To The Worlds – An Interview with Henrietta Penney

“Engaging in Aging.”

That’s Henrietta Penney’s outlook on life.

Penney is one of the adult skaters whose story is chronicled in the CBC documentary “To The Worlds.” The documentary follows six adult skaters who travel from Kelowna, BC to Oberstdorf, Germany to compete at the 2018 ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition.

The 77-year-old adult figure skater and behaviour analyst, who’s a world-renowned autism specialist, started her skating career about 50 years ago.

“(In) Group lessons,” said Penney in a phone interview. She joked she has all the preliminary badges as proof. “For an era, I skated on stilts … 24 inches high. I did some skating in skating carnivals.”

Penney was skating with a “gentlemen, and he would call us and ask us to come (skate in carnivals).”

At 40 years old, Penney hung up the blades and hit the books. During the break from the ice, Penney completed grade nine, then entered university – obtaining a B.A. and her Masters of Science in Education at 52.

“For 12 years, I studied a lot,” said Penney, who established two businesses after she graduated from university. “I was working and studied”

Penney – whose idol is Michelle Kwan – was still drawn to the ice, and she eventually took in public skating. She found that skating, “Leaves you with a clear mind.”

It was during one of those session where Penney was scouted, so to speak. Penney was approached by a Kelowna adult skater who told Penney, ” ‘You skate quite well, and you should join our group. You could get more ice time.'”

Penney was drawn to the idea, plus “The girls were so accepting … of your uniqueness. They had so much enthusiasm.”

Penney went from casual public ice to training for one-hour, five times a week. At seven o’clock in the morning.

When the idea of Oberstdorf came up, she was eager. It would be her first taste of large-scale competition. Penney soaked in every moment of the competition, and the pressure didn’t bother her one bit.

“Pressure is pleasure,” said Penney. “I just want part of the excitement.”

That excitement included seeing all the flags of the countries represented around the world hung from the rafters.

“When you see all those flags … and you think ‘Oh, my God, I’m at the Worlds,’ ” said Penney. “And you sit in the bleachers … the person in front of you is wearing a jacket with the flag from Japan. Another one has France and … Spain … what more could I ask for than to sit in this worldly environment and be able to skate.”

Some skaters are racket with nerves, and they’re unable to watch the other competitors. Not Penney, who cheers on the others in her flight. “I want to just excel. I’m never thinking of the other competitors. I want to enjoy their movements and cheer them on.”

Penney admits some adult skaters have that competitive streak, and are “very confident that they are going to take first place … but it’s not as competitive.”

Penney’s focus is on excelling rather than competing.

Some wonder what’s going through a skater’s mind before the music starts. Penney’s in rather unique.

“My thought is ‘I’ll make you love me,’ ” and she laughed, then she turned serious. “It seems a bit sensible to me.”
At the ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition, Penney placed fourth, edged off the podium by a mere .83  of a point. For Penney, it means she is excelling in a sport she loves.

“That I came fourth,” said Penney.  “At least in my age group, I’m okay. Because when you go from zero, at least you start to climb up that little bit.”

Penney believes skating teaches more than Salchows and sit spins.

“There’s a lot of character building,” said Penney. “(Skating) Gets you out of your comfort-zone.”

“It highlights your strengths and weakness.”
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Photos: Bountiful Films
Wednesday, January 16, 2019:
An interview with Wendy Ord, 59
Adult figure skater, filmmaker, and assistant director

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