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Catching up with Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre

by Dorothy Knoell

photo by Shirley McLaughlin

After the 2010 world championships, Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who had been competing together for only five years, appeared to be on a path for success in the eligible ranks – after connecting in 2005, they had won a pewter medal and two bronze medals at U.S. Nationals, a bronze at 2009 Four Continents and had made two appearances at the world championships (finishing 12th in 2008, 14th in 2010).

Five-time U.S. champions and 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto were expected to announce their retirement, and the U.S. was still strong with 2010 Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with three spots available for Worlds. Navarro and Bommentre were expected to be a part of the strong U.S. program for several more years.

Instead, the two skaters announced their retirement from eligible competition – in fact, doing so even before Belbin & Agosto made their expected announcement.

Why would a fairly new couple that’d had such a lot of early success step away from the competitive stage?

“Going into the 2010 season, I felt like I really loved skating, but I wasn’t passionate about competing,” Navarro said. “I felt like if I continued to compete, I would lose my love for skating.

“I told Brent that, and told him I would understand if he wanted to find another partner and keep competing, go on without me, but I just didn’t think it would work for me.”

 “And for me,” Bommentre said, “I felt I had spent so much time in 17 years of competing, so much commitment, that it was time for me to move on, too.”

 So Navarro, now 32, and Bommentre, 29, decided to move on to the “professional” world – which really isn’t that much different than the eligible world (at least, there’s not much that can make a skater “ineligible” any more unless they really want to be).

And they couldn’t be happier.

“In retrospect, it turned out pretty well,” said Bommentre as he and Navarro took a break after a practice at Sun Valley where they are a part of Sun Valley Resort’s Ice Show summer ensemble that includes Core skaters - Craig Heath, Ashley Clark, Darlin Baker, and Jozef Sabovcik. “We’ve had such a great time performing, and great experiences in lots of different types of situations. I’m glad we made that decision.”

Navarro concurred, and noted that she’s more in love with skating than ever, partly because she’s more involved in the creative process. “For the first time, we have created some of our own programs,” she said, citing a program the duo performed in Sun Valley, The Scientist by Cold Play, as their initial foray into their own choreography. “It’s been a blast. We’ve been able to do the things we really want to do, the way we want to do them. It’s been so fulfilling and so much fun.”

Of course, taking that leap of leaving eligible competition can be scary – there isn’t as much out there for skaters to do as there was during the boom years of the late 1980s through about 2002, when shows, tours and pro competitions abounded. With few major tours (Champions on Ice has disappeared, Stars on Ice is only 10 shows this year) or pro competitions, it might seem to be taking a chance to leave behind eligible competitions and the paydays that are possible from winning medals or earning some help from U.S. Figure Skating.

But this duo didn’t worry about that. Before their final competition in the eligible world, Navarro and Bommentre had already lined up a job for the 2010 summer Sun Valley shows. And things took off from there.

“We knew there was a lot of skating available if you look for it and are willing to do it,” Navarro said. “After we got the offer and were skating at Sun Valley, we got an offer to do Holiday on Ice in Europe. We really hadn’t been envisioning our career that way, hadn’t been thinking about what we would or wouldn’t be doing, but when that offer came, we thought, ‘Why not?’ And we took it.”

And that set them on a dizzying couple of years of lots of work.

 “Our career took shape very quickly,” Bommentre said with a smile. “From that first week of skating at Sun Valley, we’ve been basically fully booked.”

“We’ve only had about two months off since then,” Navarro added.

 From the summer of 2010 in Sun Valley, the duo did the Jimmy Fund show in Boston, and then headed off to Europe for a nine month Holiday On Ice tour (mostly in France and Germany) as the principle adagio team, and recently performed with the U.S. version of Stars On Ice.

 “Yeah, we learned a lot,” said Bommentre with a laugh.

For example?

“Well, when you’re competing, you practice and train and practice for just a few performances a year, and each one of those performances, you try to make them special,” Navarro said. “When you’re doing 10 shows a week, multiple shows in a day, you find out that you can’t make every performance ‘special’ in the way you do with competition. Instead, you have to find a way to make each performance important and special in a different way. It’s something you have to get used to, because it’s so different from the practice-practice-practice then one performance, then back to practice-practice-practice that we’d always done.”

