Resident Helped Develop Olympic Skater
Forgive Sandy Gollihugh if she gets extremely excited while watching the 2014 Winter Olympics on TV with her neighbors at Kelly Ridge, an affordable housing community in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Gollihugh once coached Mirai Nagasu, an American who is likely to be a contender for the gold medal in women’s figure skating during the games in Sochi, Russia.
Gollihugh has been through the nervousness and excitement of watching her former student before — when Nagasu finished fourth in the 2010 Winter Games at Vancouver, Canada.
“I get butterflies, I’ll tell you,” Gollihugh says. “You want it so bad for her. When she takes off on a jump, you just want her to land it.”
Gollihugh believes Nagasu has an excellent shot at winning in Sochi.
“I would say Mirai right now ranks 1 or 2 in the U.S. and maybe 2 or 3 in the world,” Gollihugh says. “She could very easily win a gold medal at the Olympics. If Mirai wants it, she’ll go for it. She’s a very tough little girl.”
Gollihugh’s association with Nagasu began several years ago in Pasadena, Calif.
“I started teaching Mirai when she was 7, and I knew then she had the potential to go all the way,” says Gollihugh, 69. “She’s just one of those talented children. I coached her until she was 14 or 15, but we stay in touch. I talked to her as recently as a month ago.”
Gollihugh grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and started skating at age 4. She turned professional at 17 and began teaching and coaching others. It has been her passion ever since. Up until three years ago, she worked at the Pasadena Ice Skating Center, teaching people of all ages how to skate.
As rewarding as her relationship with Nagasu has been, Gollihugh says helping blind people learn to skate was even more meaningful to her.
“A lot of the coaches didn’t want to do it,” Gollihugh says, “but I would say my biggest reward was teaching blind kids how to skate, even more than seeing Mirai finish fourth in the Olympics.”
Jullie Shanks, the administrator at Kelly Ridge, says Gollihugh’s commitment to others continues. This includes helping Shanks give out the monthly newsletters and calendars.
“Sandy is a very strong, energetic woman,” Shanks says. “Even though she is confined to a walker, she is always there to give a helping hand.”