Local ice dancer earns spot at international training center

Local 14-year-old figure skater Octavia Luna Herai Garrison.
Local 14-year-old figure skater Octavia Herai Garrison.

(Melanie Hoyt Heaney)

Local figure skater Octavia Luna Herai Garrison was accepted to train at an international figure skating academy in Novi, Michigan this summer. Like many athletes, her last year of training and competition was derailed by the pandemic and the 14-year-old is grateful for the chance to pursue her dream at a very high level.

Octavia has been ice skating since she was 5 years old and specializes in ice dancing, which is like ballroom dancing on ice. The San Diego native inherited a love of ice skating from her Canadian mother Stephanie, who also trained in figure skating for 13 years in Toronto, Canada.

Octavia Luna Herai Garrison with her coaching team
Octavia Luna Herai Garrison with her coaching team in Novi: Joseph Buckland, Natalia Annenko-Deller, Pasquale Camerlengo, Adrienne Lenda and Igor Shpilband.

(Stephanie Garrison)

While she started in freestyle skating, for the last four years she competed in solo ice dancing and won two consecutive bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 United States Figure Skating Association National Solo Dance Series Finals.

Since the fifth grade she has done independent study to be able to focus on her sport. A student at Mt. Everest Academy, she is heading into her sophomore year as she skipped the second grade.

As Octavia is interested in pursuing pairs dancing, last year she started the search for a partner, which has been challenging being based in San Diego. In March 2020, she traveled to Vancouver, Canada to meet with a skater there for a tryout and things were promising until the pandemic forced a global lockdown.

Then the local rink where she took lessons, Escondido Ice-Plex, closed in July 2020.

“That really threw a curveball into things,” said the San Elijo Hills resident. “At that point, I didn’t have any ice dance coaching.”

Due to the pandemic, she lost 14 months of instruction.

After a gradual return to practice at UTC Ice Sports Center, this May her partner search led her to Novi where she traveled for a tryout at ice dancing coach Igor Shpilband’s internationally-renowned ice dancing academy.

The tryout opened up an opportunity for Octavia to train at Shpilband’s academy, where he leads a group of high-level junior and senior teams from America, Russia, Korea, Germany and Hungary who are preparing to compete at both the World Championships and the Olympics.

Octavia started at the academy in June with the goal to stay at least through the end of the summer, possibly longer. Every day she hits the ice at 6 a.m. and is skating for hours, learning new partnering techniques and acclimating to sharing the ice with very fast and experienced couples.

“I’ve received really positive feedback,” Octavia said, noting coaches have said they have seen improvement in her skating and admire her flexibility. “I really like it here. I love the environment, it’s great to be around talented ice dancers. It’s really inspiring and it makes me want to skate better.”

Being around such high-level competitors she sees the level she needs to skate up to. Her goals have shifted from competition to growing in her ice dancing and perfecting her partnering skills to help her secure a partner for next season. An extra challenge will be securing private sponsorships to help fund the expenses of being an elite ice dancing competitor.

“It’s taken her a long time to get where she is now and she is just starting her new journey,” said mom Stephanie, who is with her in Novi. “It’s an incredible honor and we are very excited to see what happens next.”