Family, Heartbreak & Opportunity: Encounters that Shape a Skater - Learn to Skate - Figure Skating, Hockey Skills for all Ages to Adults

Family, Heartbreak & Opportunity: Encounters that Shape a Skater

Larissa Gibson: A Coaches’ Story

Larissa Gibson Pickering Skating Club Coach

Larissa Gibson, 1st Competition

In true Canadian fashion, skating coach Don Gibson, took his daughter and son to an outdoor ice rink, a short distance down the street from their Oshawa home. Regardless of whether it was incited by the winter wonderland ambiance or the magical time spent making memories with her father, it was that moment that two year old Larissa Gibson began a love affair with skating.

Larissa’s official figure skating career was set in motion when her parents registered her for Skate Canada’s CanFigure program at SCPSC’s sister club, the Oshawa Skating Club. CanFigure has now evolved into Skate Canada’s STARSkate program. The Oshawa Skating Club is the original home of Barbara Underhill, former Olympian, five-time Canadian pair champion, and who in 1984 partnered with Paul Martini and won the world pair champions. In 2009, Barbara was rightfully inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Over the years, Larissa has been mentored and shaped by several celebrated coaches, including Terri Ninacs, Anne Powers and Caroline Berkhof-Mackeen. A wealth of choreography creativity, Anne Powers, an international pair’s medalist, validated that anything is possible when the mind is free of boundaries, while Caroline Berkhof-Mackeen led by example and is so dedicated to coaching that it seemed like there was nothing she would not do for her students. Terri Ninacs, who along with Kevin Cheshire competed against Bourne and Kraatz in 1997, polished Larissa’s technique, helping her successfully complete the Gold Dance tests.

“When I’m coaching stroking and dance I often find myself passing on all the wisdom Teri Ninacs taught me.” – Larissa

Larissa Gibson with Barbara Underhill

Larissa with Barbara Underhill

As fortunate as Larissa has been to have such acclaimed coaches, it was Barbara Underhill’s courage and presence at the 1993 skating clubs’ year-end gala to present an award, in memory of her child, that left the biggest impression on Larissa. Just a few months prior, Barbara’s eight-month-old daughter, Stephanie, drowned in their backyard pool. After Stephanie’s death, some days Barbara admitted she just wanted to lie down and not get back up again.

“I didn’t want to keep going, and I didn’t think I could go on,” Barbara explains “But skating taught me that you don’t have a choice. You’ve got to keep going. You’ve always got to look for the positives, no matter what situation you are in.”

Larissa confesses, while she perceived everyone grieving, she didn’t fully comprehend what had actually happened until she was older. One thing was certain, Larissa knew Barbara’s award, recognizing a skater for demonstrating perseverance and determination, was very special. Year after year she witnessed worthy skaters receiving this award and go on to accomplish great things. To this day Larissa is honoured to have her name on this trophy beside so many great individuals and forever linked with the memory of Barbara’s daughter.

“I remember looking at my name on the trophy for the first time and thinking I have a lot to live up to.” – Larissa.

At four-foot-eleven, Barbara Underhill went on to work for the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs teaching towering NHL players the science of skating.

“Skating is so critical now,” Underhill explains “If you can’t skate you can’t play this game. Every guy is out there looking at how they are going to be a better skater, and they are more open to working with figure skaters.”

Larissa Gibson Pickering skating Club Coach

Larissa Gibson Podium

Competition provides an excellent pathway for skaters to showcase their talents, learn new skills, become more confident and maximize their own potential. Additionally, Larissa discovered competition was a conduit to making new friends. One year, Larissa formed a best friend relationship with a skater whom she competed against in numerous events. Larissa had an outstanding record for achieving fourth place. Although Guinness World Records has not yet returned our call, there is a claim that she may have set a world record for the most number of fourth place showings.


“The difference between impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.” – Tommy Lasorda

Stephanie Gates award trophy

Larissa holding the Stephanie Gates award

Never giving up, and determined to step onto the podium, both competitors continued to train hard. Their friendship was forever linked, when at the same competition, both Larissa and her friend achieved their goal together. In disbelief, Larissa had achieved third place and her friend first overall. One would have thought the two had just won the Olympics as they screamed and jumped up and down in happiness. While standing on the podium, with family and friends taking pictures, not wanting the moment to end, the two were so mesmerized, basking in the experience, they completely tuned out the announcer. He continually hinted it was time for them to step down off the podium by repeatedly saying “thank you girls.” Sharing this experience and their friendship helped them develop their understanding that standards of behaviour are as important as standards of performance.

“The effect that you have on others is more important & valuable than any currency” – unknown

In 2006 Larissa graduated from Durham College with a Diploma in Public Relations. In 2008, she graduated from Fleming College’s the Haliburton School of the Arts with a Visual and Creative Arts Diploma. Wanting to ensure skating remained a part of her life, Larissa was convinced by some coaches to attend a 2009 skating clinic. The experience was extremely disappointing and Larissa left the clinic early in tears. Feeling disheartened, she sought to replace skating with other activities.
After a few odd part-time job experiences, a move across country and back, feeling lost, Larissa reached out to her former skating coaches for guidance. The advice led to enrolling in a weekly adult skating session which rekindled her passion for the ice.

Coaching was a natural progression for Larissa. Whenever skating for enjoyment at public rinks, she was often asked, and willing to help, teach people how to skate.

”My answer is always ‘yes!’ I’ll teach anyone who wants to learn.” – Larissa

Oshawa Skating Club's Ice show

Oshawa Skating Club’s Ice show

The personal fulfillment Larissa receives from these coaching encounters far outweighed any monetary value. On the off-chance they needed CanSkate coaches, she contacted the Pickering Skating Club. Despite being the middle of the season, the club had grown and required Larissa’s help. Since joining the Pickering Skating Club, her coaching credentials have expanded to include CanPower and STARSkate Certifications.

Larissa’s coaching passion has over-flowed into her off-ice life. As owner of Little Kickers North York , she enjoys leading a fun and imaginative program that introduces soccer to children eighteen months to seven years of age. Managing her own business, while still coaching at the Pickering Skating Club, has given Larissa the best of both worlds.

Despite her success, Larissa has a list of personal goals she has planned to achieve. In her near future, she looks forward to coordinating an ice show, coaching Special Olympics skaters and running her own skating boutique!

Throughout Larissa’s skating life, both of her parents have consistently shown their support by attending the Pickering Skating Club Ice shows and all of Larissa’s skating tests. As part of their after-skating-event tradition, dinner at a restaurant along with a healthy discussion on all aspects of skating. Dad, as customary, never holds back on providing his coaching advice. Larissa wouldn’t want it any other way.

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