I help others’: Former Olympian gets candid about her struggles

Figure-skater Elizabeth Manley, who’s now a life coach, sticks the landing in Simcoe County; ‘Collingwood stole my heart,’ she says

-May 21, 2023

Elizabeth Manley is a former Olympian and a life coach

Figure skating might have been her first love, but Collingwood is Elizabeth Manley’s most recent obsession.

This week, we spoke with Manley, 57, former Olympian and life coach.

Q: For how long have you lived in Collingwood?

A: We moved here in February.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I was born and raised in the Belleville/Trenton area. I’m an air force brat. We were on the base there.

My whole career was in Ottawa.

I lived in the U.S. for 18 years. After I went pro, I was doing a lot of tours and TV. It was easier for me because it all existed in the States.

I moved back here in 2005 because both my parents took ill.

Q: Can you tell me about your experience as a figure skater?

A: I started skating when I was two-and-a-half years old. I skated as an amateur until I won the Olympics silver medal in 1988. I went to the world championships a month later. Then I turned pro.

I was professional until I was 50.

Q: What was it about figure skating that spoke to you?

A: All three of my brothers were hockey players. My dad also was a hockey coach. I was kind of stuck at the rink every weekend. In those days, there wasn’t girls hockey. It was a bit of a competitive instinct from a young age that I wanted to be better than my brothers.

My mom put me into skating and I instantly fell in love with it. I did other sports like track, swimming and gymnastics, but it got to a point where my parents said I needed to pick one.

I always knew it was going to be figure skating.

Q: When you were awarded the silver medal in 1988, how did that feel?

A: Well, I went through a very serious depression when I was 16. It was sport related. I think representing the country when I was 16 — I was competing internationally when I was 14 — I quit skating and I sought help. Getting help and going to therapy made me able to realize there was a person in me and I wasn’t just a robotic athlete.

I got to a point with my skating where it became a job and pressure, instead of loving it.

Getting that help brought the love back not only for the sport, but for myself.

I’m a huge advocate for mental health. I’m a professional speaker now, and an executive life coach. I help others.

Q: What made you want to make the move to Collingwood?

A: I fell in love with it. My in-laws have a house here.

I had gone through some rough times. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer and my father to Alzheimer’s. During that, I lost my marriage.

A lot of things happened to me and I found myself in a position where I needed to reach deep and find myself.

I reconnected with my crush from when I was in my 20s. Now, we’re married. His parents own a house here, but they wanted to spend more time in Toronto with grandchildren and other family. So, we moved into their house to take care of it.

I couldn’t be happier. I’m in a place in my life where I just want peace, and I want to help people.

Collingwood stole my heart.

Q: How are you spending your time now?

A: Now that I’ve moved to Collingwood, I want to spread my wings. I work with organizations, speak with company leadership, and will talk about mental health in the workplace. I’d like to get my feet wet here and get the word out.

I am working with the Collingwood Figure Skating Club to help with the kids. I do skating, life coaching and motivational speaking about mental health. I’ve spoken at more than 200 schools across eastern Ontario.

We have such a crisis right now with teens due to the pandemic.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I want to be more involved with this community, and be out there for them.

Senior couple finds Canyon Lake incredibly hospitable

Carolyn (Anton) Bennett was an accomplished ice skater and worked with the “Ice Capades” when on Christmas Day of 1973 while she was eating Christmas dinner she received a phone call that would change her life. The caller asked Carolyn if she would like to audition to ice skate every week on national television.


Here’s Your Opportunity to Help Continue a Skating Legacy!

Here’s Your Opportunity to Help Continue a Skating Legacy!

By Jan O’Brien Coopman

There is a real need in the figure skating world, and you may help! To join in the goal of continuing the SP-Teri figure skating boot legacy, Olympian, PSA Master-Rated Coach, and new owner Bill Fauver is searching for investors to renovate a weather-damaged manufacturing, storage, and shipping facility.

How this came about

Some years ago, I decided to buy a new pair of figure skates because my former Ice Capades boots were clearly worn. At that time, a skating pro shop employee helped me to obtain a new pair of SP-Teri boots from George Spiteri in San Francisco.

