Skating Party

By Kayla McGrady Berger ’05

Carey Tinkelenberg '05 

As Carey Tinkelenberg ’05 waited for one of her students to arrive for a skating lesson, she considered what she should say to encourage her. Tinkelenberg knew that the student, who’d been having a rough time in eighth grade, had met with her principal that afternoon.

When the student arrived, she said to Tinkelenberg, “I told the principal that I realized there are things I can control and things I can’t control. And in this situation, I need to focus on the things I can control.”
“I almost teared up,” says Tinkelenberg, reflecting on that moment. “She had just repeated what I had told her right before she skated in one of her first competitions. And here she was, mature enough to take what she had learned on the ice and apply it to her academic and personal life.”

For Tinkelenberg, who founded the Northfield Skating School in 2005, skating has always been about more than simply performing on the ice. “Skating is about life skills,” she says. “I wouldn’t be who I am today without it.” As a coach and mentor, she teaches her students to have fun, overcome challenges, and deal with pressure.

Tinkelenberg learned these skills from her own coach as she developed into a confident competitive skater in the Boston area. She won a silver medal in the intermediate ladies competition at the 1998 New England Championships and led the athletes’ advisory committee at her local arena during high school. When she came to Carleton, she knew she couldn’t skate as seriously as she had in high school, but she didn’t want to give it up completely, so she signed up as a coach for a Northfield skating program.

After she graduated with a major in psychology in fall 2004 (two trimesters early), Tinkelenberg looked for something to keep her as busy as she had been at Carleton. The skating program for which she had coached no longer existed, and Tinkelenberg missed coaching—so she decided to open the Northfield Skating School.

The first year, Tinkelenberg recruited 35 skating students through a sign-up sheet at Goodbye Blue Monday, a Northfield coffee shop where she worked part-time. She used Facebook—still a relatively new platform in 2005—to recruit teachers. “It’s laughable now, thinking about that first staff meeting in my run-down apartment,” Tinkelenberg says. “I was idealistic. I was like, ‘Let’s work this out together!’ ”

The strategy that she and her staff developed for the school worked. Two years later, the Northfield Skating School had 200 students and 25 paid staff members. That’s when Tinkelenberg was faced with a big decision. Between her job as a clinical interviewer at the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research at the University of Minnesota and the skating school, she was working 80 to 90 hours a week, and she couldn’t handle the pace.

“I couldn’t step away from the skating school,” Tinkelenberg says. “I realized I might never have this kind of opportunity again.” Instead, she quit her university job to focus on the skating school and her coaching career.

The Northfield Skating School’s success caught the attention of U.S. Figure Skating, the national organization that provides the curriculum Tinkelenberg uses at her school. She was invited to speak at a national seminar on skating schools, and she now works with U.S. Figure Skating to help support and train skating school directors across the country.

Skating Magazine named the Northfield Skating School a model program in 2008. That year, the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative gave Tinkelenberg its Making a Difference Award for her positive influence on youth as a coach. “Carey has the unique talent of building the children’s self-esteem and getting the most out of them,” wrote a parent who nominated her for the award. “Her love of the sport truly shows in her patience and dedication to help each student learn.”

Tinkelenberg became the youngest program director ever to receive a master rating from the Professional Skaters Association in 2010. But the awards and accolades can’t compare with the pride she feels watching her students become confident young adults.

The first student Tinkelenberg coached in Minnesota—when she was a freshman at Carleton—was Kittle Evenson ’11. Tinkelenberg recruited Evenson, then a high school student, to work for the skating school and even wrote her a recommendation for Carleton. Eventually Evenson became the assistant director of the Northfield Skating School and was appointed to a national committee by U.S. Figure Skating.

“She’s become a leader in her own right,” says Tinkelenberg, “and that, to me, is a tangible mark that the coaching model I’m using really works.”


  • March 10 2012 at 7:14 am

    Thanks very much, Voice, for posting this inspiring article about career changing in keeping with one's dreams.  Congratulations to Carey, whose inspiring Chapel at Concord Academy in 2001 I still remember!

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