Nickel City Nostalgia: The incredible stories Gerty Desjardins can share

Randy Pascal For The Sudbury Star

Apr 09, 2021

Gerty Desjardins and Moe Lafrance in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, during their competitive careers.

For the past 52 years, Gerty Desjardins has called Las Vegas home.

This seems all too appropriate, given just how entertaining a life the original queen of the Sudbury figure skating scene has lived.

Nickel City Nostalgia: The incredible stories Gerty Desjardins can share

Preparing to celebrate her 79th birthday in August, Desjardins can still spin a tale with the best of them — and there are no lack of tales to be told.

Though she did not take skating lessons until the age of nine, the only child can share some early recollections, courtesy of her mother. The latter is now one year shy of her 100th and “still kicking,” in the words of her daughter, at the Elizabeth Centre in Val Caron.

“I started skating on double runners; I was maybe five years old,” recalled Desjardins. “My mother reminded me about a little carnival that I had skated at — they were all outdoors at the time. We arrived late, but they let me skate and I won.”

Still, it was not as a solo artist where the Northern Ontario athlete truly made her name.

 “I have the cutest picture of Moe (Lafrance) and I in Sundridge — we were so young,” she said. “We would do dance as well as pairs when we skated in the North. The dutch waltz was the first dance that you learned. We did that and won in Sundridge, but I think Moe said that there were only two couples there.”

It was, in fact, as a pairs team that Lafrance and Desjardins eventually represented Canada at three sets of world championships, before she turned professional. To reach that point, however, required a little travel. Sudbury may have been the original base, but theirtraining was honestly spread right across the province.

“In the winters, at one point, we really didn’t have anyone in Sudbury who was teaching us, so we kind of taught ourselves,” said Desjardins.

By this stage, a foundation had been set, ironically through a more northerly off-season jaunt.

“I think when I was 11 or 12, I started going to Schumacher (McIntyre Arena) for summer skating,” she stated.

“Because I was going, Moe decided to come up and we started taking pairs lessons from Sheldon Galbraith.”

Coach for the Canadian skating entry at the Winter Olympics in 1948, 1956 and 1960, Galbraith had worked with the likes of Barbara Ann Scott and Donald Jackson.

By their late teens, the local pairs tandem had made the move to follow the World Figure Skating Hall of Famer to the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. Competing at the Canadian Juniors for the first time in 1959 in Rouyn Noranda, Desjardins and Lafrance ascended to the top of the podium the following year in Regina.

At the senior level, however, Canada was the envy of the world when it came to pairs skating.

Joining the up-and-coming northern duo were the likes of Maria and Otto Jelinek (world champions in 1962) and Debbi Wilkes/Guy Revell (bronze medallists at worlds in 1964). The competitive dynamics were fascinating.

“Debbi and Guy and Moe and I were rivals,” said Desjardins. “We weren’t really rivals with Maria and Otto, just because they were better than both of us.”

Such was the high esteem and friendship that Gerty developed with Maria Jelinek that the latter not only served as the maid of honour to her skating competitor, but was also on hand in Sudbury in 2007 when Desjardins was inducted into the local sports hall of fame.

Not to mention the fact that all three pairs teams were on hand in Prague, in February of 1961, the year the World Figure Skating Championships were cancelled following an airline crash that took the lives of the entire United States skating team.

“We had competed at the North American Championships that year and faced the Americans in Philadelphia,” Desjardins recalled. “We (Team Canada) flew from Philly to New York to take our plane to Prague. They (Team USA) took a bus to get on the Sabena flight. We were in the air, en route to Amsterdam, when they went down in Brussels.”

The drama, however, had only just started to unfold.

In 1948, the Jelinek family had fled Czechoslovakia, eventually settling down in Oakville. While Canadian officials were able to obtain a release of citizenship to allow the young siblings, Maria and Otto, to compete in Prague in ’62, their parents were not allowed re-entry into their country

As such, it was Desjardins’ mother who had more or less been entrusted with keeping an eye on the still young skaters as the team landed into the surreal setting that was the airport in Prague.

