On the ice at North Toronto Arena, P.J. Kwong has a lot on her mind.
It’s something she’s used to.
Kwong has been preparing for her role as on-air commentator on CBC TV’s coverage of the figure skating and ice dance competitions this month at the Sochi Olympics. On top of that, she is busy with her freelance writing and voiceover gigs. She also coaches students for the North Toronto Skating Club, something she has done for 30 years.
In an interview days before departing for Russia and her fourth Winter Olympics, Kwong talked about how, since the birth of daughter Caroline about 30 years ago, she has strived to take on work that was flexible and allowed independence.
“Skating has allowed me to support my family, as a single mom of three kids,” Kwong, said.
Drawn to figure skating from a young age, she found her way into coaching.
The knowledge she acquired of the ins and outs of the sport eventually led her to write. As her contacts grew opportunities to go on-air at regional and national competitions began to open up.
Her performance on the French-language CBC coverage at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City led to an ongoing commitment. That and the success of her 2010 book, Taking the Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating, helped build a loyal following in the figure skating community.
“What I really want people to [understand] is I have a huge respect for the athletes, for the coaches and for everybody that gets that person on the ice,” Kwong said about her approach to broadcasting. “I want to convey that respect and to have people develop an appreciation for what the athletes are trying to do, whether they succeed or fail.”
Broadcasting, Kwong says, is an art — a focus on opening people’s eyes to what happens next.
Though she admittedly has “a pretty strong perfectionist streak,” she says she has learned to “let the mistakes go.”
With her students, that need for perfection shows, but so does the fact that her relationship with her girls and boys is based on compassion and understanding.
She turns her attention to Maurya Shah, a young skater she is helping with technique while prepping her for club competitions that will take place while Kwong is away in Sochi.
“Tell me what you thought,” Kwong says to the girl. “What was the part you needed to fix?”
“Keeping my hands up,” Shah replies.
“I think you should look at it a tiny bit more,” Kwong suggests, then demonstrates with body movement what she is trying to convey. “Because you’re leaning a little bit forward this way.
“Keep your shoulders back — and smiling because skating is fun, right?”
Shah nods in agreement.
Between all the hats Kwong wears, coaching provides something none of the others do, she says.
“You get to be part of their evolution, and not everyone gets to be, so it’s something I take seriously,” Kwong said. “What people don’t understand about coaching with young people is that your one word or [two] cents make a difference, for better or for worse.
“I’ve seen it happen both ways.”
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