Haley Sales had envisioned this moment in her mind years ago.
The 22-year-old figure skater remembers a conversation with her mother, Kristine, when Sales was still a junior.
Kristine is president of Kelowna Skating Club, and let her daughter know Skate Canada was considering Kelowna as host for the 2019 Skate Canada International event.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, Sales admits thinking, to perform at Prospera Place in front of her friends and family at one of the world’s most prestigious figure skating events?
Sure, it would require tremendous amounts of hard work in a discipline she was relatively new at with a partner she’d only been skating with a few years.
You get the feeling, though, when speaking with Sales that those were minor details.
Now, three months away from Kelowna swinging open the doors for the world’s best figure skaters, Sales and partner Nikolas Wamsteeker are ready to challenge for gold in ice dance.
Is she ready for this?
“So beyond excited,” Sales said in an interview with The Daily Courier.
To be sure, the duo has certainly put in the hard work — a fourth-place finish at last season’s national championship proves that.
But it wasn’t a seamless transition.
Sales began her skating career in singles. Minor but pesky injuries about age 15 made ice dance seem like a better path forward, she said.
Coach Aaron Lowe said he remembers speaking with her around the time of the 2011 Canada Winter Games where Sales won bronze in singles.
Wamsteeker had won gold at the same event in ice dance with another partner. A couple of years later, they were both looking for partners and were paired together.
“For them, it was a pretty quick, easy fit,” said Lowe, who coaches alongside his wife, Megan Wing.
“Luckily, it worked out for them.”
But as challenging as it is coming together late, and Sales making the change from singles, they also had some advantages. Coaches could see their body shapes matched up well — they didn’t expect the five-foot-six Sales to sprout up over her six-foot-one partner.
Lowe said they looked good together, too, (yes, that’s important in ice dancing) and their personalities and their families meshed (yes, that’s also important in ice dancing).
“They’re impressive to watch,” Lowe said. “They have good chemistry together ... and they’re growing every year.”
They just had to overcome some hang-ups.
Sales said she had to change her outlook; she suddenly had to share space on the ice.
“It was difficult,” she said. “Challenging, in a good way. ... It didn’t come easy for me.”
Wamsteeker said their first year together included a “bit of a learning curve.” He had to be convinced to partner with someone coming from singles. “I was a bit skeptical about that at first,” he said.
The results have proved it was the right choice. Since 2016, the pair has cracked the top 10 in eight senior international events, highlighted by the third-place result at last year’s Lake Placid Ice Dance International.
They were fourth at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I’m glad we hung in there,” Wamsteeker said.
As a result, Skate Canada earlier this month announced they would be part of the national team for Skate Canada International in Kelowna. They expect to learn more about one other major event they will skate later this season (teams only get two Grand Prix events per season).
Preparations have already started, regardless. They’ll be in Toronto in late August for a Skate Canada high-performance camp where they will debut their new routines.
Each year, the governing body for ice dance announces a theme.
This season, it’s “Broadway.”
Their rhythm dance, or short program, will be “Mamma Mia,” and has been choreographed by Lowe and Wing.
Their free dance is “Samson and Delilah,” and that was choreographed by pairs legend Igor Shpilband.
Sales said they feel fortunate to have found music that suits them so early in the season.
“We’re happy,” she said.
Happy because Canadian ice dance is virtually wide open this season.
Three-time Canadian ice dance champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje announced just a few weeks ago that they have decided to step away from competition.
It leaves Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, two-time defending silver medallists, as the odds-on favourites this season.
After that, it could be anyone else.
Sales and Wamsteeker took advantage last season in St. John, N.B., when Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus faltered at nationals.
However, Zachary Lagha, 20, and Marjorie Lajoie, 18, have graduated into the senior ranks this season after winning four ISU Junior Grand Prix medals.
Canada is just begging to know who will be the next Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (or Shae-Lynn Bourne/Victor Kraatz), and Skate Canada International could go a long way to setting up the next wave of Canadian ice dance champions.
“That’s the hard part,” Lowe said, “is just getting out of Canada.”
If Sales and Wamsteeker are fortunate to avoid injuries, and they continue to enjoy the ups and downs of international figure skating, they could just be beginning a long, fruitful career. Sales is on board.
“It’s all on our list,” she said.
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Sales-Wamsteeker at a Glance
Date of Birth: Dec. 26, 1996; Quesnel
Training Location: Burnaby
Club: Kelowna Skating Club
Date of Birth: Oct. 28, 1996; Winnipeg
Training Location: Burnaby
Club: Champs International Skating Centre of BC
Coaches: Megan Wing, Aaron Lowe
Choreographers: Megan Wing, Aaron Lowe, Igor Shpilband
Rhythm Dance: “Mamma Mia”
Free Dance: “Samson and Delilah”