Canadian ladies have not enjoyed much success on the global stages since Kaetlyn Osmond hung up her skates, but a new crop of young stars is on the rise in the Great White North. One of those is Kaiya Ruiter, a 13-year-old who made her debut on the international junior scene last season.
Born and raised in Ottawa, skating has always been a family pastime. Ruiter fondly remembers the days when they would all go skating on the Rideau Canal “as something we all enjoyed doing. Skating is something we have all enjoyed our whole lives.”
In 2016, the then 10-year-old and her family moved to Edmonton for her father’s career and she began training with Ravi Walia and his team. Ten months later the family moved to Calgary and, upon the recommendation of Walia, Ruiter began working with Scott Davis and Jeff Langdon at the Glencoe Club.
Davis, a former U.S. champion (1993-1994) has been coaching in Calgary for the past 20 years. Langdon, a two-time Canadian medalist from Smith Falls, Ontario, made the move out west in 2008.
“It is a unique situation because the family is so close knit. There are four girls and they are all passionate about skating and sports in general. It is brilliant and refreshing in this day and age,” Davis explained. “Keaghan, 15, has just kind of stopped this year. She had been to provincials and Alberta sections as a pre-novice and was on the Alberta junior development team. But she had a couple of injuries and grew a lot, so she was kind of planning on slowing down this year anyway.
“Vaunya (who turns 11 on May 2) is a little spitfire. She is at the juvenile level and wants to go to pre-novice. She has all her doubles and is now working on the double Axel. She is probably the most intense of the four girls. And then, Vyan, who is 9, is getting some of her star tests and a double Salchow. She is as cute as a button. They are all at the rink every day, are so close, have a good base for understanding sport, and are all super motivated and dedicated — and so polite. It is a testament to their parents that they have been raising their girls really well.”
Davis, who has spent his entire life in the sport, first as a competitor and then as a coach, said he saw potential in Ruiter from the outset. “You do see those bright shimmering stars that get you excited and definitely the talent was there. More so than just her jumping ability, was the fact that she loved being out on the ice every second. She worked really hard, had a great work ethic, and really good skating and performance skills. So all those points were definitely things that made me say, ‘OK, this girl has it.’”
In November 2018, Ruiter started landing a triple toe and six months later wanted to try the triple toe-triple toe combination. “Kaiya was able to do it pretty quickly. Then she did a loop pretty well. She did a flip and a Lutz in practice but we did not want to burden her with too much stuff in the first year,” Davis recalled.
But what surprised her coaches the most was that Ruiter learned all the triples in a 12-month span. “Did we know that she was going to learn every triple in one year? No. That is stuff you don’t realize at the time. To think that she was going to learn all the triples and be able to do triple-triples in a year — I would say, no, I did not expect that.”
The young dynamo got her first taste of international competition at age 12 when she competed at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf, Germany, in 2019. She finished third at that competition in her only year at the novice level. The experience inspired and motivated the effervescent teenager to work even harder throughout the spring and summer.
She already had all the triples and along with her coaches, started incorporating them into her programs. Ruiter was determined to earn a place on the Canadian junior team and by the time the season opened in August 2019, she had three triple jumps in her short program and seven in her long.
Ruiter achieved her goal and was given two Junior Grand Prix assignments. She described the encounter with some of the top juniors in the world at her first competition in Riga, Latvia, as an eye-opener. “I remember my first practice session where I was on the ice with Haein Lee, the Korean skater who won the event. And I remember just looking around and watching her fly by and do crazy triple triples. I was just skating and watching her and I was so impressed. It felt so cool to be out there with such incredible talent,” said Ruiter, who finished in 11th place overall.
“And the Russian girls! That was crazier than I ever imagined. I always watch them on Daily Motion or YouTube but it is not even anywhere near like seeing them live, just flying by your face. I was thrilled and just so proud. And I was so excited. I got my first Team Canada jacket and representing Canada at a Junior Grand Prix event was a dream come true.”
Away from the ice, Ruiter, who will turn 14 on May 13, was able to do some sightseeing. Her favorite moments were standing on the edge of the Baltic Sea “and feeling the sand between my toes at the beautiful beaches … It was really so much fun to embrace the culture.”
Ruiter took the many valuable lessons she learned from that first assignment into her second event in Egna, Italy. There, she finished five places higher with two season-best performances. “It was truly magnificent … the city, the culture, the people. It was really magical,” she said with her usual exuberance.
