By Jacqueline Louie
Release Date: August 26, 2009
Canadian figure skating superstar Kurt Browning has wonderful memories of going to school in small-town Alberta.
The four-time Canadian figure skating champion, four-time world champion and Order of Canada recipient, who hails from Caroline, in central Alberta, recalls two very special teachers at Caroline School who made school both memorable and enjoyable.
"In a small town, people get to know each other in many different ways," explains Browning. "So you had a much different relationship with your teachers. It was a very, very different way to grow up and I think it was nice."
For his favourite teacher, honourable mention goes to Mrs Weigel, who taught him in Grade 5. "She was a great teacher," Browning says. And she taught more than academics: during the last class of the day on Fridays, she would teach them how to dance—the polka, the waltz and more. "It was very, very cool. She was a wonderful woman."
Years later, when Browning was an adult, he saw Weigel at a dance in Caroline and asked her to dance. He recalls that his request brought tears to her eyes, because that was the first time one of her former students had asked her to dance.
Browning's all-time favourite teacher is Leonard McLean, his Grade 5 home room teacher and Grades 5 and 6 hockey coach. "He was one of the first teachers we were old enough to have a little bit of a back-and-forth relationship with," the figure skater says, noting that his class was McLean's first class as a young teacher fresh out of university.
"Lenny started out trying to control us," says Browning. "He probably needed us to help him through the transition. I think we helped create a great teacher. We really bonded
with him. He changed so much from the first couple months to what he was like by the end of the year; I think it gave my class a real ownership of him that has stayed to this day. What started out as a guy who thought he had to really show us kids who was boss turned into one of the best friends a lot of us could have had. He is an amazing member of the community."
Browning's class holds a reunion every five years (the most recent one was their 20-year reunion) and they have invited McLean to each one.
For his part, McLean also has great memories of Browning's class, and of Browning. "What stands out in my mind is his care for people and humour," says McLean, who retired from teaching three years ago.
Now based in Toronto, Browning is still very much involved in the figure skating world as a performer, choreographer, and television commentator for CBC Sports. This fall, he is cohost, together with Ron MacLean, of Battle of the Blades, a new reality series airing on CBC-TV that has NHL stars don figure skates and team up with female Canadian figure skating champions to compete as figure skating or ice dancing pairs. Browning is also coauthor of two children's alphabet books, about ballet and figure skating, with his wife, Sonia Rodriguez, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.