Athlete Spotlight: Christmas Brook and Drury Figure Skater Yvonne Koperek
Drury's Yvonne Koperek has made quite a name for herself as a figure skater with Christmas Brook Skating Club, earning a pair of gold medals at the recent Bay State Games competition. While she has a pretty packed schedule of skating and coaching, she still found time to take a trip down to the office this week to talk about her story on and off the ice. We talk about the process of creating a figure skating routine, her love for coaching and plans for college.
THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE: Since you're used to being in the spotlight, I am going to have to make these questions 10 times harder. Off the top of your head can you tell me your corniest joke?
YVONNE KOPEREK: I could tell you a bread joke, but it would probably go awry.
EAGLE: Perfect. We are off to a good start! When did you start skating?
KOPEREK: I think I was five, so probably about 12 years ago.
EAGLE: What led you to pick up skates?
KOPEREK: My sister skated for a few years before I did and I kind of picked it up from my cousins. One of them started to play hockey [Drury's Caleb Rondeau] and his little brother started to skate around the same time.
EAGLE: Do you guys still skate together?
KOPEREK: All the time. He's actually on the Drury hockey team. He's a really talented player and very fast.
EAGLE: Growing up together did you guys play games on the ice?
KOPEREK: We played rough. We would race more than anything. He would win. I would lose. We would teach each other things on the ice too. It was beneficial.
EAGLE: What type of tips did you guys trade?
KOPEREK: I learned cross-overs before he did. I showed him how to do that, but he showed me a better way to stop, that was less drawn out.
EAGLE: How many times do you skate a week?
KOPEREK: I skate about three days a week for myself and then coach two days a week.
EAGLE: When did you get into coaching?
KOPEREK: I've been assistant coaching for the basic skills groups since sixth grade, but started having my own students this year.
EAGLE: When did you decide you wanted skating to be such a big part of your life?
KOPEREK: Probably around fifth grade when i did my first Bay State games. I really enjoyed the performance aspect of it and always liked skating, but fifth grade I learned I really liked competing and showing what I can do. When i started coaching it really took it to a whole new level because I really enjoy sharing what I've learned with all my students.
EAGLE: Do you remember the first song you skated to?
KOPEREK: I remember I was wearing a maroon dress.... oh it was Adele! "Set Fire to the Rain."
EAGLE: How do you select your music?
KOPEREK: I have lists that run for years that I add to. This year I skated to a song that I wanted to skate to two years ago. My routine last year was from a song I found four years before. I just kind of enjoy every song I pick. I feel like I pick more dramatic pieces.
EAGLE: How big is that list right now?
KOPEREK: Its pretty narrow right now. I've been trying to get through the stuff I have saved because I only have a few more routines left. Right now I am down to about six songs and I am using one of them with some of my students right now. The others are for my senior skate.
EAGLE: Can you walk us through the process of creating a routine?
KOPEREK: I love it. I do most of my routines because my coaches really let me be creative. I find it very fun to come up with steps. I usually start by just listening to songs for about three days and I go to the rink and play it over the speakers while just skating around. When i hear a beat and think of a move I will put it in so then I am just filling in the intermediate steps from there. Typically it takes me an hour to make a routine.
EAGLE: Can you just go through it once and have it all memorized?
KOPEREK: Usually I'll go through it 30 seconds at a time and memorize it. I'll run through it two or three times and usually I'll have it down.
EAGLE: Does the pace of a song dictate the moves you pick?
KOPEREK: There are certain elements that I put in on every routine that sounds similar. I have my trademark moves. My mom loves my spirals so they go in every routine. Usually when there is a big drawn out note I tend to do a heel stretch and hold my foot across my chest towards my head.
EAGLE: How hard is to for you to ignore the cold on the ice? Is it even something you think about?
KOPEREK: Sometimes the days are pretty brutal depending on what I am working on. Usually if I am choreographing it is a lot harder and my fingers turn white and I think to myself "Wow this stinks," but most of the time I'm moving around so much that I will be sweating and not even realize it's cold.
EAGLE: What would coach Koperek tell five-year-old Yvonne?
KOPEREK: The same thing I tell my students. I just want them to have fun, relax and not worry about how everyone else around them is progressing. I just want them to love skating so I always tell them to not let me push them to a point where they are not comfortable, because I want them to enjoy the time with the sport, time with me, and time on the ice.
EAGLE: Is there any competition that you've competed in that really stands out?
KOPEREK: I've gone to the State Games of America twice and one for me was 2017 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was competing with two other girls from my club. We all went together and had like a vacation week, it was amazing. My friend and I placed second and third so that was a really big moment for us. It was exciting to be there together in Michigan with all these people from all over the country and to come up together. Our points were really, really close. We had really good skates and it was jut an overall fun experience.
EAGLE: What sport do you love that you haven't played?
KOPEREK: I used to be a cheerleader and I really loved it. I hope to get back to it when I go to college. Sometimes I wish I did play hockey, because it would be really fun to just go skate into the boards for a little bit and not worrying about hitting the ground too hard.
EAGLE: If you scored a goal in hockey what would your celebration be?
KOPEREK: I think I would have to split-jump over the other teams goalie.
EAGLE: When you go to a big event, what is your morning routine?
KOPEREK: My routine is just winging it. It sounds awful, but I tend to do my best when I am not worrying about it. I like skating very early in the morning, because I don't want to spend all day thinking about it. Typically I get up and tell myself I have 10 minutes to do my make-up, throw my hair in a bun and then go to the rink. When I get there I always put in my headphones and visualize my performance while listening to my song. My coach [Jenna Dickenson] always reminds me to not think about it and give me words of encouragement.
EAGLE: What's a day at school like?
KOPEREK: Most of my day is me hanging out with my friends because we are all at the point where we all are in internships or a lot of management classes together. One of my favorite classes has to be Drury Performing Arts Management and we put on different concerts and shows where we handle everything from booking the artist, to creating the contract, handling tickets, to marketing. We usually build a stage and I used to do lighting. Now I've moved over to the box office side because I am trying to pursue a career in that in college.
EAGLE: What is your plan for college?
KOPEREK: I am waiting to hear back from three schools, but my top choices are Clemson and Saint Michael's. I'll be studying business management and concentrating in event management if my school offers it.
EAGLE: Tell me one thing nobody knows about you?
KOPEREK: I have a unique talent where I can cross my eyes and move one of them back and fourth. Also I am a crazy cat lover... not crazy, I just love cats.
EAGLE: Favorite cat from TV?
KOPEREK: All of Angela's cats in The Office. She has fluffy and they fall from the ceiling and there are a million of them.
EAGLE: What's one show you love to binge watch?
KOPEREK: Usually Criminal Minds. It is a fantastic show. I usually switch between that and the baking shows.
This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Jake Mendel.
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