KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Next weekend the U.S. Figure Skating National Solo Dance Final will be held in Kalamazoo and will feature a skater with a connection to New Ulm Figure Skating Club.
Fifteen-year-old LorRae Portner is competing in the Juvenile Solo Dance Combined event Sept. 17-19 in Kalamazoo at the Wings Event Center.
Portner began ice dancing at age nine but said she was relatively old to start skating. Portner said at that age she had a lot of energy and her grandmother would take her skating to burn off the energy. She grew to love it and soon her mother Holly Portner let her take classes.
At the time, the Portner family lived in Winthrop and she took group classes in Hutchinson. Portner wanted to take private lessons, but those were not available in Hutchinson. Her mother was working in New Ulm and was there was greater ice skating training available here.
The family moved to New Ulm and LorRae joined the New Ulm Figure Skating Club. For four years she trained with New Ulm coach Kathy Bjorkstrand.
Portner’s mother Holly said she noticed in those first classes her daughter showed an interest in what the other skaters were doing. LorRae was always asking questions about what they were doing in the higher-level classes.
Portner said without New Ulm Figure Skating Club she would have never gone to regionals or beyond.
“Kathy taught me a lot about the sport,” Portner said. “She taught me to never give it up and how to take in the positives and enjoyment of it.”
That has been an important lesson for Portner and her family. Many skaters get into the sports intending to get to the medal podium, but Portner said if you don’t have the joy of skating you can’t go far.
Portner specializes in ice dancing. She said ice dancing is different from figure skating. Figure skating focuses on jumps and spins, but in ice, dancing footwork is prized.
She said it often equated with ballroom dancing. Ice dancers are expected to follow a pattern. In the qualifiers, the pattern was based on the tango, but for the finals, the pattern is based on the foxtrot.
The Portner family moved to the Twin Cities in 2019 to give LorRae further training. However, shortly after moving, she suffered a significant injury. She suffered an inversion injury in June 2019 that left her with a deep bone bruise in her talus (ankle) and a stress fracture.
Many skaters who suffer injuries give up on the sport. Recovery is time-consuming and there was no guarantee the skater will fully recover.
Portner went through physical therapy in Edina twice a week for a year, and got her skating to about 70%. She got back to training and rolled her ankle again in February 2020.
Her second injury compounded the recovery time. It was a rough season. Portner and her family worried she would never skate again.
This delayed her ability to start competing when the season started in April, her mother said. Her first competition was in June and she only had a month back on the ice to prepare.
“I had to practice off the ice for a while,” Portner said. “I slowly moved my way back to the ice.”
During her return to the ice, Portner began competing in qualifying rounds. Though coming off an injury, she still managed to place high in competition.
To take part in the Skating National Solo Dance Final, a skater must first qualify. LorRae explained skaters are selected based on their highest scores at competitions.
The top six skaters are selected from the three national regions. Portner made the top six for the midwest region. Going to national places her among the top 18 ice dancers in the nation.
This competition takes months to prepare. Portner has been training several hours a day for months to compete. She takes Wednesdays and Sundays off, but the other five days of the week she is skating a minimum of three hours. This is a less grueling schedule than many ice dancers, but Portner said she is still recovering from an injury.
Portner said making it to the finals has made her hard work all worthwhile. She is happy to have the opportunity to compete and still enjoys ice dancing. She still remembers the lessons she learned from the New Ulm Figure Skating Club and the importance of doing it for the love of the sport.
Portner will compete in the National Solo Dance Final in the Juvenile Solo Dance Combine event next week, Sept. 17-19.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox
— to www.nujournal.com