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The first time Christopher Berneck had a skating lesson at the age of six, he left the ice crying. Not because he didn’t enjoy it, but because he couldn’t get enough.
“My coach didn’t know what to do so my mom had to come out with her high heels and drag me off the ice,” Berneck said.
Now 23, Berneck has represented his home country of Germany at the national level and this season represented Ryerson in the men’s free skate program on the figure skating team.
In a few weeks, he will complete his first year in Ryerson’s fashion communication program.
Berneck says that skating has contributed to his interest in fashion. He has been designing his skating costumes since he was 12 years old and his mom would sew them as a way to save money.
“I’ve always had a different style and taste than most skaters, so my costumes definitely stood out from the rest of the crowd,” Berneck said.
It was not just a way for Berneck to have a say in what he wore, but also turned into a bonding experience between him and his mother.
“I think now, after having been in school and having learned how to sew … (I can) appreciate the work that my mom has done for me so much more,” Berneck said.
Berneck has worn these costumes in competitions around the world from the United States to Australia, but it all started in Germany.
“When Chris skates, you can just see how much he enjoys every moment, every element.” -Tiffany Elliot
His parents were trying to keep their three children out of trouble and had taken them to the local rink, where half of the ice was for free skate and the other half was for an organized lesson.
Berneck tried to imitate the skaters taking their lessons on the other side of the rink and one of the coaches took notice.
The coach suggested that his parents sign Berneck up. They did, and within the first three months the teacher told them that he had surpassed the level of skaters who had been skating for over a year.
“(My coach) said that I had a very natural ability to move on the ice and I had really great balance and that she would only be able to teach to a certain level because she wasn’t skilled enough to take me any further,” Berneck said.
After several moves to better Berneck’s career, he now practices at the Mariposa International Training Centre in Barrie, Ont. — a place he was seemingly destined to train.
While Berneck and his family were in Munich, Germany, there was a Canadian vendor selling fruits and vegetables under the apartment where they were living. The vendor had known that Berneck was a figure skater and told his parents that there was a famous skating school in Canada and that they should send their kid.
“It’s funny enough that nine years later, after this guy had told my parents that I really needed to go here, that this is where I ended up,” Berneck said.
But his journey hasn’t always been predicted for him.
Berneck injured his ankle, tearing six ligaments and a tendon, just four weeks before the German qualifier to compete at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“This is something that every athlete works towards,” Berneck said. “It was always my dream making it to the Olympics and having this happen just four weeks before was just heartbreaking.”
Berneck’s short and long skating programs had to be simplified, and he and his coaches took out everything that required him to jump off his right foot.
“Even though the programs were easier than my competitors’ programs, I was so proud of myself for being able to persevere,” Berneck said.
“When Chris skates, you can just see how much he enjoys every moment, every element,” said Tiffany Elliot, head coach of the Ryerson figure skating team. “I think it’s that passion, that love of figure skating that has truly made him into the amazing skater he is today.”
Berneck is considering putting this love into training for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, which would take him out of school for two years without the guarantee of a place on the German team.
“It’s something that I’ve seriously been thinking about and I’m excited to see what I end up doing,” Berneck said. “But regardless, I’m sure I’ll make the right decision for myself.”