Kevin Reynolds: boots that don’t fit like a glove

Frustration isn’t the word. Not nearly.

Not for Kevin Reynolds, who will compete at Skate Canada next week in Kelowna, B.C. It should be the best of times for Reynolds, especially without multi-world champion Patrick Chan around and a clear path to that Canadian title  – and beyond.

But no. His narrow heels make him climb mountains. He went through nine pairs of skates last year but this season, even 3-D molds of his feet by the manufacturer hasn’t helped. He’s gone through four more pairs, still searching for that perfect (and apparently elusive) fit.

“It’s been a tumultuous summer of training,” he said at the Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ont., last week, when he missed the podium, but buried his pride because he just needed to get out, to get competition experience.

“Even just to be out on the ice is kind of success in itself,” he said, adding that he’d be happy just to get through the long program. (He was fifth, did land a quad Salchow, managed a triple Axel, a triple flip, a triple Salchow – which should be child’s play for him- but basically struggled otherwise. He did manage two level-four spins in a gritty performance.)

“It’s been one thing after another,” Reynolds said. “Finally the competitions are getting underway and I’m not nearly as prepared or confident as I would like to be at this time. But I think it’s important that I get the experience here this week in order to be better prepared for Skate Canada.”

Through trial and error, he and the boot manufacturer have worked to find a solution. The week of Autumn Classic, they were in the midst of more trials, but “competitions don’t wait for skaters’ problems to resolve themselves,” Reynolds said. At Skate Canada, we’ll see the result of this new tinkering.

He believes he’s made significant process on finding the answer, but the actual fixing of the problem has become more complicated than both he and the boot maker realized.

So he had custom boots made in the summer to accommodate his unusually narrow heel. The fix solved the problems initially, but he was only able to train for a week or two in each pair before they broke down. They need to find a longer-term solution so he can train for longer periods and actually get used to the feel of the boots he’s wearing.

At Autumn Classic, Reynolds used one of the most recent pairs that he got during the summer, but by mid-October, they had become “quite a bit soft,” he said. That’s just not good for landing multiple-rotation jumps with tremendous torque.

When skates fit properly, they can last for six months to a year, which is common among elite skaters. Typically a skater will go through one or two pairs every year. With Reynolds, having to change skates every two weeks is hugely problematic. “It’s just unsustainable to have to keep shifting the timing and the feel and it really disrupts the amount of training you can have,” he said.

It’s not an issue with the stiffness of the boots, but with the inside padding, he said. It’s not keeping the ankle and the heel stable. “It’s like wearing a pair of boots that are too big for you when your foot is sliding around in them,” he said.

“And when you are doing things that are precise like footwork, quads, triple Axels, you need that stability in order to do a consistent performance,” said the ginger-haired athlete.

At this point Reynolds realizes he may never find a solution to the fit problem. He knows other skaters have problems, too. He’s not alone. They may struggle through injury or psychological barriers. Reynolds has neither. “This is just one of the things I have to deal with and it’s not really a unique problem,” he said. “I want to do the best I can and push through for my friends and everybody who has been supporting me through this ordeal, because there has been a lot of great support.”

It should be his time. He’s had all the tricks for years. He’s Canada’s Quad King. He was third in the short program at the 2013 world championships with miraculously well-fitting boots and fifth overall. Shae-Lynn Bourne has brought out the inner performer in him. He’s become the guy who can make the footwork sing. He’s heavily steeped in all things Japanese and he has a huge following in Japan. His unruly hair is as famous as he is, so much so that it has its own Facebook page and twitter handle (@KReynoldsHair).

It’s a cheeky little social media platform. “Hair like this is what gets the girls,” reads one posting. In the accompanying photo, he’s standing with Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami.  All are grinning like mischievous kittens.

For Reynolds right now, there is only one thing to do and he’s a Canuck, after all, and resolute. The climate demands it. Back home in Vancouver, Reynolds plans to just ignore what he’s feeling as much as possible. He’s going to be running through those programs like there is no tomorrow. It’s not the first time he’s had boots that didn’t fit like a glove.

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