Skating Moms Series: Sylwia Nowak-Trębacka

by Anne Calder | Photos Courtesy Sylwia Nowak-Trębacka

Sylwia Nowak-Trebecka is an ice dancing coach and a technical specialist from Poland. The former competitor and her partner, Sebastian Kolasinski were the 1994 World Junior Champions. The duo retired in 2003 after winning several international medals.

Nowak-Trebacka began skating at age four. Early in her career, she competed with Rafał Gabinowski. In 1991, coaches paired her with Sebastian Kolasinski with whom she competed for the next 12 years.

As seniors, Nowak & Kolasiński won bronze medals at two Grand Prix competitions, Skate Canada International and Cup of Russia and gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy, Finlandia Trophy, and Karl Schafer Memorial. They competed at nine World Championships and the 1998 and 2002 Olympics.

Nowak-Trębacka had numerous individuals and coaches who impacted her life during those years.

“Thanks to those people, I’m much stronger and confident than I was as a very sensitive kid.”

Daily training in Poland was often difficult. The team traveled an hour and a half to and from practice by train and buses – when they were available – often in rain and snow.

In the early days, their schedule included sports school classes in the morning, followed by training and then off-ice ballet and ballroom instruction. Nowak-Trębacka would go home for dinner and homework, but would return to the rink for more training in the evening.

“Very early in the morning or late at night when there were no busses, my partner, who lived close to me, and I had to walk to the rink and then home in darkness,” Nowak-Trębacka said. “That was different times than now. We did not have a car, so we always had to walk, but it was worth it.”

As an adult, Nowak-Trębacka studied Physiotherapy at the Medical University in Lodz while she continued to train. She became engaged to Marcin Trębacki, who was also a figure skater.

After the 2003 European Championships, Nowak-Trębacka and Kolasinski retired.

When they stopped skating, she had no idea what to do next. The only thing she knew was skating. It was a very difficult period in her life. Skating was not very popular in Poland and coaching was not a very well paying job.

She decided to completely change her profession and earn some money. Since she had a physiotherapy medical background, she took a job in a Swiss orthopedic company that sold body implants.

While she enjoyed working with doctors to help people recover and the money was good, she missed skating. She was coaching on weekends for free when the President of Torun’s skating club offered her a job. She didn’t think long.

“I packed my car and took my children (Sonia wasn’t even a year old) and moved to Torun, which is 200 km [125 miles] away from my hometown, Lodz. The rest of my family decided to stay,” she noted. “It was not easy…being alone in a new place with small kids,” explained Nowak-Trębacka.

She got big support from the parents of her students, who even took care of her children when she was busy with practices, but the biggest help and support she got was from her mother.

“She is irreplaceable – even if she did not decide to move with me. She always came to Torun and took care of my kids, dogs, and the house while I was at competitions or camps,” said Nowak-Trębacka. “She is the huge part of what I have achieved…without her it would not be possible…I can say that she has offered her life to me.”

In Torun, she taught basic skating and choreographed programs for singles and pairs, and then slowly built an ice dance school. Her first team to compete internationally was the brother and sister duo Natalia & Michal Kaliszek. In 2014,she paired Natalia with Maksym Spodyriev from the Ukraine.

In September 2015 Kaliszek & Spodyriev competed at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany. The short dance was the Foxtrot; their music was “Tea for Two”.

“Of course, this was the beginning of the season and the dance was not ready yet, but already we heard a lot of positive feedback including one that it could become a new pattern dance,” Nowak-Trębacka said.

The team skated their short dance several more times during the season. The final competition was in March at the 2016 World Championships in Boston, Massachusetts USA.

Two months later, the ISU officially revealed that the foxtrot portion of the short dance choreographed by Nowak-Trębacka and danced by Kaliszek & Spodyriev had become a new pattern dance. Formal approval was made at the 2018 ISU Congress in Seville, Spain.

Nowak-Trębacka expressed her excitement at the time of the announcement.

“I am happy and proud that part of my choreography was chosen and accepted to be a compulsory/pattern dance for couples around the world! This is fantastic that the IDTC [Ice Dance Technical Committee] is so open and looking for new dances. This is a huge motivation to other skaters and coaches as it seems like everybody’s dance may become a new pattern dance in the future”

“I have composed this dance in a way that it will be very similar to what ballroom dancers are doing on the floor. I wanted to have as much of the Foxtrot character as possible: in holds, character of the dance as well as timing of the steps. This part is almost unchanged from the moment I started to make the choreography. It looks almost identical.”

The IDTC made plans to introduce the Tea-Time Foxtrot for the first time at the junior events in the 2019-2020 season. Seminars were held in North America, including Ontario, Canada and Detroit, Michigan in the spring of 2019 prior to the skating season.

The goal was to educate skaters, coaches and officials on the new Pattern Dance. Nowak-Trębacka was the moderator. The workshops were conducted on ice – not in a classroom.

There were many questions mostly about the technical aspects. Information was given on the spot and the problem areas were clarified and made understandable.

“A huge value was added to all the seminars by having Officials. It opened up discussion and brainstorming,” Nowak-Trębacka said. “It was especially important to the skaters to listen to the officials, to correct mistakes and improve their skating immediately. This was one of the reasons many came.”

In addition to her involvement with the Tea-Time Foxtrot, Nowak-Trębacka also has a personal connection to the Finnstep – the 2019-2020 senior pattern dance. She competed at the1995 European Championships when Susanna Rahkamo & Petri Kokko’s (FIN) quickstep original dance was adapted into a compulsory dance/pattern. In June 2008 it was ratified as the Finnstep.

“Both pattern dances are very similar in character – both are from the Standard Dance Group,” Nowak-Trębacka noted. “The Foxtrot is just a slower Quickstep. At the same time both are very different. Finnstep is based on very fast steps, a lot of half-a-beat steps and quick turns. Tea-Time Foxtrot is maybe a bit slower, but has more difficult holds, steps for each partner, and tricky timing.”

She continued to explain. “The technique is one thing, but not less important is the character and interpretation of both dances. This is the factor which for sure will differentiate the couples – the ones who will find their unique way of interpretation of any dance will for sure be remembered.”

During these years as coach, choreographer, and technical specialist, she has also been a full-time mother. Her children – Maksymilian (16) and Sonia (11) are both very active in athletics, including skating. However, they prefer team sports.

When Maks was six he did trampoline acrobatic jumps and was the second-best in Poland. Then he turned to soccer, which has always been his favorite. Sonia has played lots of different sports like football, acrobatic jumps, tennis and swimming.

“Maks now plays for our local club and wants to be a professional soccer player in the future,” Nowak-Trębacka said. “Sonia is a basketball player on a youth team also at our local club. She is the kind of kid who much prefers sports to school.”

The family likes spending time together, but due to busy schedules, it’s usually on weekends.

“Sometimes we ride bikes; sometimes we stay at the pool; sometimes we go for a walk with our dogs; and sometimes we just go out for a nice lunch to our favorite quiet place…” Nowak-Trębacka said.

“My family had ups and downs, but today I’m happy with my life being surrounded by my kids who are my biggest fans and best supporters,” she added. “Most important is that I do what I love the most.”

She closed with a few words to other mothers who want to assume a role in the figure skating world and also be a family caregiver.

“My motto is to do what [you need] to make you feel happy and satisfied. Being a happy mummy, for sure your kids will also be happy. So do what you love, with passion and full heart. BUT at the same time do not forget that your family is the priority…the most difficult [thing] is to keep a correct balance.”