Flash forward to 2010. After a big move from Chicago to Texas, I managed to briefly skate for a sweet 15 minutes at the Dallas Galleria: but that was it. Now at year 17 of MS, I sadly decided to sell my barely used newer skates because I felt it time for someone else to enjoy using them—rather than having the skates adorn my closet in a box. One exploration led to another. I discovered that SP-Teri moved, and George Spiteri retired in 2019.

Three years ago, SP-Teri transitioned in location and ownership from South San Francisco to near Nashville, Tennessee with Bill Fauver. The issue is that the new spot was soon afterward destroyed by a tornado—and then, after relocating to McEwen, further damaged by a historic flood (a state record 31” of rain in 24 hours fell there). Rebuilding will take assistance. If you’re able to help, Fauver and those in McEwen will be grateful (as will many skaters relying upon SP-Teri boots).

Click here to read the complete article.

The Fabulous Ice Age

Keri Pickett & Roy Blakey, “The Fabulous Ice Age”

Video has closed captioning.

“The Fabulous Ice Age” chronicles the era of the great American touring ice shows revealing how, with their dazzling production numbers and variety acts, they dominated family entertainment for decades. It also depicts one skater’s quest to keep this history from being forgotten.

Originally broadcast in 2019, this is very much worth a second watch. For those who missed it the first time around, enjoy!

History on ice: How his job as a road manager for Ice Capades gave him a piece of show business

For decades, Bob Recker’s family has owned Recker Transfer, a trucking business still known for moving equipment for teams like the Steelers and the Pirates and for organizations such as the Pittsburgh Ballet and the Pittsburgh Opera.

At some point, the North Side-based trucking business also picked up work for the Ice Capades, an organization launched in Pittsburgh in the mid-1930s.

And that’s how Mr. Recker ended up with a job in the 1970s crisscrossing North America with the wildly popular traveling ice show — responsible for transporting props and equipment for the lavish sets used in productions that featured more than 100 skaters draped in stunning costumes while dancing, jumping and thrilling crowds.

He loved it.

“It’s an industry of entertainment that’s really not with us anymore,” said Mr. Recker, 79, who is retired. 

Bob Recker, a former road manager for the Ice Capades, talks about some of the memorabilia he has collected. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

His work as road manager for the Ice Capades from 1973 to 1983 gave him a passport to show business — and a role in a theatrical show whose owner once claimed it drew bigger crowds than Major League Baseball.

The ice shows stopped 30 years ago. The company went into bankruptcy in the early 1990s, then went through more than one different ownership group — including one fronted by Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill — trying unsuccessfully to save it.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Recker had turned himself into an unofficial historian for the storied organization that’s already recognized by the Sen. John Heinz History Center in the Strip District as part of the Pittsburgh region’s story.

Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Now he’s working to see if the history center is interested in diving even deeper into the world of the Ice Capades, trying to see if they want some of the materials preserved in his Marshall Township home — everything from show tickets and programs to company records showing costs and revenues.

How it all started

The Ice Capades originated in the mid-1930s at the Duquesne Gardens arena on North Craig Street in Oakland with a solo skating performance by Sonja Henie, a three-time Olympic champion.

John H. Harris, who owned the Duquesne Gardens and the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey team, decided to give hockey fans some entertainment between periods. He brought in Henie to do a skate routine. The crowd loved it.

“Mr. Harris was so impressed with it and he got such a response from the public that he decided to form a show,” said Bob Mock, an independent hockey and figure skating instructor who teaches throughout the region.

“Sonja Henie only had about 15 people in it at first,” he said. “Mr. Harris went and put about 150 people in it and he set up a school to train skaters out of Pittsburgh to join the show. They did come from all over the country, but in the beginning, it was primarily all Pittsburgh people.”

Show headliners often included former Olympic and U.S. national champion figure skaters who had retired from formal competition. But unknown skaters also made names for themselves in the Ice Capades as the shows became more elaborate and spectacular. Performers juggled while skating, jumped through hoops of fire and in later years even included animals and car explosions in their acts. 

