The coach stood at the edge of the ice rink, leaning forward and studying her skater’s whirls and spins as if she were detailing a science project.
The strains of pop group Abba’s 1970s smash “The Winner Takes it All” added a flowing, lyrical beauty to the scene of Liz Fernandes doing what she does best — adjusting, critiquing, motivating.
“Push! Push!” Fernandes shouted, urging Kota Benjamin to power her way backward to a higher speed and a higher excellence.
The 66-year-old veteran Lincoln Center Figure Skating Club coach aims to help all her students present an all-or-nothing winning performance at the club’s annual ice show, “Skating to the Hits,” from April 28 to 30 at Hamilton Community Center and Ice Arena in Columbus.
Story continues below gallery
The presentations — ones featuring Fernandes’ selections of music from oldies to modern tunes — often draw capacity crowds of about 700 people each.
“The rink is a wonderful place for kids,” she said, as she sat in her cramped office in a corner of the center.
She understands the attraction of the ice to youngsters. She began skating competitively as an 8-year-old in her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland. Soon, she was as obsessive about the sport as anything.
“All I cared about was my skating and my blades and my boots,” she said with a laugh.
In fact, she quit high school at age 15 to skate through life. Most days, she practiced nearly seven hours. Her focus paid dividends. She and a partner became Scotland’s pairs champion in 1960.
“I couldn’t have done anything else,” she said. “I made up my mind for good about that at age 9.”
Of course, that era unfolded well before today’s smorgasbord of involvement for young skaters. Some also play other sports such as soccer. And one of Fernandes’ students just the other day had to head off the ice nearly faster than she skated in order to make it to violin lessons.
The ultra-focused, longtime coach occasionally struggles to understand skaters sliding from one demanding activity to another in their multi-faceted lives. Her face grew puzzled, in fact, as she considered the matter during a conversation.
Yet, she seems to love her students — and tries to remember that most have no desire or intention of ever skating professionally as she did with Holiday On Ice in Europe and South America in the 1970s and 1980s.
That’s why she watches her style of communication with her young charges. She acknowledged that she rarely raises her voice during a lesson or practice. But, in playful exasperation, she sometimes resorts to straightening herself to her full 5-foot height and calling a skater a “crazy cookie” now and then in her still-thick Scottish brogue.
“I certainly don’t ever want to make them feel bad,” Fernandes said. “I’m always on their side.”
She’s carried that perspective since she came to the ice center in 1991 from a coaching post in huge São Paulo, Brazil, where she coordinated an ice show with young students.
Katie Baxter, the ice show’s director in her 30th year of the performance, recruited her for the current role.
“I absolutely knew that she knew her stuff,” Baxter said.
The two have been best friends since they skated together in Holiday On Ice some 40 years ago.
“Oh, these days, sometimes we might argue, especially in the weeks leading up to the show,” Baxter said. “But I think we would just start laughing if we actually did have a real fight.”
Fernandes guided current Lincoln Center Skate Club coach Heather Lehnert during her formative years of serious, competitive skating at the local rink.
“She was always very encouraging,” Lehnert said. “But I wouldn’t say she is laid back. I would say that she is intense enough to push skaters to achieve their potential.”
Today, the woman who once thought of nothing but the ice loves natural sciences such as geology and documentary-style television shows such as National Geographic’s “Planet Earth.” Plus, she cuts herself a break now and then in a still-disciplined life that sometimes requires she be at the rink by 6 a.m. to coach.
Yet, just the other day, she walked into her office with a big smile.
“I slept in today,” she announced.
Yeah. ‘Til 5:55 a.m.
Whatever Liz Fernandes says, after decades of skating, she’s still as wide-eyed as ever.
What: Lincoln Center Figure Skating Club’s annual ice show, “Skating to the Hits.”
When: 7 p.m. April 28, 3 and 7 p.m. April 29; and 2 p.m. April 30.
Where: Hamilton Community Center and Ice Arena, 2501 Lincoln Park Drive in Columbus.
Tickets: $7 in advance or $8 at the door.