Grace under pressure
One of only two skating rinks in the county faces an uncertain future
By Hannah Guzik 12/15/2011
As Lauryn Lesovsky pirouetted on the ice Sunday at the Channel Islands Ice Center, she thought about how her own life has come full circle, thanks to the sport she has practiced since she was 5.
“Skating has taught me a lot of life lessons,” the 21-year-old said. “It’s made me a really dedicated, hard-working person, and those, I think, are great life qualities.”
But today’s Ventura County youths might not have the same opportunity to dedicate themselves to the sport that teaches focus, coordination and, above all, persistence.
That’s because the ice center has only a five-year lease at 830 Wagon Wheel Road in Oxnard — after which time the rink and surrounding buildings may be torn down as part of a redevelopment project.
The Channel Islands Figure Skating Club and the Riptide Ice Hockey Club rescued the rink from extinction four years ago by purchasing it from owners who couldn’t afford to keep it running. Now, the two nonprofits are working to save the rink once again.
“We’ve started a capital campaign, but it’s going to take a lot of effort and a lot of hard work, especially in this economy, to be able to stay in the county and continue to offer our programs and recreation,” said Janene Wasserman, figure skating club president.
They’re searching for a permanent home for the rink, knowing that they likely have between five and eight years before the one on Wagon Wheel Road is bulldozed. The site has been scheduled for redevelopment for several years, but the project has been delayed due to the economic downturn, Wasserman said.
“We still find people who don’t know we’re still here or who thought the rink had been torn down years ago,” she said.
Organizers would like the rink to remain in the Oxnard area because they’ve developed a customer base there. They’re considering either creating a new rink from scratch or retrofitting an existing building to house a rink, Wasserman said.
“We’re open to many options,” she said. “The main thing is, we just want to be somewhere where we wouldn’t have to do this again and move again.”
The Oxnard rink is one of the few nonprofit ice rinks in the western United States, Wasserman said. Most rinks in the country are run as for-profit businesses or are owned by municipalities, particularly those on the East Coast, where outdoor skating is more common, she said.
“We’re a rare rink out here,” Wasserman said. “It gives us a different business model. We try to keep prices low and outreach to the community.”
The rink offers classes through Ventura’s and Camarillo’s parks and recreation departments and also offers programs for special-needs skaters and at-risk kids, she said. The organization’s annual charity fundraiser show, which Lesovsky skated in last weekend, has raised more than $75,000 in the past 10 years for Children’s Services Auxiliary, a nonprofit that helps abused and foster kids in the county.
“The past several years, we’ve hit $10,000 fundraising mark,” Wasserman said. “That’s always our goal.”
Lesovsky, who teaches skating at the Oxnard rink, believes it’s important for West County kids to have access to a skating rink, because it gives them a chance to get away from the stresses in their lives.
“Skating allows you to leave your life at school or at home for a bit and focus on something completely different,” she said. “There’s something about gliding across the ice and feeling free with the wind in your eyes that’s very healing.”
It’s also good exercise for kids, giving them another sports option, Wasserman said.
“Not everybody likes soccer,” she said. “This is another venue for a sport and for family recreation. And the more a community has to offer, the better that community is.”
Lesovsky, who attends the University of California, Santa Barbara, comes to Oxnard to skate because there aren’t any rinks in Santa Barbara County, she said. If the rink closes, she and all the other skaters who come from Santa Barbara will have to travel an additional 30 miles to Simi Valley, where the Iceoplex rink is located.
The college senior, a Simi Valley native, grew up skating at both county rinks, waking at 5 a.m. to practice before school and skating both after school and on the weekends. Her dedication paid off, and she has now earned Gold Medal Status, a ranking given to top figure skaters.
But the ranking isn’t as important as the lessons she’s learned along the way, which are coming in handy as she tackles tough chemistry courses in college, Lesovsky said.
“When you compete, you have a routine of elements, jumps and spins,” she said. “The routine is kind of like life. In life you have obstacles, like an exam on Monday or a meeting on Tuesday, and all these things you have to think about, but you can’t think about it all at once or else you’ll get overwhelmed.
“What I’ve learned from skating is to focus on what you’re doing now, and once you’ve got that under control, you can start thinking about what’s next. Skating has been great life practice.”
To learn more about Channel Islands Ice Center or to contribute to fundraising, visit www.channelislandsice.com.