Davis believes his student learned many things from those competitions: how to compete, how to handle the time change and jet lag, different food – all the things that go with international travel. “Also being part of a super competitive group of ladies —the juniors are amazingly competitive and they are all doing the big tricks,” he said. “This year for Kaiya was just learning how to handle all those different expectations and experiences and I think she did a fantastic job with that.”
In January, Ruiter claimed the national junior title in a runaway victory with a new Canadian record score, backing up her convincing win at the novice level one year earlier. A few weeks later, she returned to Germany to compete at her second Bavarian Open competition, this time as a junior. Due to the number of entries, this event was divided into two age groups. Ruiter won the younger age group, capturing her first international title with two solid skates and a personal best score. Her teammate, Madeline Schizas, won the older age group competition.
She seemed set to make a splash at the World Junior Championships in early March. However, things did not go well for the teenager, who fell on the opening jump of her planned triple Lutz-triple toe combination in the short program. She finished 31st in the segment and did not qualify for the long program.
“We had started out the season doing the triple-toe combination, but after Italy we decided to go to the triple Lutz-triple toe,” Ruiter explained. “We had been working on it in practice and it had been going quite well, so we decided to go with that. I honestly don’t know why I missed it, but I just moved on. I wanted to live every moment of that experience, and just put it behind me so I could enjoy the rest of the performance. I took away a lot of lessons from that experience.”
Davis said that though it was disappointing, it was a good learning lesson. “When we were sitting in the kiss and cry … I mean what can you say? It was one of those moments as a coach where you think, “that was a weird fall. I have never seen her do that.’
“Having had months to analyze it: was it too much energy? Was it a little bit of nerves? Who knows exactly what it was. I think she was excited to be there and the energy was a little bit more than on a daily basis. But even at other competitions, I could see her energy was a little bit higher than normal, so it is just trying to get her to be calm and relax a little bit. That was a take home message for me for the future — really monitoring her energy.
“Probably the most disheartening thing for her was the realization that she was not going to be able to do her long. I truly believe that it was a small little moment in her skating career. It is hard to explain that to a 13-year-old that wants to go out and do her long program. But I am nearly 50 now, and I know through my own skating and dealing with high performance athletes that it is a big long road, and this was just one small defining moment that you learn from. She can get stronger and we can get even more focused and ready for the next competitions.”
Davis said the overall highlight of the season for him was the impression Ruiter made at her competitions. “I think she really made a name for herself on the international stage. People definitely took notice of her and her potential. They could see the joy of skating on her face, and through her body movement and her skating skills. You can go to a competition in Canada and you get the marks but you never know how the program components are going to stack up at an international competition, especially at a Junior Grand Prix or at Junior Worlds, where they are obviously really high.
“So I was really happy that her short program components were deservedly marked at World Juniors to be honest. That was nice.”
When asked if he believes his own experience is an asset in his coaching duties, Davis said “it definitely helps that I know what it feels like when you are waiting to go out for your six-minute warm-up; what it feels like when you are hitting the position to start your program. Everyone is different and there are different people and personalities for sure, but having that experience is something that I think is relatable to Kaiya and the other students I teach.”
Ruiter has taken the entire experience in stride and said she is “super inspired and driven” to earn another assignment to an international competition this coming season.
She has one more year in the junior ranks before she will be age eligible to compete as a senior. Ruiter said her ultimate goal is to compete at an Olympic Winter Games but would not commit to a particular year, only saying she is “excited to work hard and make those dreams a reality.”
Like everyone else, Davis and Langdon are in a holding pattern. Before the world came to a standstill, they were assembling a plan for Ruiter that included getting her two new programs and developing the technical side of her skating.
Ruiter has been landing the triple Axel consistently in harness and is determined to master it. “Anyone can do anything in a harness to be honest, but hers looked normal,” Davis said. “It wasn’t some crazy thing like, ‘Oh my gosh that is never going to happen.’ It actually looked like a pretty decent attempt. And the nice thing was that there was no fear in her. It looked like something that was manageable for sure.”
As with every other skater in the world, Ruiter is anxious to resume training. In the meantime, she has been doing lots of stretching “because that is something I need to work on. We have been going for walks and spending time together as a family. There is a lot of time for reflection, and a lot of time for studying.
“I am excited about getting back on the ice — so hopeful it will be soon.”
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