“The army greeted us with guns and grabbed all of our passports, which scared the heck out of us,” recalled Desjardins. “Then, we’re whisked into the terminal and all of a sudden, all of the Czech people surround Maria and Otto. We thought they were doing something to them because Maria started to cry.

“It turned out that she had just been told that all of the Americans had been killed.”

Twelve months later, Desjardins and Lafrance were back in Prague, finishing sixth in the world. In the winter of 1963, it was off to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, a bittersweet yet memorable conclusion to the amateur career of the proud Sudbury natives, climbing two more spots up the rungs and producing a best ever fourth place finish at worlds.

“The conditions were awful,” said Desjardins. “We skated outdoors and at 9 p.m. — my blades were squeaking, that’s how cold it was.”

It was their final performance.

“At the end of 1962, Moe had started coughing up blood. He was diagnosed with a disease where the veins in your lungs normally have capillaries at the end, but he didn’t have any. The exertion of skating would cause the veins to burst.

“It broke our hearts, but especially him, because at least I could move on.”

Desjardins did just that, for many years to come.

“There wasn’t any money in amateur skating, so it made more sense to go pro,” she explained. “Everyone joined the show right away.”

The show, as it were, involved committing to either the Ice Capades or Ice Follies, both of whom engaged the services of Desjardins over the years. It was there that she met her husband, George Verbiwski, a slapstick ice skating comedian who moved on to work as a stage technician at most of the showrooms on the Vegas strip.

If Las Vegas was her home, the world was her stage.

At various times, Desjardins teamed with either Guy Revell, and later Richard Dwyer, performing to capacity crowds in both North America and across the globe.

“Even as amateur skaters, we had a little flair,” said Desjardins with a laugh.

“We did a Spanish number that was pretty clever. It started with a black lace dress overtop of a red outfit. When the lace came off, I was dressed all in red, I put on a beret and we did a french number to Edith Piaf.”

There is something larger than life to the manner in which Desjardins recalls moments of her past.

“When we moved here, Vegas was run by the mob,” she said of her home for the past-half century plus. “But if you weren’t in competition with them and didn’t do anything, they didn’t bother you. They were fabulous.”

And this from a 1982 party that gathered the who’s who of the skating world for Richard Dwyer’s 50th birthday.

“We get a call at Richard’s place from Dubai, asking us to do a world tour,” Desjardins began. “We left LA and flew to London, and then from London to Dubai. We skated in Dubai, and we always used to stay and teach the kids a little bit during these stops, kids that were mostly ex-patriots.

“From there, we flew Cathay Pacific, with brief stops in India and Thailand, to Hong Kong. From there, we were off, back to Los Angeles. Isn’t that neat? I just love that story — that’s one of my highlights.” In a life full of highlights, it’s been one of many that Gerty Desjardins can still share with zest and laughter — and all with a certain Northern Ontario charm.

Kawahara Selected for PSA Hall of Fame

from November/December 2019 PS Magazine
by Professional Skaters Association


The Professional Skaters Association Hall of Fame celebrates the achievements of storied and successful coaches, most of whom have taken individual and pair skaters to championship levels of figure skating prowess.

Sarah Kawahara is in the PSA Hall of Fame primarily for her skill at getting dozens, sometimes hundreds, of skaters to perform well enough to present a full-blown story, often with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

One of the most renowned and celebrated figure skating choreographers in history, Kawahara is the 2019 inductee into the PSA Hall of Fame.

“It is just amazing,” Kawahara told PS Magazine. “I’m just so tremendously honored. I never dreamed my career would take me here. My only regret is that I cannot share it with my dad (Hideo Kawahara, who passed away in 2011), who helped me get here, who was instrumental in training me, coaching me, to make me who I have become.”

Kawahara’s career as a choreographer has been saluted by organizations outside of the realm of figure skating. She won an Emmy Award for the choreography in the television show Scott Hamilton Upside Down in 1996, and was again awarded by the Emmys for her work on the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Filmgoers are very familiar with Kawahara’s work probably without knowing her name. She was the choreographer for the Will Ferrell film Blades of Glory and served the same role for the widely praised biopic I, Tonya. She has just completed work on a Netflix film entitled Spinning Out.

