This weekend marks a changing of the guard.
Or skate guards, so to speak.
From March 6th to 8th, Tundra Oil and Gas Place in Virden will host the 2020 Manitoba Open. The three-day competition welcomes skaters from Manitoba and Saskatchewan at the STARSkate, AdultSkate, and Competitive levels.
It’s in competitive stream where senior women champion, Deidre Sherk (formerly Russell), plans to take her final bow.
“I would say there’s a high percentage this (the Manitoba Open) will be my last competition,” said Deidre.
Deidre, 25, has dominated skating in the province. She’s won the Skate Manitoba Sectionals 14 times – seven of those titles were at the senior level. Her impressive resume includes medals from across the country, including a silver from the 2018 Wild Rose Invitational in Alberta and a gold at the 2017 Sask Skate Competition in Saskatchewan.
And who better to accept the torch than her younger sister, Danae Russell, the current junior Skate Canada Manitoba Sectional champion for the last two years. Danae’s also a previous novice champion with a silver medal from 2018 Sask Skate.
Danae felt her sister would be stepping away from competition. Since Danae moved into the senior ranks at the end of the 2019/2020 season, she convinced Deidre to compete at the Open. The sisters are six and a half years apart, and they’ve never competed against each other.
“It’ll be the first time and the last time,” said Danae. “I thought it’d be cool.”
“Danae said ‘Well, do you want to compete against me?’ ” said Deidre. “And I figured, sure. I’ll give it another go.”
But this will hardly be a rivalry. According to their mom and coach, Margo Russell, “They’re close sisters.”
“If you ever see them slowing down or gliding … they’re chatting to each other,” said Margo. “I think the skating just made it (their relationship) closer. Because when you do the same thing as your sister, you understand what they go through.”
Deidre bypassed CanSkate, instead enrolling in her mom’s preschool skating class. When Danae was two years old, her parents took her to a community centre.
“We thought she’d just do snow angels,” said Margo. “But she just got up and started going.”
Danae will continue to skate next season. “I’m going to get someone to make a program for me,” she said, adding she’s lost a few jumps. “I’ve had some issues lately with skates and blades.”
Deidre and Danae support each other. But when one can’t skate, it has an impact.
“Deidre had a stress fracture in her back,” said Margo. “When your sister’s not at the rink with you… it changes things. They’re each other’s best encourager. They bounce ideas off each other as well. They’re both very skilled skaters.”
And they’re both starting a life outside the figure skating world. Deidre’s newly married and a pharmacist technician, and Danae is a part-time University of Manitoba student enrolled in prerequisite courses for nursing – and both sisters coach out of Skate Winnipeg.
When Danae first entered competitions, Deidre was far ahead. But Danae realized she wasn’t too much behind her sister. If Deidre landed something, Danae wanted the same element. They both landed a double Axel at 12 years old. Danae nailed her first triple – a Salchow – at 14. Both of them have landed all their triples – minus the triple Axel.
Margo coached Deidre and Danae to the Skate Canada Challenge this season in Edmonton, Alberta. While neither advanced to the Nationals in Mississauga, Ontario, it was a rare experience. The competition was in November, and Deidre still had her jumps and decided to compete – unsure at the time if the 2019/2020 season would be her last.
According to Deidre, she’s stepping away from competition for the next generation. Plus, there’s “quite the age gap” between her and the up and comers. “Danae is the next generation. Even some previous skaters used to be closer (in age) … the last couple years I’ve been by myself.”
Deidre will continue to coach. While she’s not Danae’s coach, Deidre’s there to give suggestions – or lend an ear or shoulder when needed.
“It’s really great to see your kids be each other’s best friend,” said Margo. “Especially when you see so many families that aren’t close. And when the skating goes away they will still be each other’s best friends, and that’s the best part of it.”
The senior event will be on March 7th during the Manitoba Open in Virden. Deidre said it’ll be a “friendly competition,” whereas Danae made a prediction:
“It’s definitely not going to be like a rivalry,” said Danae with a laugh. “That’s not how we are. I hope both of us skate well, but I’m definitely expecting that’s she’s going to win.
“It’ll kind of just be a normal day at the rink where we both run our programs and we hope the other person skates as well as they can.”