She’s a master on the ice; Jan Zurcher has seven sprint titles

Jan Zurcher, a part-time San Juan Island resident, placed second in the World Master Sprint Championships in Milwaukee.                                                     - Bella Faccie Sports Media | Thomas Di Nardo
Jan Zurcher, a part-time San Juan Island resident, placed second in the World Master Sprint Championships in Milwaukee.
— image credit: Bella Faccie Sports Media | Thomas Di Nardo

She’s not the youngest skater on the ice. And she may not be the fastest.

But when it comes to speedskating, Jan Zurcher knows a thing or two about what it takes to be the best.

In fact, Google her name and you’ll find Olympic speedskater J.R. Celski, who brought home two bronze medals from the 2010 Winter Games, crediting Zurcher with helping to launch what appears to be a very promising career.

At 55, Zurcher is busy building a winning resume of her own.

She’s captured more than a dozen tournament titles since 2003 and added another in late January by clinching a second-straight Ladies III Championship in long-track competition at the 2010 National Masters in Roseville, Minn.

The following week, she claimed second place in the World Master Sprint Championships in Milwaukee, an international competition.

“I’m kind of happy about that,” Zurcher said of that second-place finish. “I’ve only skated in the Worlds once before. It’s different than the Nationals in that you skate 500-meter and 1,000-meter sprints two times, and the lowest score wins. Unfortunately, that wasn’t me this time. But there’s always the future.”

Whether on or off the ice, Zurcher likes to plan ahead. Perhaps that’s natural for a professional information management development program leader, who, in her job with Weyerhaeuser, determines what information the company must keep and what it can free itself of.

It’s also why she and her husband, Jim, recently purchased a home on San Juan Island.

The couple will celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary later this year. They intend to retire on the island in large part because Friday Harbor, Zurcher said, has the same type of small-town feel that they enjoyed so much in Grand Prairie, Alberta, where they moved as newly-minted graduates of the University of Manitoba.

“It had a lot of things you wouldn’t expect in a smaller community,” Zurcher said of Grand Prairie and its passion for local theater, culture and the arts in general. “When we started coming to Friday Harbor, it had that same kind of feel to it.”

In Grand Prairie, Zurcher rekindled a life-long passion after getting back on the ice as a coach in her early 30s. At 44, she was back skating competitively, living in the Seattle area, and taking on new challenges by testing herself in the wilder side of speedskating — short-track. She was helping to coach at Puget Sound Speedskating Club, where she would later cross paths with a young Celski, and needed to know first-hand the hurdles that her racers might face.

“I expected that it would be a challenge because short track is both technical and tactical,” she said. “Long track, when skated Olympic style, is more technical — you and your skills against the clock. Short track has the whole issue of passing and dodging other skaters if they fall.”

Competitive skating, Zurcher said, is about more than races and Olympic medals. It’s about setting goals and having the discipline to do what’s needed to achieve them. Zurcher said she spends roughly three hours every other day — half on the ice and half off — to stay technically sharp and physically fit.

“When you see J.R. on the podium it looks like this instantaneous fame,” she said. “But what you don’t realize is the eight years of hard, focused work it took to get there.”

While not everyone can skate in the Olympics, she said there’s activities on the ice for skaters of all ages and abilities, and she hopes she might serve as inspiration. And it’s also a lot of fun.

“I just love to skate,” she said. “I love being around the kids, it keeps you in tune with what they’re about. And I think having me around let’s them know there’s life after, even if you don’t make a national team. You don’t need to get on a national team to enjoy skating.”

Zurcher is the 2010 National Master III Ladies Champion.

In 2009, she was the National Master III Ladies Champion, the Masters International All Around Champion (age 50-54), and the Canadian Open Masters Champion.


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