic jumps and the basic figures.

He was a highly intelligent, highly driven young man. He liked all sorts of things. His parents had him involved with a very good soccer player, and he played the flute, and he sang in the choir – he had a fabulous voice. He had an older brother, and the older brother was very much into acting and singing, and I think he played lacrosse and was an athlete in other sports too.

On turning down the first offer of her current job [director of figure skating at Shattuck-St. Mary’s school and skating program] to continue working with Ryan Jahnke through the 2006 Olympics: He stayed committed to me, and I stayed committed to him. I could not leave. We had made game plans every year, and game plans of how to reach those goals. I owed that to him, and I wanted to. And so we did.

On trying different teaching styles for the skaters at Shattuck-St. Mary’s: W e tried with the skaters being self-motivated, and we tried going around as a team and working with each skater individually. But not a lot of skaters in the skating world have experienced that, so that’s a little tougher environment to create and for them to understand or live by. So we’ve ended up devising a schedule where they get lessons every day. They get a private time and then we’ve also built into the program two or three days a week of power skating, on ice, after school.  And they take ballet as a course during the day, and then after school three days a week they have a strength trainer for their strength and conditioning. And two days a week we do more sport-specific training off-ice.

About the Author
Yup, I’m a skating fan. But I’m a skater too. I compete nearly every year in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships, and am always thrilled to see my other skating buddies there. In my real life I work in marketing for brands that make positive changes in the world, and a mom of two rambunctious boys.

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