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Mesabi Tribune

Local skater gets top honor



VIRGINIA—Amanda Johnson was just a tender age 4 when she first stepped on the ice, her legs bowed from a childhood condition.

Gymnastics or figure skating would be good therapy, a doctor told her family.

What started as a way to treat her situation has turned into not only a passion for the 18 year old Eveleth-Gilbert student, but a golden opportunity, you could say.

Johnson recently became Virginia Figure Skating’s newest gold medalist, earning a gold medal in U.S. Figure Skating’s “moves” category—a topmost honor for nonprofessional figure skaters.

The high school senior passed on the first try. Just like she always has, said Kristi Westerbur, who directs the low and advanced program with daughters, Jill Westerbur and Jayda Westerbur.

Johnson, and other competitors who were tested in front of U.S. Figure Skating judges in December in Hibbing, completed a series of patterns, footwork and edges to earn the gold, she said.

Only 3% of figure skaters in the United States can claim that honor, said Westerbur, noting that Johnson has consistently passed tests leading to the gold each time on the first try. “That doesn’t happen very often,” she said.

Johnson, and fellow Rock Ridge school district graduating senior, Jillian Husemoller, will be among those performing at this weekend’s Virginia Figure Skating annual recital, set for 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia.

This year’s theme is Skateflix—a take on Netflix and classic movies. There will be 107 skaters, ages 3 to 18, performing about 30 numbers. Admission is $5.

The show promises to be “super entertaining,” Kristi Westerbur said, with tunes from throughout a number of decades that will appeal to all ages.

Numbers include theme songs from: “Enchanted,” “Encanto,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Sound of Music,” “Top Gun,” “Grease,” “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia,” “Pink Panther,” “Matilda,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Legally Blonde,” “Gospel Girl,” and “Yellowstone.”

Rock Ridge hockey players will again be included in this year’s show, said the longtime coach.

The recital is a way for skaters “to show off the skills they’ve been working on all year long,” Westerbur said.

Virginia Figure Skating, which is part of the City of Virginia’s Park and Recreation Department, had an extremely successful year this year, with 103 Learn to Skate and 32 Advanced skaters in the program, she said.

“It’s a sport anyone can learn and you can continue to use all your life,” said Westerbur, who has skated since she was a child and passed the passion on to her own children.

Because it is part of Park and Recreation, the program is kept affordable for most families, providing opportunities for local kids that not all other areas have, she noted. “We are very lucky where we live.”

The $5 ticket price for the show is affordable and a tremendous value, made possible also because of the city’s involvement, she said.

Johnson, who is also a student at Minnesota North College, with plans to major in and obtain a masters in sociology and attend a four-year university after graduation, said she is grateful for growing up in Virginia Figure Skating.

She remembers as a youngster when “my legs were turned in.” But, “I kept going. I kept pushing myself. And here I am.”

Johnson hits the ice four to five days a week, also sometimes practicing at rinks in Gilbert, Hibbing and Hoyt Lakes for extra ice time.

“She puts in a lot of hard work and has a lot of dedication and drive,” said Jill Westerbur, also a U.S. Figure Skating gold medalist. “She is a role model for the younger skaters and so elegant and graceful on the ice.”

“Jill was that role model for me, that inspiration for me,” said Johnson, who is a student coach with the program as well. Watching younger skaters learn the art has been rewarding, she said. “I love seeing them improve so much.”

Johnson said she hopes to eventually “come back and coach” with the Virginia Figure Skating—a program that shaped her childhood and provided her with the skills and confidence to accomplish so much.

“I’ll definitely miss that,” she said.

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