For one young skater, seeing Paula Trujillo in person last week at Ford Ice Center Bellevue - as opposed to on a computer screen - was an eye-opener.
"We've been engaged with our athletes since the day we went down via Zoom classes and Facebook classes, and the first day in Bellevue, this little boy walks up, and he's like, 'Miss Paula, it is so great to see you in person. You look so much less pixely,'" Trujillo laughed. "I thought, 'OK, noted. My Zoom days are over. Thank you very much, little guy.'"
The director of the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy at Ford Ice Center Bellevue and Antioch, Trujillo couldn't have been happier to get back to the "office" last week. That sentiment is shared by each and every coach, manager and staff member at Ford Ice Center, and as the facilities opened up with limited programming and enhanced safety measures, welcoming athletes back onto the ice was a joyous sight.
The Bellevue facility reopened last week, and Ford Ice Antioch reopened its doors on Monday with programs like Learn to Skate, Youth Hockey, Adult Hockey, Junior Predators and Stick Time sessions underway. Predators Hockey School, Preds Goaltending Camp, Adult Skating Camp and Kids Skating camps are planned for July.
"We've had Learn to Skate at Bellevue, and everyone was having a good time," Manager of Amateur and Youth Hockey Andy Franklin said. "All the kiddos understood, the parents were great and everyone is spaced out pretty well, so that was all good, but we're really excited to have our kiddos back… We're just glad for them to be back on ice, and they're having fun."
Similar to everything else during these times, the process to get back on the ice is a bit different than usual. However, all things considered, issues have been relatively easy to work through - if they even arise at all.
"It's been awesome, the families are super grateful and the overwhelming majority are really excited about the procedures we have in place," Trujillo said. "There's probably a quite a large handful that went to a couple of different rinks open in other states to get some ice in, and they had policies all over the place on their website, they had policies on the front doors, but when they walked in, nobody was really implementing it and that concerned them. So, they are really grateful that we're organized and we're systematic about it. It's all about the guest care part of really welcoming them back, making it safe, making it easy to follow and those kinds of things are great."
Participants are required to fill out an online waiver and access form before arriving at the facility, and they are also asked to come dressed for their respective activity ahead of time, except for skates, which can be tied next to the rink. Most families have received prior communication if they're signed up for specific programs, and Ford Ice Center's homepage has plenty of information to frequently asked questions.
"That side of things is new to our guests, but it's really helped us produce some really solid lists, so should anything happen, we actually know exactly who's in the building right now," Trujillo said. "I feel like we have a really great systematic approach, and that's really important right now."
"There's a lot of things for them to fill out, but it's all for safety," Franklin said. "We haven't had any backlash, and everyone's understanding which has been great."
Welcoming athletes back into the buildings has been a long time coming, but the past three months allowed opportunities for coaches and participants alike to improve their skills in ways they never thought possible. Trujillo and her coaches not only held online classes for their skaters, but they also took courses on things like methodology, coaching education and receiving master ratings in different areas.
Translation? Everyone who laces up their skates at Ford Ice Center is now going to be better suited to succeed than ever before.
"I'm really proud of our team," Trujillo said. "Everybody participated in some kind of furthering their education instead of just sitting around and doing nothing, and our kids are the lucky ones. Our athletes are the ones that are going to benefit from the time off that our coaches got to recharge their batteries, really dig into something that they're very interested in and get knowledge on it."
Three months is a long time to wait for anything, and for those who frequent Ford Ice Center with regularity, the past 90 to 100 days have dragged. There's nothing to compare to that first stride on a fresh sheet, and so many got that feeling back over the past week.
Stepping on the ice - whether for hockey, figure skating or anything in between - offers an escape from real life, and that's never been more needed than now.
"So many of our kids, they're coming back like they never left," Trujillo said. "Skating is in their blood. They don't know anything else, and this is their home. Ford Ice Centers are their home."