But Kawahara’s career started as a choreographer for individual competitors, and had a long-standing professional relationship with Hamilton, which led to the first Emmy award. Over the years, she choreographed professional shows that included for Hamilton, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Robin Cousins, Nancy Kerrigan, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, and Oksana Baiul.

Kawahara sees much of her work as one about storytelling, which goes a long way toward understanding how she approaches coaching groups for performance differently than when she has coached individuals for competition.

“When you are working with a group of people, it is a symphony,” she said. “Everybody, each person is responsible for their own instrument, and the proficiency for how they play their instrument adds to the sound, the look, the emotion of the piece. They are skating together in a symphony. For me, I am the conductor. When I am doing production work, like with Disney or any live production. That is essentially my approach.

Sarah presents on-ice at the 2009 PSA Conference & Trade Show in Orlando, FL.

“When I work with one person, the demand is the same, except I am working with one person. The play I am working on is different.”

When prodded to do so, Kawahara found it difficult to select one choreography job as her “crowning glory”, but cited the Winter Olympics task for amusing reasons. For the widely praised Winter Games in Salt Lake City, she choregraphed the opening and closing ceremonies as well as Michelle Kwan’s long and exhibition programs for the games.

“I was able to use all my experiences working with stars and working with major productions, as well as doing camera work for television specials,” she said. “I was able to use all of my experience in all the different mediums rolled into one project.

“For that project, I stripped the community of every possible person who could skate forward,” she said with a laugh. “I came in with all of these grand images, then, after I auditioned about 1,000 people, the most important question I needed an answer to was “Can you stop?”

And she laughed again.

In a huge simplification, there are two kinds of performances for large groups: synchro-choreography in which every skater needs to move in identical form to the next, and the story-telling sort in which every skater is providing unique visual input as part of a large group of skaters.

“There are times when you want their different colors, you want their different talents, and you use the fact that they are different to your advantage,” Kawahara said. “There are times when you want them to be alike, and then it calls upon their classic background and training. They all have the same basis for the most part to harken back to, and then you add imagery which will be new but still call upon their commonality.”

Photo by Vicki Luy

Kawahara is quick to salute the thousands of coaches who worked with the skaters she uses in her productions who created the base of skills upon which she calls when those skaters are hers to work with.

“I have worked with so many generations of beautifully trained skaters, and I reaped the benefits of their talents and have been able to create stories and pieces of television and movies on many different levels of the art form because of their experiences they bring to the table,” she said.

Over the years, Kawahara has picked up the skills necessary to work closely with video professionals in order to design and present her shows in the best light for video work. She currently works with the Royal Caribbean cruise line to present shows they provide for the massive ships, and those presentations take advantage of the latest in video presentation technology.

“It is really fun for me,” she said. “We can really go to town. We have a very current level of technology with video projects. We have had drones. It brings production skating into the 21st century.”

Kawahara laughed yet again when discussing the challenges she faces when filming skating performances for movies and television, when there is a personal story attached and the skating is primary to the story of the main characters, as when she worked on Blades of Glory or I, Tonya. She spoke of the challenge of filming the emotion of the skater to create the drama while worrying as well about the proficiency of the skating performance.

“The writer is sitting down and writing a story and thinks ‘wouldn’t it be great if they did this (skating trick)?’, and then that becomes my job,” she said. “I train the actors, and they have different levels of proficiency, depending on the actor, so some can do more than others. Then I have a double that can really skate, but who can be that person, that character. You have two people portraying the same role performing different skating tasks.

“I had five doubles for Will Ferrell (in Blades of Glory),” she said. “it depends on what trick you need to have and not everybody can do all the tricks that are written for the story.”

Kawahara makes her home in Los Angles, where she is on the staff of the Ice in Paradise rink when she is not every place else that exists where skating needs to be presented in grand fashion.

Coronavirus hits ‘Bond girl’ from Orange County hard

By Keith Sharon | | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: July 20, 2020 at 8:58 a.m. | UPDATED: July 21, 2020 at 11:50 a.m.

The James Bond parties, usually in lavish locations around the world, are legendary.

