Nancy Whiteford is a long time Figure Skating and Power Skating Coach in Ontario. She is a gold medalist in Free Skate, Dance Skills, and Interpretive. Her impressive 40-plus year career in skating also led her to coach hundreds of Gold Medalists – and she was inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Inspired to share her story, she wrote the new children’s book – My Skating Dream. The heartwarming story shares the journey of a girl named Sassafrass and her pursuit to become the best figure skater she can be.
This interview transcription has been edited for length and clarity.
Joe: Thank you so much for joining me! I’m really happy to have you here and I’m excited to talk about your book and your background figure skating.
Nancy: Thank you for having me.
Joe: Obviously, you’re the author of a new children’s book, My Skating Dream. And we will talk plenty about the book. But I’d like to start by giving you the space to discuss your background and how you fell in love with figure skating.
Nancy: I started skating when I was three years old and I just loved it from the moment I stepped on the ice. I loved getting dressed up and wearing makeup, and having my own solo and performing. I loved it from a very young age, and I still love it to this day.
Joe: What are some of the most memorable moments from your career skating?
Nancy: Being a quad gold medalist is certainly something memorable for me. I’ve also coached figure skating for more than 40 years and I won the International Adult Championships. And then I got inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame for my mentoring and for my international championship.
Joe: That’s pretty impressive! So, after spending a career skating and coaching, what really inspired you to put pen to paper and write a children’s book about it?
Nancy: During the early days of the pandemic, arenas were closed and I couldn’t be on the ice. But it was always in my head. Even when I listen to music, I’m skating in my mind. With that, I’ve wanted to write a book for a long time, but I never seemed to have the time. And because of the pandemic, I had all the time in the world. It actually didn’t take that long! I just had to put my mind to it and have enough time to do it.
Joe: So what is your favorite thing about the book? What’s your favorite part?
Nancy: Well, I think my favorite part is that it’s me. It’s me growing up falling in love with skating. There’s a picture of my coach speaking to me and we’re looking into each other’s eyes. Every time I see that picture, even though it’s illustrated, it brings back a flood of memories. And what he’s saying in the text is exactly how he would say it to me. He’s no longer with us. I have just such wonderful memories with him.
Joe: Since the book is you and your story, did it come naturally to write it? What was the writing process like for you?
Nancy: This was a dream I had as a little girl every night – so it was very easy for me to write it. The illustrations were photographs of me that I then gave to my illustrator. And it was easy for her to work on them because they always depicted what the picture said. I believe the hardest part was actually creative Sassafrass. That took about a month. Just to create my face and get all the details right. I mean, I have crazy hair – even if I get it done, curls are everywhere. So, finally after a month, I realized we were good after just adding a few more freckles. My face is full of freckles! I just wanted to create something that would make people smile. And you know, it makes me smile to see everything come together in the book as well.
Joe: That’s the wonderful thing about children’s books! There are so many little details – even in just one illustration. You have to be so precise about every marking on a face, just like you said. Every freckle counts! So, how long did it take to finish the book? How long was the entire process of writing, illustrating, and then finalizing the self-publish?
Nancy: It didn’t take long for me to write the book because all of it is true – and it’s my life. The book shares everything that has happened in my life up until I was about 5 years old. I believe it took about a year to finish the whole process.
Joe: So this is your first book, right? What was the process like for you? Can you share your experience working with us at BookBaby?
Nancy: It was wonderful, especially because I had a lot of questions. I worked with Christina Ellis, and she was amazing for me. I would call with so many questions and what seemed like a big deal to me was not a big deal at all for her. Whenever I would be worried about something, she would be like, “oh, don’t worry about that! This is what we do and it’s easy.” Whenever I had a question, she had an answer and a solution that made it so easy. She helped me so much along the way – and everyone else also did such an amazing job helping me make this a reality.
This was my first book – and I learned so much throughout the process. My second book actually just got submitted to BookBaby today (February 27th, 2023)! This is going to be a full series called Adventures with Sassafrass and it will share lots of stories from my life. The new book is called It’s More than Hockey.
Joe: Oh, that’s great! I’m really excited to see it. It’s cool that you’re turning a vision into a whole series. I’m also wondering – as a first time author, what resources did you turn to when you were looking for help? If you had questions, what were the most impactful resources that helped you make the self-publishing process a reality?
Nancy: BookBaby. It really was all BookBaby. I came prepared with my text and my illustrations. But I really had no idea what I had to do next. I’m not that tech savvy either, but with BookBaby it was so simple to put it all together. When I saw the cover that the designers at BookBaby made, it was even better than I expected.
