Skaters with Anaconda ties taking home the gold medals

By Vera Haffey of The Montana Standard - 12/20/2004

Timothy McKernan Jr. and Piper Gilles strike an opening pose for their ice dance performance that won first place in Intermediate Dance at the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships in Jamestown, N.Y., earlier this month. The pair, who garnered a gold medal for their Brazilian dancing routine, is aiming for Olympic gold in 2014. Photo by Michelle Wojdyla
ANACONDA Long hours of intense training paid off recently for Timothy McKernan II, who with his ice dance partner, Piper Gilles, won a gold medal at the 2005 Junior National Figure Skating Championship's intermediate pairs competition.

Tim, 15, is the son of Anaconda native Maj. Tim "Mac" McKernan and his wife, Maj. Vikki McKernan, of Fort Collins, Colo. Piper, 12, also of Fort Collins, is the sister of Todd Gilles, last year's Novice U.S. Ice Dance champion.

The victory, in Jamestown, N.Y., is the latest for the young ice dance couple, who have been training as skating partners for the past two years.

The thrill goes a long way toward making up for hours of grueling pre-dawn practices on and off the ice, vigorous strength training, dance lessons and other sacrifices packed into a demanding, six-day-a-week schedule. Also woven into each day are four hours of concentrated schooling and homework, plus online classes each

semester and during the

summer months.

Tim, who seems calm and stoic about it all, says he's pleased with this latest win, and looks forward to future competitions. His goal, he says, is to excel at both schooling and skating while working toward an Olympic gold medal in 2014.

On the ice, he's mostly able to avoid the jitters through a

combination of focus and

determination, even while being scrutinized by judges.

"I do get tense sometimes, but I just try to put them in the back of my mind," he said in an interview this week. "I try to skate my best and be happy with whatever results I get."

His win last week was

tempered by the absence of his father, who's on extended duty in Kuwait.

"I'm always skating for him," Tim said.

Maj. Mac McKernan said he felt conflicted emotions pride, humility, joy and sadness when he got news of his son's success, at the end of a 16-hour desert shift.

"I was jumping with joy and all smiles while inside, deeply saddened I wasn't there with him," he wrote in an e-mail this week. "I'm as proud as I've ever been before. I am sad because at this very moment, at a defining moment in my only son's life, I am half a world away. It strikes home not the sacrifices I'm making, but those he has made and will continue to make."

The Army officer won't likely see his family until next August, when he's scheduled to meet them at Lake Placid for another major ice dance competition.

Until then, it's mom who will do the dawn-til-dusk chauffeuring, cheering, organizing and attending to countless details necessary to give Tim and his younger sister, Lauren, a competitive edge on the ice.

It's not by chance that the family home is situated just minutes away from the prestigious Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, where practice takes place several times each day.

With the Jamestown competition behind them, the family can ease up just a bit.

"Now we can relax a little, but not too much," Vikki said. "The next season's going to be tough." With more compulsory moves and lifts to be incorporated into routines, "he'll really need to work on his upper body."

Vikki credits choreographer Tom Dickson of Colorado Springs three-time winner of the Paul McGrath Choreographer of the Year award for the successful routines that net wins during competitions.

Vikki, who saves money by hand-sewing all of Tim and Lauren's costumes, says a skating career comes with a hefty price tag: Expenses add up to about $80,000 each year for the two athletes for travel, ice time fees, coaching, choreography, lessons and equipment.

Skates, crafted with three layers of leather, are one of the big ticket items, running around $1,000 per pair with blades sold separately for another $300 or so. They last about nine months, or until they "break down" or are outgrown by the young skaters.

Lauren, 14, has her own goals for becoming a national champion. "We are hopeful she will find herself a dance partner this year and win at Junior Nationals next year," her father said.

With so much at stake, Vikki says it's vital that the skaters are driven by their own desire to succeed.

"It's just important to make sure it's something they seriously want to do," she said.

Reporter Vera Haffey may be reached via e-mail at vera.haffey@lee.net.

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