(Originally published by Andre Gagne – Earth to Andre)
Hey Ottawa, here’s a stat I bet you didn’t know. Right here, in the Nation’s Capital, (are you ready for this?), is the longest skateway in the known universe! Alright, alright, everybody knows that, but while the Rideau Canal inspires thousands upon thousands to sharpen up the skates and toss on a couple of layers for a few hours of winter fun each season, at least one skater from Stittsville took the canal all the way to the Magic Kingdom!
Alex Gunther and his brother would join those on the skateway every winter and, like most kids when they slap on their first set of blades, the results were less than graceful. The two boys would careen down the ice, spiral, fall and crash into snowbanks. Eventually, their parents decided they needed some lessons and tossed them into CanSkate. There, in one of the best skating programs in the country, Alex would discover more than a way to avoid snowbanks and soon he’d find many outlets in town upon which to practice his newfound love of the sport.
“Definitely, my favourite part about growing up in Stittsville was that there was a lot of walking, biking, skating and park space. Around the town, there are multiple rinks in which we can skate on,” Gunther says.
His routine was a vigorous and regimented one. Up before 5AM for a quick shower and breakfast, it was then off to rinks at the Gloucester and Minto Skating Clubs. Warm up usually began at 6AM sharp and he’d hit the ice a half hour later for over 3 hours of training. It wasn’t over then, though, as afterwards he’d do off-ice lifts and other activities to build up his muscles before heading off to Carleton for his 11AM classes.
“Workouts are so specific. So many people go to the gym to bulk up, work 3 muscle groups and then get hurt because the smaller, surrounding muscles are so weak,” explains Gunther.
“The trick to working out is knowing what needs strengthening for your specific sport or everyday life. I think probably the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from training in a competitive sport like this for 11 years is that it’s not about how big/heavy your weight is. You can get so strong without a single weight.”
Gunther says that, though he would eventually move to Barrie, Ontario to train at a larger ice-dance school, Ottawa was more than just rinks to him. His coaches, Michael Coreno and Aliie Hann, brought out his competitive spirit, fuel that would bring him into skating four times at the Novice and Junior levels.
After retiring from the competitive scene, Gunther knew he didn’t want to lose skating altogether. Maybe he’d get in some time at a rink nearby or head back to the canal where it all started. Gliding into Disney’s 100 Years of Magic production was probably one of the last things he expected to find himself doing. He’d get to travel, skate and he would get paid to do it? He didn’t need to think twice about signing up.
As the baker in the show’s Frozen segment, Hun in Mulan and a band member in the finale, Gunther relays that the rehearsal process before the tour was an intense one. He’d put in 12-16 hour days over two weeks to ensure he didn’t miss a step when in front of the audience. He adds that it remains challenging to be constantly on the move both on and off the ice but it’s all worth it when seeing the smiles on that young crowd.
“(I love) … seeing the kids grinning cheek to cheek because they’re favourite Disney characters are right in front of them.”
Outside of skating, Gunther owns Personal Product Guys Inc. (PPG), an Ottawa-based company that helps businesses transition from plastic disposables to eco-friendly alternatives. He hopes to run his own restaurant one day to foster his love of cooking.
When it comes to advice for those just starting out, Alex Gunther says “to make sure that you enjoy what you’re doing and if you plan on going competitive, make sure you have the right training environment to enhance your growth as a skater.”
Disney On Ice celebrates 100 Years of Magic at the Canadian Tire Centre Thursday, March 21 to Sunday, March 24. Tickets are on sale now.
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