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New Westminster skater comes home with Disney on Ice

Cole Stanbra used to train competitively out of Burnaby 8 Rinks. Then he found a calling as a show skater — and he's never looked back.

Cole Stanbra always knew he was happiest on the ice.

When he first strapped on skates at the age of five, it was to play hockey — and, though he found the sport wasn’t for him, he always loved the feeling of gliding across the ice. Combine that with his childhood love of spinning and jumping, and figure skating seemed the natural choice.

Little did he know it was a choice that would take him into a professional career performing for audiences around the world.

The New Westminster resident is appearing in a featured role in Disney on Ice Presents Road Trip Adventures, coming to Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum from Nov. 23 to 27.

He’ll appear as Jack from Mary Poppins Returns in a show that brings Disney favourites to life in a round-the-world tour — from the rooftops of London with Mary Poppins and Jack’s band of dancing lamplighters, to the South Pacific Island of Motonui with Moana, to an African safari with Simba, Timon and Pumbaa, and beyond.

It’s Stanbra’s first appearance with Disney on Ice, and he couldn’t be more thrilled.

“I’m very, very excited to perform for all my family and friends. I have a lot of people coming to the shows,” Stanbra said. “This is the first time I have ever performed in a professional show at home.”

Stanbra previously performed with Royal Caribbean Cruises — an opportunity he found out about through a friend.

“I had no idea that cruise ships even had ice skating rinks,” he said with a laugh.

But the idea came around at just the right time for Stanbra, who was ready to retire from life as an amateur competitive skater.

Stanbra had had a good run up until then, with a B.C. championship title to his name and experience competing on both national and international stages.

His competitive figure skating career began in his hometown of Castlegar and continued in Burnaby with noted figure skating coach Joanne McLeod at Burnaby 8 Rinks (now Scotia Barn). He also had the opportunity to train in Barrie, Ont. with top Canadian coaches Lee Barkell and Doug Leigh — well known for coaching Canadian and world champions Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko.

“I was fortunate enough, and lucky enough, to be coached under Joanne and these amazing coaches,” Stanbra said, noting he benefited enormously from their technical expertise. “They taught me so much.”

But, Stanbra said, the competitive life wasn’t where his heart was.

“I enjoy professional skating a lot more than amateur skating. I found I was a bit of a nervous competitor, but I know that when I’m skating under the spotlight in the show, I just have a lot more fun with it,” he said. “I connect a lot more with the audience than I ever did as an amateur. It really made me grow as a performer getting to experience show skating.”

Professional shows the perfect 'after-life' for competitive skaters

Stanbra wound up spending 13 years with Royal Caribbean Cruises, and he’s grateful for all the places he’s been as a result. Asked to name a highlight, and he doesn’t hesitate: It was the chance to travel to Norway, where he has family roots. He was able to go to Kristiansand, where his great-grandmother grew up, and to spend time with extended family members there.

The fact that he got paid to travel the world, doing what he loves, is a blessing he doesn’t take for granted.

“In my amateur career I never really thought I would go down the show path. As amateur athletes we’re not really taught about show skating. We’re not really told much about it,” he said. “It’s such a great after-life for retired athletes. You can give so much back to the sport and get paid to do it.”

But 13 years of travelling the world on cruise ships was enough for Stanbra, who decided he wanted a change of scenery — and maybe a chance to stay on land for awhile.

Enter Disney on Ice, which gives him a chance to keep performing professionally while spending more time in his home base: the apartment in downtown New Westminster that he bought in 2014.

“It’s my pride and my joy,” he said. “it’s kind of the culmination of everything that I’ve worked for over the years. I love it so much; it’s my place where I go and decompress after these long contracts. I feel like it’s kind of a spa getaway.”

The Disney on Ice show has also given his parents a chance to see him in action; they’ve already caught the show in Spokane, Washington.

For Stanbra, to perform in front of the parents who have always supported him brings a special joy to the experience.

“My parents were always supportive of my love to skate, and me making decisions of whatever makes me happy,” he said. “They know that I have a fire and drive for figure skating; they know that I love performing. … They’re pretty thrilled I was able to make a career out of show skating.”

Though a professional career is an enormous amount of work — cardio and fitness training, extensive rehearsing, months-long tours and weekends packed with as many as three shows a day — it’s one Stanbra wouldn’t trade for anything.

He’s eager to share his joy at being part of a show that brings Disney movies to life in an interactive way — it even features a “magicmobile” that will bring families out onto the ice to join the skaters.

“It’s a lot of fun.  It doesn’t really feel like work. We’re just skating around and acting. Just seeing the little kids’ faces light up, it means so much,” he said.

“It’s not just a kids’ show.  It’s multi-generations. Whether people watched the original 1964 show of Mary Poppins or are now seeing the live-action Disney’s Lion King or Aladdin, everyone can relate to it.”

Get tickets for Disney on Ice in Vancouver

  • What: Disney on Ice Presents Road Trip Adventures
  • Where: Pacific Coliseum at the PNE, 100 North Renfrew St., Vancouver
  • When: Wednesday, Nov. 23 through Sunday, Nov. 27. Shows Nov. 23 at 7 p.m.; Nov. 24 at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; Nov. 25 at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; Nov. 26 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Nov. 27 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • Tickets: $25 to $105; buy online.

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