By Liz Leamy
Kathy Casey seems to have an uncanny ability to light up a room, or a rink, for that matter, with her presence, a gift that has served her well along with much of the domestic skating community.
Casey, a U.S. Olympic and World team coach who has been Director of Athlete Performance Enhancing and Tracking for U.S. Figure Skating since 2007, has played a major role in the competitive development of the sport over the past few years in terms of helping skaters achieve their on-ice potential.
Over the past several years, Casey has attended most of the major non-qualifying and qualifying competitions around the country advising and counseling skaters, coaches and even parents on making sure they’re staying on the right road in terms of their development.
"I love what I do, it’s a great job and I consider myself fortunate," said Casey.
Casey, who lives in Colorado Springs and has been coaching since 1962, certainly has a great deal of experience to offer these athletes. She is reputed to be one the sport’s finest jump and spin technicians. That, combined with her outgoing, and compassionate manner, has designated her as one of the most popular and respected names in the contemporary American figure skating community.
"Kathy is one of my favorite people, she is so dedicated to the skaters and the sport," said Steven Rice, a national-level coach and former U.S. championship senior men’s contender who works at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J.
At events, Casey watches skaters compete and practice. She also attends monitoring sessions to help insure that the athletes are on a good and productive track. During breaks, she often hobnobs with those in the lobby, at rinkside or in the stands, and always has lots of people around her.
"This is a wonderful community, the kids are so disciplined and are committed to what they do and it is a real privilege to help them," said Casey. "This is a tough sport and we need to provide the athletes and their coaches with as much as support and information as possible."
Casey is also active on the coaches’ education circuit and regularly attends and speaks at the Professional Skaters Association annual conference and seminars. As a former six-year-long PSA President, she is a big proponent of coaches’ education and feels that it is a mandatory thing to insure the continued growth of the sport.
"The PSA is wonderful, it offers coaches a great educational resource for developing their teaching skills in so many different areas, and also helps build a strong sense of community among the coaches," said Casey, who was awarded the Sonja Henie Award for dedication to the sport at the 2009 PSA Conference in Orlando last May.
At the same time, Casey has built a huge business with her well-known series of day-long seminars, which are held at various sites around the U.S, Europe and cover everything from jump, spin and edge technique to sports psychology and biomechanics.
"I try to stay busy," she laughed, adding that she wants to contribute whatever she can to help grow the sport.
Casey seems to have a real gift, especially in terms of the technical elements, and played a major role in helping raise the ladies jumping bar back in the late 1970s, when she had one of the first women U.S. contenders to ever do a triple Lutz in competition.
In the early 60s, Casey started coaching at the Lakewood Winter Club in Tacoma, Washington, and dedicated herself to making a strong club. By the 1970s, she had achieved her goal and had also become recognized as a burgeoning competitive coach since she at that point, had brought numerous skaters through the regional, sectional and national ranks.
Casey really made her reputation with Jill Lynn Sawyer, a tall, blonde jumping wiz from the Tacoma area who claimed the 1977 U.S. novice title with all of the triple jumps through the Lutz. Invariably, Sawyer created quite at that Nationals in Hartford, Connecticut, since she and one other skater, Theresa Foy of California, the U.S. National novice ladies silver medalist, were doing more difficult jumps than most of the ladies singles in the junior and senior levels.
In 1978, Sawyer clinched the national junior ladies and World Junior Championship titles with this arsenal of triples, which helped initiate a whole new trend of ladies skaters who did this level of jumping. (Linda Fratianne, the 1980 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and Elaine Zayak, the 1982 U.S. World titlist were the famed American international pioneers of this new genre of triple-rotation female jumpers.)
Much to Casey’s surprise, Sawyer’s dad called her a week after Junior Worlds and said that Jill was no longer going to take lessons. (Years later, rumors came out that Sawyer’s decision might have been prompted by a strong desire to be a ‘normal’ teenager or perhaps because of a love interest.)
Although this situation was a big blow for Casey, it ultimately motivated her to work even harder than ever. Over the next few decades, she coached Nicole Bobek, the 1995 U.S. champion; Scott Davis, the 1994 U.S. champion; Rosalynn Sumners, the 1984 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, Scott Hamilton, the 1984 U.S. Olympic titlist, Sydne Vogel, the 1995 national junior ladies winner and Damon Allen, a top-seeded national men’s contender in the late 1990s.
In 1990, Casey was named the director of skating for the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs following the departure of the late and legendary Carlo Fassi, where she worked with Davis and Bobek, among many other top U.S. competitors.
In July 1992, Casey helped a terrific Independence Day-themed closing exhibition for the old Broadmoor rink, which starred Davis, Bobek and Paul Wylie, the 1992 U.S. Olympic silver medalist. At that show’s conclusion, Bobek and Davis were seen studying their takeoff and landing edges to make sure they executed their jumps properly, and which also served as a telling testament in terms of Casey’s coaching expertise.
"Kathy is a great technician and makes sure you understand what makes for a good jump," said Rice, who was known for his excellent jumping ability back in the mid 1980s and who has three students competing in Spokane at the 2010 U.S. Nationals this January.
For Casey, good jump technique is derived from a variety of things, including a good understanding as to how they work, a strong foundation, resilience, an intense work ethic and a boatload of confidence.
"Jumps are not easy, but they’re not as hard they sometimes might look either," said Casey. "You have to have the right mindset and technique and from that, almost anything is possible."
Casey, who is known for her terrific foresight in regard to the technical development of the sport, stressed the importance of biomechanics. For her, this area is key for understanding how an skater’s body and muscles work in relation to their jumps.
"Biomechanics are extremely important in terms of how jumps work," said Casey.
Casey also noted that communication with other coaches can be extremely helpful, especially in terms of making sure skaters execute their doubles and triples properly.
"Back when I was starting out, I remember calling some of my friends and coaches in California and they were extremely helpful," she said. "I want to do the same for others."
Certainly, Casey’s legacy for learning and love of the sport are evident among some of former students. Today, Davis is an International Skating Union technical specialist and coaches Vaughn Chipeur, the international Canadian men’s contender. Scott Williams, one of her former charges, has become a reputed U.S. choreographer and coach, while many of her other former students have gone on to excel in areas outside of skating such as medicine, law and business. (According to reports, Vogel has been attending med school on a full-time basis and wants to become a doctor.)
"I learned so much from Kathy, she is really just a great person and coach," said Steven Rice, who also had several skaters qualify for the 2010 U.S. Junior Nationals in Cleveland this month.
Despite her fame and good name that she has made for herself, Casey likes to stay focused on her work and is looking forward to a busy winter.
In January, she plans on attending the U.S. Nationals and in February, she hopes to make the trip to Vancouver in order to cheer on the Americans at the Olympics.
"I can’t wait, I think it’s going to be a great event," she concluded.
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Copyright 2009 by ISIO