Lynn-Holly Johnson said the best one was the Day of the Dead-themed party in Mexico City that coincided with the opening of the James Bond film “Spectre” in 2016. Over the years, Johnson has developed a friendship with the “wildest, most charismatic” Bond Girl, Gloria Hendry, who played Rosie Carver in the film “Live and Let Die.” And, of course, the London events attract fans who have loved James Bond since “Dr. No” in 1962.

Click here to read the entire article.

Go Figure, The Randy Gardner Story

Congratulations to Randy Gardner!  The documentary film of his life, Go Figure: The Randy Gardner Story, received a Laurel from the Outshine Film Festival in Miami Beach, Florida this past April.  Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 crisis, the live festival was postponed. Plans for an online Outshine Film Festival screening in October are in the works.

The film takes the viewer behind the scenes of World Champion and Two-Time Olympian Randy Gardner: His on-ice life with his pairs skating partner, World Champion and Two Time Olympian Tai Babilonia, meshed with his very private and very personal off-ice pursuit of his true identity. Written and directed by adult figure skater Sharidan, it is based on Randy’s live one-man show of the same name that toured the United States in 2018.  

While we all know the joy of and heartbreak of the 1980 Olympics, what wasn’t known and has now been put on film along with Tai and Randy’s incredible skating partnership, is Randy’s private story.  A story that is filled with family secrets, closeted homosexuality and the price paid. Using footage from Randy’s one-man show, skating practice and competitions, scrapbook clippings and home movies, along with new film sequences and interviews, Sharidan has woven together the pieces of Randy’s life into a poignant and compassionate film that is at once uplifting and inspiring. 

You can get more information at

Please follow Randy and the film’s journey on social media.

Instagram: gofiguredocumentary.

Facebook: gofiguredocumentary

Twitter: gofiguredocumentary

Young Pasadena dancer not fazed by national competition cancellation

Young Pasadena dancer not fazed by national competition cancellation

By Don Maines By Don Maines Correspondent

Published 12:59 pm CDT, Monday, April 6, 2020

Photo: Courtesy Nicole Sciarrotta Nichols
Dancer Kennedy Nichols, 13, and her mother, Nicole Sciarrotta Nichols, a former professional figure skater, attend a Monsters of Hip Hop dance event. Kennedy Nichols says her goal is “to travel the world, doing tours with Missy Elliott or Beyoncé. They are really empowering to me.”

For a Pasadena family that practices the “Mamba Mentality” espoused by the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant, the novel coronavirus is just another bear, as in the Bryant quote, “If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear.”

“This year was really going smoothly,” said Kennedy Nichols, 13, a dancer who recently had flown to Boston, Massachusetts for a national competition, only to learn that it was canceled because of the pandemic.
As she and her mother, Nicole Nichols, headed home, they knew this year’s competition season could be put on hold, but not Kennedy’s training.

“There is always somebody else who will be training that day,” she said. “I never miss a day of dance.”

In 2018, Kennedy toured throughout the United States and Canada in the Monsters of Hip Hop Legacy Show. She was a student at Carter Lomax Middle School in Pasadena until traveling to competitions and professional appearances made homeschooling a more convenient option.
“I would go with her,” said Nicole, a former professional figure skater who was a 1992 junior national pairs champion and a junior world competitor in 1991-93.

“I have the same mentality as Kennedy,” she added. “All of my kids have the Mamba Mentality.”

They include Parker Nichols, 16, a basketball player at Pasadena Memorial High School, and Keith Nichols, 20, a 2018 graduate of Pasadena Memorial who now studies percussion at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“Mamba Mentality is about dedication, consistency, never giving up and learning, even from your worst days,” said Nicole, 42, who began figure skating when she was 5 and who retired at 22.

The Mamba attitude reflects the approach used by Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, when he played and coached youth girls basketball.

Nicole was touring nine months a year in the Ice Capades when a coach lured her to Houston to teach ice skating at the Galleria during her off months. She has been teaching ice skating in the Houston area for more than 20 years.

Kennedy said she was introduced to Mamba Mentality by her dance instructor, Sheila Milner, a former Pearland resident who owns DanceZone in Stafford.

Milner began hearing about Mamba Mentality in TV interviews in 2018, when Bryant became the first African American to win an Academy Award for best animated short film, for “Dear Basketball.”

