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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

At 43, Coeur d’Alene figure skater lands dream spotlight in national showcase

As a teenager, Jackie Charlebois dreamed of being an ice skater in national shows. That dream looked possible when a prominent coach asked her to train with him in Florida.

Charlebois worked with figure skating choreographer Doug Mattis for a year, and then illness forced her to go home. She packed her skates away for more than 20 years, busy as a mom to five and as a photography business owner in Coeur d’Alene.

Despite that hiatus, Charlebois, at age 43, has made a comeback – so well that she has landed in the national spotlight for two years in a row.

Her inspiration to skate returned two years ago, as she watched a figure skater helping her youngest son’s hockey team learn edge work on the ice. Charlebois pulled on skates and with a new coach, recently qualified again for the National Showcase, a theatrical figure skating competition that she also did a year ago. In Florida this past week, she performed two programs for the 2022 event.

“It’s a big deal in the skating world for those who do not have Olympics in their future, and especially for adult skaters or skaters who don’t like the atmosphere of that deep competitive level,” Charlebois said. “You have the lights and music, costumes and makeup. There’s a little less pressure, versus all the lights on and the judges staring blankly at you, but it’s an intense competition.”

The event draws nearly 460 skaters from youth to seniors who perform in costumes to programs that use Broadway or movie songs.

“Showcase is all about the story and the character you portray and using particular songs. You try to create a character and a musical piece that tells the story of that.”

She has trained the past two years with Coeur d’Alene coach Karin Künzle-Watson, a former Swiss pairs skater who competed with her twin brother, Christian Künzle, placing seventh at the 1976 Winter Olympics.

Charlebois traveled to Florida with her coach and another of Künzle-Watson’s skaters who qualified to perform in the National Showcase , Sarah Brookshire, 27, of Post Falls. Brookshire trained to skate to “Unchained Melody,” depicting ghost memories of loved ones, and then to an ’80s rock program to Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”

This year, Charlebois prepared one of her programs to “Theme From Schindler’s List,” by John Williams. The choreography displays emotion with facial expressions and the reaching out of her hands out for help, simple spins and a few jumps, she said.

“My character is a young Jewish woman who has gone through all the pain and suffering,” Charlebois said. “But for her character, I’m making her a survivor, that she endured but survived everything from the concentration camps. For me, the story has a good ending, but it’s still portraying the hurt, the drama.

“The story has always touched my heart – the pain and suffering that people went through. There’s the fear of being torn apart from my family and children and watching death happen everywhere at your feet.”

She said one of her signature moves is a spread eagle, used in the performance.

“I do that like she’s praying to God, like ‘Why don’t you help us?’ ” she said. “I shake my hands being mad. Then I forget he’s our God and eventually will come through, so I’m just asking for forgiveness.

“In the end, you get word that the war is done and everybody is now able to be released from the concentration camps. I have a star I wear, which I’ll rip off and drop. It’s like, ‘You have not won.’ ”

In her second performance, more playful, she performs as a matador, with a story and dance that confronts the bull, using a red cape she holds on a pole. She eventually defeats the bull to the song “Nyah” from “Mission Impossible 2.” The program was inspired by her coach.

“My coach Karin had a dream about it and saw me skating in it,” she said. “I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”

At the 2021 National Showcase, Charlebois received two gold medals, including for a performance as Charlie Chaplin and another as a clown to “Send in the Clowns.” Those wins placed her into the event’s Parade of Champions.

As she made a return to the ice, Charlebois said she struggled early on, until she found better-suited skates and the right fit in a coach. She realized that her dream was still there.

“My youngest was playing hockey, and this coach working with them had long hair; I was just watching the wind blow through her hair and I thought, ‘Oh I miss that feeling, that freedom of flying and gliding,’ ” Charlebois said. “I thought, I should try this again. I took a couple falls, but I stuck with it. I found coach Karin, and I’ve loved every minute of it.

“It’s a way for me to take off what’s on my shoulders and the outside world and leave it at the door. My coach is amazing, and then being able to skate with another adult, Sarah, it’s nice to feel like I’m a part of something.”

Her children include a daughter, 22, and four sons 20, 16, 13 and 10. She’s married to Charley Charlebois. She spends time with her family and business, Jax Creations Photography, doing family and children portraits.

She grew up in a military family and frequently moved up and down the East Coast. Charlebois said she was a victim of abuse as a child by her biological father. Her first time skating was at 14, when she attended a birthday party at an ice rink and fell in love with it.

As a high school junior, she was scouted by Mattis at a Florida ice skate training camp. She wanted to do pairs skating with “lots of throwing and crazy spins.”

“I moved to Florida and trained for about a year and half, finished my senior year (there),” she said. “I started doing pairs, which I loved. I ended up getting really sick and had to quit skating, then I lost my job, so I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Returning home, she married at 20 and had her daughter at 21. That marriage ended about four years later. She met Charley at her brother’s wedding.

Charlebois said her family has encouraged her return to skating, and she often practices early morning hours at Frontier Ice Arena in Coeur d’Alene.

“My family knows this is my time,” she said. “They’re pretty considerate of letting me go.”

“I know my skating life is limited,” she added. “My dream and goal is to produce an ice show for abused and neglected children. I really hope to do that and keep it in the skating world. I would love to do the show locally, and I want it to be a benefit and auction.”

She teared up when describing what it’s like to be an ice skater again and go to the National Showcase.

“I think it’s important for moms and dads to know that you don’t have to stop dreaming,” Charlebois said. “Dreams and goals can come in any size and at any age. You can show your kids that you can be an adult, or old, and still achieve something.”