They enjoyed the performances and the people they performed with, and also found some time to take some “side trips” around Europe, renting a car and driving to different destinations. The show also gave them enough time off to return to Sun Valley in December for a special Christmas show, which was a nice perk, the said.

They returned from Europe about 10 days before the 2011 Sun Valley season kicked off, skated the summer there, and then Navarro headed to Canada to participate in Battle of the Blades, a show featuring hockey players paired with figure skaters in a Dancing With The Stars type format that was extremely popular. Bommentre did some Ice Theater of New York, and also served as a coach for Navarro for Battle of the Blades. It was a tough couple of months, as Navarro’s original partner, Wade Belek, was found dead in his apartment just days before the show was to get under way. She competed with a new partner, Russ Courtnall, and they were the second couple eliminated.

“That was a tough time, it’s still something I have a hard time understanding, but I really enjoyed my time on the show,” Navarro said.

After that, they headed to Sun Valley again for the 2012 summer season and once again in 2013.

“It’s such a great place to skate, a great place to be,” Bommentre said. “Coming here and being around people who clearly love to skate, it’s amazing.”

“It’s been a perfect opportunity for us, something that has been such a joy,” Navarro added.

 They decided to forgo another Holiday on Ice tour this fall – “We are ready for something more domestic this year.” They again did Jimmy Fund and Ice Theatre of New York; then, Navarro said, they’d just “look for whatever else we can find.” Although they had nothing specific lined up, they felt confident that something would come along for them to do.

 They both have other things to do when/if skating ends for them. Navarro, a cum laude 2004 graduate of Columbia University (English), and is interested in writing careers, and she’s also done some commentary for IceNetwork for U.S. Nationals, which she enjoyed and would like to do again. While she doesn’t have a “home base” at this point (her parents live in Santa Rosa, Calif., but she’s moved around a bit), she’s living in New York for the time being, taking some writing classes, and she flies to Philadelphia to practice with Bommentre when they need to get together. She said the “off-ice” career options are interesting and she’s already making forays into those fields.

Bommentre, from Philadelphia, may be moving to California at some point, as he’s interested in perhaps working on a Brewery degree at UC Davis.

 “I’ve been brewing beer with a buddy of mine for about five years, that’s my hobby,” Bommentre said. “It’s something I really enjoy and would like to do as a career. You can actually get a degree in brewing at some colleges, and UC Davis is one of the best. I may end up going there. I’ve taken classes at Villanova and Drexel, but if I decide to go for a degree, it will probably be in brewing.”

But for now, neither wants to pursue the “off-ice” career possibilities exclusively yet, because both are still enjoying performing.

 “I just love doing this,” Navarro said. “I love performing, creating our own programs, working with other people who love skating as much as we do. I just love it.”

Bommentre echoed that thought, saying that while he certainly had other things going on in his life, he was happy with the chance to perform for as long as the jobs were available.

“We’re not really looking for long-term things, like the nine-month tour we did,” he said. “But any show or short-term tours, we’re very open to those.”

Navarro added that coaching would be a perfect fit for Bommentre, as well.

“I think Brent was born to be a skating coach – I like more doing guest coaching things, more clinics and that sort of thing, but Brent’s a born skating coach,” she said, sending a smile his way, and Bommentre nodded and added, “I do like teaching, I love seeing them ‘get’ something, seeing that light in their eyes when something clicks for them.”

But for now, performing is still something they agree is a priority.

“I do lots of other things, but right now, I love skating, and I particularly love skating with Kim,” Bommentre said. “Looking back, our decision to go pro was a really good one and I hope we can skate together for a long time. When that opportunity is gone, I could be happy making beer for the rest of my lift.”

Navarro’s beautiful smile lighted her face as she added, “I can’t see a time when I won’t want to be on skates. I love it. My mom (Lisa Navarro) was a pro skater for 27 years (with pair partner Dan Henry), and I feel the same way – I just love to skate. I don’t think there will ever be a reason to not skate. I have lots of other things to do, and I enjoy those things, but I think I’ll always want to be on skates, too.”