STAMFORD, Conn. – Professional and personal developments threw Karen Hawes’ life into turmoil in three devastating weeks in late December 2010. It took a return to the sport she had loved since she was a little girl to help bring her back in balance.
Now, the figure skating director at Stamford’s Chelsea Piers Connecticut has her dream job at an unbelievable facility, a receptive audience and deep gratitude for how things have played out.
"I feel like I’m on the earth to teach children skating,’’ said Hawes, who joined the Stamford facility when it opened last July. “I feel blessed to be in this position. I’m so passionate about it.”
Hawes’ transition began after she was laid off Dec. 15, 2010, after 18 years in the corporate world as a pricing analyst for a digital printing company. On Jan 4, 2011, her mother, Louise Haiday, died after a three-year fight with cancer. Hawes was shaken to her emotional core.
“It made me re-evaluate the finer points and made me think about what I really wanted to do,’’ Hawes said. “I said, 'I’m going to skate.'”
She had been teaching in learn-to-skate programs at Northford Ice Pavilion in North Branford and The Rinks of Shelton as a part-time instructor since 2002. But she knew she could do more.
"I went to seminars, conferences, anything I could do to learn and become more involved,’’ Hawes said. She is a rated coach by the Professional Skaters Association, one of the organization's highest levels, and is an Ice Skating Institute Bronze Level Judge.
In July 2011, she started working part time at the Wonderland of Ice in Bridgeport as the skating school director. That helped to open the door for her to Chelsea Piers Connecticut just one year later.
The job has been a whirlwind from the outset. “I had five days to pull resumes and create a staff,’’ she said. “The coaches I’ve hired have done an amazing job.” All of the coaches are members of the Professional Skaters Association and the United States Figure Skating Association.
And the response has been staggering. Hawes is entering her third nine-week learn-to-skate session and is already having trouble keeping up with demand. She believes she can teach anyone age 3-and-up how to skate and have fun doing it.
For her youngest skaters, she uses bubbles, shopping carts and stuffed animals to keep them engaged. The trick, she said, is to have them think about anything but skating. “Every person is different,’’ Hawes said. “If you have will and patience, you’ll learn how to skate.”
Hawes was a competitive figure skater from age 5 until she went to college. She was a New England Regional ladies competitor. Her work in a corporate environment also developed transferrable skills that have helped her build her skating programs.
“I talk with all of the parents,’’ Hawes said. “That’s very important to get to know them and their kids. It’s important to have organization and communication. If you can stay on top of that, you’ll have a good program.”
The array of activities at Chelsea Piers Connecticut also helps. Children frequently hop from one activity to another. The most important thing that Hawes brings, however, is passion.
“Every person is a new experience,’’ she said. “It’s like I’m doing it for the first time. The joy I get to see them accomplish their goals is amazing. They’re learning to skate, but they’re also learning life lessons. This is what I was meant to be here for.”
Hawes teaches frequently and carries her mother’s memory every time she sets foot on the ice. She was the person who helped her get started. “My mother is looking down on me with a big smile on her face,’’ she said. “I hope she is proud.”