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Figure skater is deeply committed

TUPPER LAKE – There were enough Dorothys to go around, plenty of scarecrows, a couple of cowardly lions, a silver tin man, silver tin girls, flying monkeys and an equal number of wicked witches in the full cast of the Tupper Lake Skate Club’s rendition of “The Wizard of Oz” on a recent Thursday evening at the Tupper Lake Civic Center.

As if the trip down the Yellow Brick Road to Oz wasn’t enough, a couple of quick costume changes and sequined youngsters floated across the rink in a show of skating accomplishment.

It was standing room only as the crowd filed into the stands of the local rink.

Among the 60 young skaters, ranging in age from 17 all the way down to 3, was one skater who pretty much makes figure skating her life.

Jessica Fortune, 17, has been skating for about 12 years by her estimation, and she has such a dedication to the sport that she travels to Lake Placid five days a week after school to skate at the Olympic Center arena, where she currently works out on the ice independently.

She recalled her first skating coach was Barbara Colby of Lake Placid, who was the club pro for the Tupper Lake Skate Club when Fortune was just a kindergartener.

After her first few years, she took up with the Saranac Lake Skating Club under coach Tammy LaLande, a Saranac Lake native.

“She was my coach for a long time, around seven years,” Jessica said.

When LaLande moved to Florida last February, it left Fortune without a coach for the first time in her life, and she made the decision to stick with it regardless. Since then, Fortune has made the drive over to Lake Placid every weekday to skate on her own.

This year she decided to become involved with the Tupper Lake Skate Club, where she quickly became someone to look up to for the younger skaters.

In Lake Placid, she takes a private lesson once every other week with Alicia Walters of Potsdam and skates with Amy Payton, who is now the pro for the Tupper Lake Skate Club.

All that practice has had its rewards and Fortune skates in a number of shows throughout the year. On April 3, she will be in a show at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, and she has done a total of 10 shows so far this year. She also joins the Lake Placid Skating Club show, which she lovingly refers to as “a very eclectic group” of all ages and all different levels.

Among her many appearances on ice are corporate shows for executives and their families who come to Lake Placid for an evening of dinner followed by a figure skating show at the Olympic Center.

Perhaps her greatest accomplishment to date has been her gold-medal performance in the Empire State Winter Games in February, when she won first place with her freestyle long program.

She skated to a tango arrangement, which she calls her current favorite music, and superbly executed the choreography she had developed with her (previous) coach, LaLande, last year.

“Right now, I’m looking for a new choreographer since she’s no longer here and I need something new,” she said.

A member of the Class of 2014 at Tupper Lake High School, Fortune is one of five high school seniors with the Tupper Lake Skate Club. On Thursday, she, along with Lexi Sparks, Jordyn Staves, Lindsay Yamrick and Patty Nelson of Saranac Lake (all accomplished young skaters in their own right) were honored on the ice with flowers and cheers at the conclusion of the show.

Fortune also has been taking lessons with Payton during the Tupper Lake club ice time, which has now ended for the season.

Although she appeared serene and flawless to the untrained eye, she said she was actually nervous going into the Tupper Lake show.

“All my friends were there, and usually I don’t know anybody at the shows I skate,” Fortune said. “It’s amazing, after 10 or 12 years of it, the nerves still haven’t gone away.”

Fortune said her dedication to figure skating won’t stop when she graduates this year. She will be attending SUNY Oswego in the fall, where she will still be affiliated with the college’s skating program, “and we’ll see how that plays out,” she said.

Her drive doesn’t end at skating either. She said she plans to major in biology for the first four years, and then looks forward to working on her doctorate in physical therapy.

“I think skating is a great thing for kids,” Fortune said. “It gets kids out of the house and away from sitting at the computer. Plus it teaches them that something other than technology can be fun.

“Sometimes skating is the most irritating as well as the most challenging thing I’ve done. It keeps me doing it, and it’s not always easy.”

For the kids, she says it is about sportsmanship and communication, especially in group numbers where they have to become problem solvers if things aren’t working out in their routine.”

But for all the challenges and frustration, figure skating can bring, she said, “I do love it! Me and skating have a love-hate relationship. I spend about 80 percent of the time frustrated, but then the second I land that jump or the thing I’ve been working on, it all pays off. It’s all you need. But it can be a very long process.”

Rare are the times she can just go out on the ice and skate strictly for the fun of it, she said.

“Toward the time of competition it’s very stressful,” Fortune said. “It’s working. You’ve got to push for something.”

Whom does she look up to in the skating world? “I know everyone says it but Scott Hamilton has overcome so much,” she said. “He found out he had cancer and had to go for chemotherapy, and all the while he kept skating, and then the cancer came back, and more chemotherapy, and he still kept skating right through it. I just can’t imagine. To have the sheer willpower to keep working like that every day.”

She is currently looking toward the day when she will become a professional skating teacher. She still has two more levels to pass before she becomes a senior gold coach, and then she’ll be able to coach whatever level she wants. She already teaches some of the younger kids in the clubs.

Skating has been an expensive sport for her as well, with skates that come with a price tag of more than $1,200 by the time they are customized and molded to her foot, and that’s not to mention the cost of gas to drive over there five days a week. She offsets the cost by working at the Cinderella Shop on the weekends.

“I don’t think anyone is ever as good as they wish they were,” she said. “To be always wanting to go that one jump higher or to land those jumps that somebody hasn’t ever landed,” those are the goals that keep her motivated.

She knows that living in a small town with little opportunity is a challenge when it comes to making accomplishments in figure skating, but she also knows she has accomplished a lot, but not to the point I wish to be at.

“I think 90 percent of the Olympic figure skaters were homeschooled and skating was their life,” she said.

For all of her drive and ambition, she still makes sure she has at least a little time to lead a regular high school life, “hanging with friends, going to the beach in the summer.”

On the wall in her bedroom, Fortune said she has a sign which reads, “Progress, Not Perfection.”

“And that’s kind of my saying. Nothing’s ever perfect,” she said.

Fortune has lived in Tupper Lake all her life, and her family traces its roots back to the earliest settlers of this little town in the heart of the mountains. She is the granddaughter of Tom Fortune who owns and operates Fortune’s True Value Hardware Store with his sons Andre, and Jessica’s father Maurice Fortune. Tom Fortune is a direct descendant of the McBride family, which first settled in Moody (now part of Tupper Lake) in the mid 1800s.