U.S. Figure Skating coach becomes Christmas sweater star on social media

By Stephanie Earls Published: December 23, 2013 | 12:00 am 0
photo - In this composite photograph, Kathey Casey stands for a portrait at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, December 20, 2013.   (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette)  NOTE: This composite photograph was made by combining five different images into one picture with Photoshop.
In this composite photograph, Kathey Casey stands for a portrait at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Friday, December 20, 2013. (Kent Nishimura, The Gazette) NOTE: This composite photograph was made by combining five different images into one picture with Photoshop.

U.S. Figure Skating coach Kathy Casey has taught some of the world's elite skaters to land a double axel, one of the sport's more challenging jumps.

In a career spanning more than 50 years, she's trained luminaries, including U.S. national champion Scott Davis and Olympic bronze medalist Nicole Bobek, and earned a reputation as the go-to coach for skaters struggling with technical aspects of their performance.

Casey holds the title Olympic and World Coach, which is "about as top of your game as you get," says Barbara Reichert, director of communications for U.S. Figure Skating.

Just don't ask Casey to pick a favorite Christmas sweater.

"Oh, that's a good one. That one, too," says Casey, who's 74. "And this guy, I can wear anytime."

Casey chooses a sweater from the stacks on her couch and shakes out the folds. The front shows a penguin on ice skates; the back, a penguin on its backside, ice skates in the air. "Don't you love it?"

And look, here's another cool one she almost forgot. And there, one that's "kind of muppets," and over there, a thick, wool number she brought home from the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

Casey liberates the collection - maybe 25 sweaters, along with themed turtlenecks, sweatshirts and socks - from storage after Thanksgiving. Beginning the first of December, she wears a different one to work each day. Jan. 1, the duds go back into storage.

"Thanksgiving, it's, 'Oh, yes, old friends, come out!' I wear them for a month and then they're away bye-bye," she says.

The collection began quietly enough: a gift from a student, then another gift from a friend, an inspired purchase or two, and the snowball was rolling. For a while, Casey only collected them.

"Then, maybe five years ago, I started wearing them," she says. "It caught on."

Never mind pop culture's flippantly earnest relationship with the Christmas sweater. Irony has no truck here. Casey's Christmas sweater endeavor isn't a nod to fashion - good, bad or ugly. It's about making people smile.

First Casey, now you.

"Last year, we noticed that after Thanksgiving Kathy started to wear sweaters and they were festive and most of them included skating in some way," says Josh Ellis, coordinator of Web content for the sport's Colorado Springs-based national governing body. "We started taking pictures, thinking this would be funny to share online and see what people said."

Response on the group's Facebook page and Twitter account was immediate, with likes and comments coming from around the world. This year, by the end of the first week in December, images of Casey in her Christmas sweaters had drawn more than 1,000 likes on Facebook.

They've been the most consistently popular posts this month, says Ellis, who plans to host a contest on Facebook to determine the most popular sweater. Voting, based on "likes," begins Christmas Day. He expects a popular contest.

"People have come to expect it, and if it's 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I haven't posted the photo yet, then my co-workers will harass me," he says.

It seems a bit of Casey's personality comes through in the images.

"She's always in a good mood, smiling and laughing and just a very fun person to be around," Ellis says. "When we post a picture of her, people make personal comments. Whether they know her or not, there's a personal connection. She's such a tremendous sport."

An example: On a very unsweatery, 62-degree day last week, Casey posed outside wearing cut-off shorts and a sleeveless wool version, holding a sign with the temperature scrawled on it.

At first, Casey was surprised at the response. These days, she's grown a bit more comfortable with being a social media celebrity, of sorts.

"The other day I was at Safeway and a stranger stopped me and said, 'Just a minute. What do you have on today?'" says Casey, who obediently turned, with a smile, to display her festive duds.

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Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364

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