Audiences were packing sports arenas throughout the United States and Canada in the 1950s.

“The combination of ice shows now touring our country outgrosses baseball in the National and American Leagues,” Harris wrote in a skating publication in 1951. 

By 1961, 189,270 people had attended the 20 performances held at the Civic Arena. The show grossed $598,289 and paid $83,841 in taxes, according to company records.

Harris was born into a wealthy family. His father opened the first movie house in Pittsburgh, The Nickelodeon, in the early 1900s. Harris operated a chain of movie theaters in Western Pennsylvania, which he sold to Warner Bros., which also was formed in Pittsburgh.

Preserving the history

Mr. Recker was hired by the Ice Capades organization in 1973 to work behind the scenes and make sure everything ran smoothly on the road. When he saw the organization changing, he left in 1983.

He believed the curtain was closing on a great era of entertainment. In 1985 — two years after leaving the company — he made himself the unofficial historian of what had been one of the biggest ice shows in North America.

“It was a family business and the third generation had come in,” he said. “I was seeing a lot of changes coming and I wanted to preserve that history. When I started the project, I didn’t realize how vast it was.”

He started taping interviews with past performers to obtain an oral history of the show’s glory days. Once the word spread about his work, show veterans across the country began donating personal memorabilia, like tickets, programs, photographs and company records.

Memorabilia from the Ice Capades collected by Bob Recker at his home in Marshall.(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

“Skaters and people in management gave me company manuals describing how the shows were sold in different cities and copies of TV and radio promotions,” Mr. Recker said.

“I even ended up with the corporate records,” he said. “When you’ve got that in your hands, the corporate records tells you the whole history and the nuts and bolts of it. You see the dollar figures, the interoffice memos and who was involved. So, I kept pursuing it.”

How he got that job

Some of Mr. Recker’s earliest childhood memories include going with his father to the Strip District to meet the railcars carrying Ice Capades performers and equipment. He helped his father unload the show’s equipment and move it to warehouses in the city.

Recker Transfer has been involved in moving equipment for sports teams and theatrical groups — including the Ice Capades — since the 1940s.

“My father was involved in transporting their equipment — trunks, and personal items — from city to city in one tractor trailer,” he said.

On one occasion after Mr. Recker was old enough, he went out on the road with his dad, and an Ice Capades company manager offered to hire him permanently to move their equipment. He accepted the job.

“They had two tours on the road at that time. (There would later be three.) They called them East and West,” he said. “I was doing the East company.”

An article about the show traveling to Australia in the summer of 1965 reported that 20 tons of costumes were shipped by air. The shipping weight of the show’s costumes by the 1980s was at least four times that, Mr. Recker said.

“The turnover in the cast of one company was about two and a half years, and then you’d get another group of people coming in,” he said. “Young people — 19 years old — traveling around the United States.

“That’s with Ice Capades, not counting Holiday on Ice and Ice Follies,” he said. “They were doing the same thing in different locations. The number of people involved in it over the years was just massive.”

While Mr. Recker travelled with the show, his father, Robert Recker Sr., continued running Recker Transfer in Pittsburgh. He eventually passed the company to his son, who ran it until the pandemic hit in 2020. Mr. Recker’s nephew, Charles Recker, runs it today.

Recker Transfer still moves equipment for groups like the Steelers and the Pittsburgh Ballet, in addition to supplying labor for shows that come into PPG Paints Arena, the Benedum and Heinz Hall.

“The Rooneys and the Reckers go back a long way, and we are proud of the relationship we have had with your father, uncle, brothers and you,” said a letter from Steelers former president and owner Dan Rooney to Mr. Recker in 1992.

“We hope it continues for many years to come,” Mr. Rooney wrote while thanking Mr. Recker for his company’s help with a Steelers food distribution event on Christmas Day.

What comes next

For now, this slice of Pittsburgh’s history is in Mr. Recker’s Marshall home. 

He is working with curators at the history center in the Strip District  to find a permanent home for some of the memorabilia associated with the show, which became a casualty of bankruptcy in 1993.

Some say poor management doomed the business after 50 years of prosperity. Even in the early 1990s the shows were still drawing big crowds.  

