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Former competitor gains aerial perspective

Craig carved unusual path in pro skating after career cut short

Kimberly Craig showed there's room for flexibility in skating.
Kimberly Craig showed there's room for flexibility in skating. (courtesy of Kimberly Craig)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(01/03/2013) - When Kimberly Craig (maiden name Olson-Wheeler) was competing, she always assumed her skating life would end sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, a bad injury brought about an early retirement, but much to her surprise, stepping away from the ice transformed her life in unique and incredible ways.

"I don't know why, but when I was competing, I never thought I'd ever do show skating," Craig said. "It's interesting to me now because I've had such a lovely time performing all over the world."

During Craig's early life in skating, she often shared ice with Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek. Both grew up in the Chicago area, trained with coach Maria Jeżak-Athey and represented the DuPage Figure Skating Club. Craig competed at the Midwestern Sectional Championships several times and twice qualified for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in junior ladies, the last time being 2000, which is the year Lysacek won the junior men's title.

After the injury to her right ankle, she briefly tried pairs skating and then put her skates away and went to college. Finding herself craving a physical outlet, Craig got into dance and also decided to take gymnastics. The gym where the class was held shared space with a circus, and the aerials caught her eye.

"At that time in Chicago, there were a lot of aerial dance groups," she said. "They needed people who would make a commitment."

Craig quickly took to aerials -- both hoop and silks -- and started performing with two companies. She made friends in the circus world that helped her hone her skills.

"Skating gave me a really good knowledge of how to train -- working at something, sticking to it and having dedication over a long period of time," she said.

Her first gig combining aerials and skating was kind of a fluke. A skating club show in Michigan with a circus theme contacted a group she'd been performing with. When they found out she had a skating background, she quickly put together a routine combining aerials and skating.

"I was just so excited to skate again. It was kind of like my worlds coming together," Craig said.

While Craig continued to pursue a circus career -- performing aerials in many international venues -- she also began putting together routines combining skating with aerials. Since 2010, she's performed three eight-week contracts as a guest entertainer in the ice show aboard Royal Caribbean International's Mariner of the Seas, which has a circus theme perfect for her.

"For me, the motion in the air continues on the ice with the gliding movement," she said.

Craig met her husband, Daniel, a street performer since the age of 10, when both were performing on the festival circuit in Canada. They have a joint variety/circus act they perform involving hula hoops and contortion for her and juggling and steel wheel for him, and they're in the process of developing an ice act. (Growing up in Canada, he played hockey for years and is quite competent on skates.)

When they're home in Winnipeg, there are rinks where they can practice skating, but they need to be creative to find time and space to work with their props.

They're spending most of this month in Japan doing their circus act, and being true show people, they've customized their presentation.

"Most of the show is pretty physical, but we do talk," she said. "We learned enough Japanese to do our show. We did it a few months ago and made a good impression, so we've been invited back."