With Mamba Mentality in mind, Milner said, “I treat my dancers like athletes. My son has been an athlete in high school and college; I was married to an athlete. It’s all about training your mind, to always push yourself through to the next goal.”

Bryant’s 2018 book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” has been at the top of the New York Times’ best-sellers list.

“I didn’t keep up with basketball; so his legacy to me is not in a basketball way, but the kind of human he is,” said Kennedy. “He taught perseverance, staying strong, never giving up.”

Kennedy said her goal is “to travel the world, doing tours with Missy Elliott or Beyoncé. They are really empowering to me. I also want to teach and choreograph.”

Don Maines is a freelance writer who can be contacted at

Ice Capades Reunion Update – new dates


It took some doing, but we were able to re-negotiated dates into 2021! Hoping these days work out better for most everyone!

Big thank you to everyone for your understanding, and anticipated flexibility, knowing that this is something we had little control over.

IN RESPONSE TO THE MOVING OF OUR DATE, We Are Offering our EARLY BIRD pricing through May 29th. $355 (a $20 savings per ticket). We so are thrilled that the show (party) must -and will- go on!!!

Know if you already paid, your registration is confirmed, and you need not do anything. Hotel Rates, will remain the same. All hotel reservations will be transferred to the new dates. Call to confirm, if concerned after Monday.

So much work has been done, and we are very excited about our upcoming time together. The weather should be perfect, and many will have had some extra time to recover economically to be better able to join us next June.

This gathering is going to be a lot of fun, with activities planned for inside the hotel during the day hours, for those that may not want to be in the sun all day.

For now, please stay safe, and do your best to stay home, and self-isolate at this time.

What did they do in 1962?

1962 World Champions Maria and Otto Jelinek. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The cancellation of the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Quebec due to the COVID-19 pandemic marks the first time in history a major ISU Championship has been cancelled specifically due to a global health emergency. As we all know though, this wasn’t the first time the World Championships have been cancelled. The Great War and World War II forced the cancellation of Worlds from 1915 to 1921 and from 1940 to 1946. In 1961, the ISU (despite protestations from the Czechoslovakian organizers) cancelled the Worlds in Prague after the tragic Sabena Crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team, along with coaches, officials and members of their families. The cancellation of the 2020 Worlds has left many speculating as to how the ISU will handle entries for the 2021 World Championships, slated for Stockholm, Sweden. Some have wondered what they did back in 1962.

Collector’s Call Web Extras: Figure Skater Scott Hamilton shows off his collection

The Olympic champion has a collection worth $750,000.

Feb 23, 2020, 8:30PM By MeTV Staff

Scott Hamilton is a four-time world champion figure skater, best known for winning the 1984 Olympic gold medal during the Winter Games in Sarajevo. He’s also a world-class memorabilia collector.

But while he does keep a few items from his notable figure skating career, including the costume he wore in the 1984 Olympics, his collection isn’t dominated by items from his career.

Instead, Scott primarily collects vintage pinball machines and guitars autographed by rock and roll’s most famous personalities, including the Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. Most of these items were purchased to benefit a variety of charities, including his own Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation.

Scott is joined by his wife, Tracie, who shares his dedication to charitable organizations and love for music. And Lisa has brought back certified appraiser Judy Martin, who has something quite unique from the music world to offer as a trade item. Take a leap into Scott’s collection.

1. Image gallery: Inside the collection

Take a closer look at the Olympic memorabilia, pinball machines and autographed guitars owned by sports icon Scott Hamilton. SEE MORE

2. Bonus video: 1983 Corn Flakes Box

Why is Scott Hamilton holding onto a box of cereal from the Reagan Era? Well, he’s on the cover! WATCH NOW

3. Bonus video: 1984 Winter Olympic Pins

Hamilton has a complete set of pins for every athletic discipline in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Vucko the wolf, the mascot of the games, can be seen performing in these cute collectibles. WATCH NOW

4. Bonus video: Autographed Eagles Guitar

Glenn Frey, Don Henley and Joe Walsh of the legendary American rock act the Eagles all inked this black acoustic guitar. WATCH NOW