Technically speaking, Kim Navarro made her professional figure-skating debut at age 10 and shared the rink with former Olympic gold medalists Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins.
But she wasn't another pig-tailed pixie on a fast track to her own Olympic glory.
Instead of sequins, Navarro was dressed in a yellow costume with feathers, an outfit topped by a famous bird's head. Her mom, Lisa, recalls that her daughter made a perfect Woodstock -- the character from the "Peanuts" comic strip -- because she had such "little, tiny, skinny legs."
Looking back on the Christmas show at Santa Rosa's Redwood Empire Ice Arena, Navarro, 26, says it is precisely the type of memory that helped shape a unique career path that's led her and ice-dancing partner Brent Bommentre to the World Figure Skating Championships, which begin Monday in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Years ago, the Ice Arena, commonly known as "Snoopy's Home Ice," was a place where Charles Schultz would lock the doors early so a kids-only inline-skating contest could begin. It was a place where Robin Cousins helped Navarro with her homework backstage and Dorothy Hamill let her baby-sit her daughter.
Lisa Navarro, a former professional pairs skater, is a longtime instructor at Snoopy's. Kim grew up understanding that figure skating required training and sacrifice. And that it also included fun.
"I don't know if I had grown up in a training center if I would have loved skating as much as I do," said Navarro, who lives in Philadelphia. "Being a part of things like that show and helping entertain people was such an amazing experience."
Navarro is still entertaining fans. But the stage is much larger.
She and Bommentre, 23, her partner of three years, won the bronze medal at the U.S. Championships in St. Paul, Minn., in February to qualify for their first Worlds. The performance has elevated their status and eased a financial strain that has forced Navarro to work as a part-time skating instructor and caterer during her career.
Thanks to their breakthrough at the U.S. Championships, Navarro and Bommentre, ranked 17th in the world, have received additional funding from U.S. Figure Skating and the U.S. Olympic Committee, money they plan to invest in their career. In April, they will work with a top-level choreographer in Los Angeles in an effort to polish programs that have become more daring and complex in the past year.
"They're getting to a level where more doors are starting to open up," said their coach, Robbie Kaine. "The sky is the limit with them."
Navarro has reached such a level by taking a road not often traveled in the figure-skating world.
Instead of devoting herself full-time to her sport after graduating from El Molino High, Navarro attended Columbia University in New York, where she graduated cum laude with a major in English and a minor in dance.
Her decision wasn't hard. She had experienced a life devoted almost entirely to skating when she left El Molino as a sophomore to train with an elite-level partner in Texas. The lifestyle didn't suit her. She was never the type to have her happiness hinge on her next double axel. After seven months, she returned to Santa Rosa.
For Navarro, her ability wasn't a question. She had qualified for the U.S. Junior Nationals at 11 in pairs skating. The next year, she reached the Junior Nationals in pairs and ice dance. At 14, she competed as a novice in ice dance at the U.S. Championships and finished 10th.
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