There were several attempts to revive the show. Ms. Hamill took it over in 1993, but it failed again under her ownership as well as that of other owners such as televangelist Pat Robertson and the Garden circus family out of Florida.

The history center and sports museum recognizes the important role Pittsburgh played in the founding and development of the Ice Capades, said Anne Madarasz, director of the Western PA Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.

“Bob Recker’s collection preserves important stories about both the people who made Ice Capades successful and the history of this business,” she said. “We are excited to work with him to collect and share these materials and see that this story of sport, entertainment and entrepreneurship has a permanent home.”

The history center already has an exhibit that tells the story of the Ice Capades in a small way. Ms. Madarasz said the museum is in discussions with Mr. Recker about the donation of his materials, not a new or expanded exhibit.

“There are many ways we might use this type of collection, but right now we are not planning a special exhibit on the Ice Capades,” she said.

“We see great value in this kind of documentation and the knowledge that Bob has and look forward to seeing it preserved so this story can be accessed by researchers and used for social media, programs, publications, and exhibits in the future.”

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com

First Published August 22, 2022, 6:00am


By  Kellie Butler Farrell – Keys Weekly

June 1, 2022

It’s often said that in this quirky, sun-baked, fabulous island chain, you never know who could be sitting right next to you. If you happen to take a chair yoga class at Founders Park, you just might find yourself seated next to an Olympian.

“1964 was my Olympic year with Peggy Fleming and that was my generation.” Meet 80-year-old Ann-Margreth Hall-Frei (Margreth spelled the Swedish way). The energetic octogenarian is an Olympic figure skater who, at the age of 22, competed for Sweden and later went on to join the Ice Capades.

“I was on tour with the show for 16 years and really loved it. We went all over the world,” she said. 

Frei married an American she met in Vail, Colorado while running an ice-skating school. They were married for 30 years and had a son, Zander. Frei’s husband passed away nine years ago. 

Now Frei spends several months a year in Islamorada with her son, Capt. Zander Hall. Hall owns Lightly Salted Charters and Frei loves going to the sandbar with him. She enjoys her time in Islamorada so much that over Thanksgiving, she stayed for 10 weeks. 

“My son said, ‘Mom, when are you going back?’ And I said, ‘Well, I came with a one-way ticket,’” Frei said with a laugh. She added that splitting her time between Vail and Islamorada is the best of both worlds.

The visit this time will only be for a month. While here, Frei sticks to a routine and never misses the gentle chair yoga class held at the Founders Park amphitheater. The class is upbeat, with moves choreographed to music. Frei performs every move perfectly, but she does have the inside edge – she has the grace and dexterity one would expect from an Olympic figure skater. This is a low impact workout that helps improve flexibility, strength and coordination.

 “It always feels good. The best thing is the music and the joy it brings us,” said Frei.

There’s also a crucial social aspect to the class. Friendships are made here and encouragement is always a given.

“A lot of my students will show up 20 minutes early just to have that time where they can chat amongst each other,” said fitness coach and Plantation Key Fitness owner Heather Head. “You’ll see some of them will linger after class for quite a while and talk. I love seeing that.” 

Several studies on aging stress the importance of social interaction for seniors. Strong social ties have been linked to a decreased risk of depression and a longer life span. “I never see frowns in this class,” added Head.

Hip problems have left this former Olympic figure skater with some limitations, but she remains positive and undeterred.

“Everybody does whatever they can. You work with what you have.”

At 80, Frei is nowhere near the oldest “yogi” in this chair yoga class. “The lady next to me, I think she’s 92 now. Amazing. She’s my inspiration.” Turns out the lady Frei is referring to, Mickey, is actually 96 years old and never misses a beat. 

Frei is enjoying every second of her retirement and especially loves to travel and meet new people. When asked what it was like competing at the Olympic level, with the best of the best, she paused for a second and said it wasn’t until after the fact that she realized it was a life-changing experience that led to a wonderful professional career.

 “It was just a competition with a lot of hype and stress. It’s only afterwards, a few years later, that I realized what an amazing gift that was.”