FLUSHING MEADOWS CORONA PARK — It’s almost 9 a.m. as Lauren Hunt, skating director of the World Ice Arena in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, hurriedly downs a bowl of rolled oats laced with peanut butter and apples and a large thermos of coffee.
Hunt, a 30-year-old woman with the petite, toned frame of a competitive figure skater, puts on a knee-length down coat and heads out to the rink, as the gate to the ice swings open for children of all ages, sizes and experience levels.
“Watch me,” Sharon Tabaras, 8, tells Hunt as she glides tentatively onto the ice for her group lesson. “I can go in a circle.”
It’s a sight that never gets old for Hunt, who has dedicated her career to helping kids discover the fun, friendship and discipline that she herself found as a child through the sport of skating.
“For me, skating gave me a direction in my own life,” Hunt said. “I know that being a kid and teenager can be kind of hard, and in New York you can get pulled in a lot of directions. Skating gave me this thing that I always had to go to, and something I was good at, a skill — it changed my life.”
As the venue’s founding skating director, Hunt has built the largest Ice Skating Institute (ISI) program in the United States with more than 2,000 skaters of all ages, most coming from the communities that surround the park.
Her mission for bringing the love of skating to others earned her the title of 2014 ISI Woman of the Year from the nonprofit international skating group that supports owners, operators and developers of ice skating facilities focused on recreational and fitness skating.
And she shows no sign of slowing as she plans to continue to grow the program by offering fun and affordable options for skaters of all ages to enjoy, such as group lessons, private instruction, clinics and camps for beginners and an annual Theater on Ice production.
Public skating at World Ice Arena costs between $6 and $9 per session; seven-week Learn-to-Skate and Hockey 101 sessions start at $164.50; clinics start at $150 for six sessions or $30 per session; and private lessons start at $40 for one skater or $55 for two.
“My goal has always been to develop programming where anyone can come and not get bored with the sport, and keep it a part of their healthy lifestyle, without breaking the bank,” Hunt said.
Like those who come to the World Ice Arena, Hunt started out on public rinks.
She was bitten by the skating bug at the age of 8. Every Sunday, her family would do a different activity as a way to bond. One Sunday, her family went to a rink at Rye Playland, near their home in The Bronx.
“My mom was a fan of skating,” said Hunt. “It was the 90s and it was very popular on TV, so I was always asking to go. One Sunday, we finally went and I just fell so in love with it.”
Every Sunday after that, Hunt begged her mom to take her to skate. She’d go out on the rink and watch the people taking lessons and copy them. One coach took notice and told Hunt’s mom that her daughter had talent and should take lessons. But like many of the kids Hunt trains today, money was a barrier to learning to skate.
“Skating can be an expensive sport, and we didn’t have a lot of money,” said Hunt. “So the deal was, as long as I practiced, I could take lessons.”
She started with group lessons at the public rink and then trained with a coach as a singles skater. She trained in the U.S. Figure Skating competitive track, passing skills tests to earn her Moves in the Field gold medal and ice dancing silver medal. After three years, another coach asked if she’d like to try synchronized skating. Since Hunt was more interested in edges, artistic movement and ice dance, she decided to give it a try.
“It was the coolest thing I’d ever done,” she said. “It was social and on the ice, so for me, synchronized skating became what I loved, and what I wanted to do.”
At 16 years old, Hunt’s team started skating at New Roc Ice Skating Center in New Rochelle. One day, she asked the skating director, Kristi Tortorella, if she could work as a rink guard. Tortorella had a better idea: She offered her a job as a coach.
“Lauren was an excellent skater, very sweet and so good with the kids,” said Tortorella. “She was also very mature and hardworking for her age and I saw the potential in her to be a great coach.”
Over the next seven years, Hunt built a busy coaching business and earned all of her professional certifications while attending LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York City and earning her bachelors of fine arts degree in theater, from The New School.
When she graduated, Tortorella had become the general manager of the newly opened World Ice Arena, and offered Hunt the job of skating director, where she’s been ever since.
“It’s so rewarding,” said Hunt. “You see these little kids come in who are not even people yet, and suddenly, after a few months or a year, they’re figure skaters. They’ve learned discipline. They’ve made friends. They’ve been mentored through the sport and it really moves me to see that.”
There's still time to register for the winter sessions and Winter Break Ice Skating Camp. For a complete list of programs and prices, visit www.worldice.com.