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Skating towards success

River Blades coach Amanda Truax helps a first-time skater recover from a fall. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 4
River Blades Skating School founder and lead coach Amanda Truax speaks to a class of first-time skaters. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
River Blades founder and coach Amanda Truax talks with a new youth instructor. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
The River Blades fundraising team for the Scott Hamilton event poses at the Hastings Civic Arena. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

It's Saturday morning, and coach Amanda Truax is at the Hastings Civic Arena, sorting papers with parents and high-fiving her skating students before they head out to fundraise.

From door-knocking to wiping tables at Culver's, the 15 students — ranging from 3-18 years old — have raised more than $14,500 for the Scott Hamilton Foundation and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

Several skating schools participated in the national fundraiser's Minnesota chapter. The River Blades crew will join these skaters in performing alongside national and Olympic champions at the fundraiser's celebration Oct. 19 at the Bloomington Ice Garden, where Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist, will emcee. Hastings' skaters account for nearly a quarter of the money raised in Minnesota — a testament to Truax's commitment to instilling positivity and solid work ethics in her students, skating parents and colleagues said.

"She develops more than just a skater. She develops a good citizen, a good person," said Jane Schaber, director of the National Sports Center in Blaine.

After touring the world with Disney on Ice for eight years, in 2005 the Hastings native returned to the arena where she first stepped on ice. Since starting the River Blades Skating School at the Hastings Civic Arena, she's added a variety of classes catering to recreational, competitive and hockey skaters.

Local industry leaders said River Blades stands out compared to other skating programs for its emphasis on teamwork, goal-setting and positive attitudes — indicative of Truax's slogan for the program, "Building self esteem and confidence for life."

In addition, she gives her students high-level opportunities.

"She has this extensive background in performing and skating. The degree to which she pours that into a small community program is really remarkable, said Carey Tinkelberg, director of the Northfield Skating School. "She ... makes things happen in a small town that typically would only happen in a larger scale situation."

Hastings City Council member Mark Vaughn concurs.

"For her to stay in Hastings and offer that, we need that. Otherwise, I don't know if we would find enough skating pros," said Vaughn, who also runs Eagan's ice arena. "She could become a high-level figure skating coach and make a lot more money ... but she chooses to keep a base there in Hastings. She is truly dedicated to the industry."

Chasing a dream

Truax was about 5 years old when her mother signed her up for skating lessons in Hastings.

"I loved everything about it," she said. "I loved the speed, I loved the jumps."

She added that she was drawn to the technical nature of the sport, and that because it was a year-round sport, she could continue to set and work towards goals — a practice that she's demonstrated throughout her career and impressed on students.

By the time she graduated high school, Truax attained all of her U.S. Figure Skating certificates. To pull this off, she'd wake up at 4 a.m. to train in Cottage Grove for an hour before school. After classes ended, her parents would take her to another arena for more practice.

"I've always been that way, I've always wanted to achieve as far as I can go," she said.

Truax also began teaching dance lessons at Jan's School of Dance as a freshman in high school, and started coaching skating as an 18-year-old. She continued both jobs as she earned her degree in business and dance at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Upon graduating, she decided to go after a childhood dream: touring the world with Disney on Ice.

After a year of training and preparing for her audition video, she landed an understudy role.

Starting from near the beginning of her eight-year career with Disney on Ice, Truax taught ballet and edge classes for the 50-member company. She also served as a line captain, which meant she trained in new hires, co-managed skaters and jumped in for any role in the show.

The experience was a key confidence builder in her career, she said, and also led to lasting connections that have helped her enhance the River Blades program.

"All the opportunities that come our way, I never say no. You never know when that next opportunity is going to be great for our girls," she said. "And it's because of all these connections I've kept over the years."

Life skills in skating

After skating with Truax on Disney on Ice, Cassie Deilke Schmuecker, also a Hastings native, began working with her at River Blades.

"I just loved how she ran her program. It was different than anywhere else I've been before," Schmuecker said. "They are so inclusive. (The program) gives the younger ones someone to look up to. It gives the older ones the responsibility to take that on and know they're inspiring someone."

Schmuecker said this camaraderie extends to the coaches. While at most arenas, instructors are typically assigned skaters to focus on, Truax prefers for all of the coaches to work as a team in instructing all the students.

She also brings in visiting coaches, some of whom have competed at high levels, Schmuecker said.

Truax's expertise is also sought from Hastings High School hockey coach Jeff Corkish, who sends her his students to practice key skating skills.

"To have someone like that at the tip of your fingers in the community, you're just so lucky," Corkish said.

Truax sets skating and other personal skills goals at weekly and monthly intervals with her students. She said she emphasizes learning from failure.

"You're learning time management, you're learning how to take notes, you're learning how to take direction from your coach," she said. "This sport really builds you into a person that is a good employee, good person (who) can handle adversity."

Truax said her favorite part of coaching is watching students grow as they work towards achievements, whether it's learning how to spin, earning a U.S. Figure Skating certificate or starting a leadership role.

"As a child, I was really shy," she said. "The sport helped me become who I am, and it built my self-esteem. When I started my school in Hastings, I wanted these girls to have that same opportunity, whether or not they went down the same path I did."