Joe: It has to be such a cool feeling to see your book after everything is complete – just to hold it in your hands. So, as you mentioned before, you worked with an illustrator. I’m curious what the process was like – how you found the illustrator, and what it was like to collaborate with her throughout the process?
Nancy: The illustrator is actually one of my students, and she is just 13 years old. Before her, I was working with another illustrator who was just too busy. She told me that she didn’t have time and I appreciated her honesty. Soon after, I was with a group of students and found out that one of their sibling’s could draw. So, I gave her some pictures and she came up with the illustrations for both books. Her name is Noorpreet Jandu and she did such an amazing job. It was fun to work with her.
I would give her a picture of what I was looking for – and then let her know what details needed to be added. Then she would send me mock-ups and proofs, and after I’d approve, she’d add color and finalize the illustrations. It was convenient and fun. The whole process was collaborative.
Joe: What’s it like to see yourself as a young girl come to life in this story?
Nancy: It’s a wonderful feeling and it brings back so many memories – and all of the fun that you have doing things for the first time. I’ve had so much fun seeing the pictures and the smile on my face. I still love to skate as much today as I did when I was 5 years old. And I’m so lucky. I’ve been teaching for 43 years. I teach mostly hockey players now, but I still love it. I just hope everyone in the world can find something that they love to do as much as I love to skate.
And then with writing the book, you know what, it’s something that’s totally out of my comfort zone. But at 63 years old, it’s time to learn something new – and I learned a lot. It’s been a lot of fun and BookBaby made the process as easy as possible for me.
Joe: That’s great to hear. One thing that I love about your book is that it can inspire young kids out there to start skating and find something they love. Sometimes, all it takes is a story like yours for someone to realize that they can pursue their passions and follow their dreams.
Nancy: Yes and just dream big dreams – because dreams can come true. And I also encourage everyone to find something that they love – whether it’s skating, hockey, bowling, anything. If you work hard at something, good things can happen. That’s what I’m trying to get through to everyone. I hope to inspire all to be the best they can be. My book doesn’t involve a dream about becoming world champion. In my book, it’s a little girl who wants to be the best skater she possibly can be.
Joe: Did you always know then that skating would be your life?
Nancy: Oh yes. There’s a newspaper article of me when I was 10 years old. They asked me what I want to do with my future – and I said that my future would be skating. And that’s exactly what happened. I knew all along that this was what I wanted to do.
Joe: Who were the most influential people you met along the way when you look back at your life and your career?
Nancy: Definitely my coach. He was absolutely amazing and patient. I look back fondly at so many memories with him and I would never be where I am today without him. Also, my parents were incredibly influential for me. My mom didn’t get to skate when she was younger since her parents couldn’t afford it. So, she made sure to support me through everything. She loved being there with me at competitions. She would do my makeup and coordinate my outfits. We just had a ball. And my dad always told me that there’s nothing I could ever do to disappoint him. So I knew that through my life, no matter what, I would have his support. That was a nice feeling.
Joe: You know, the people who have been able to live their dreams always have an amazing support system behind them. Behind every successful person is a role model and those who support them along each step of the way. It’s really nice to hear that you had such great people in your life.
So, I have this question. For those who are similar to you, maybe their passion isn’t skating, but they have a story to tell and are hesitant to share it … what advice do you have for them?
Nancy: You know what… if it’s something you’re passionate about, go for it. Also, for first time authors, I always recommend getting your book professionally edited. You can do that with BookBaby. It’s a process, and it takes time. But do it right. You have plenty of time to think about your story and help along the way. But if this is what you love and if you can inspire someone, tell your story and start the book. It’s worth it.
Joe: What do you hope that children and readers will take away from your books?
Nancy: I think the biggest thing is just to dream. Whatever it is – you can do anything. There are so many things in this world for you to do. Pick something and give it everything you’ve got, and be the best you can be. I think everyone needs some confidence and happiness – and when you give something your all, you will experience that.
Joe: This is so true. Especially for kids and young people, it can be scary to follow your passions and try new things. So, I think that’s really nice advice. It would be amazing if you can get your book introduced to young kids in Ontario – especially students and skaters.
Nancy: Yes actually at the club I worked at for over 40 years, I’ll be doing a book signing! It’s on May 7th. We also have a local author showcase and I’ll be in their library and on their online bookshop for a year getting exposure.
Joe: That’s amazing. Of course, readers can purchase your book right now on BookBaby Bookshop. I hope they do that because it’s such a wonderful book to read. I’m glad that you have new books coming out and a book singing. Author events are a great way to connect with readers and increase your exposure.
Now, you can add “children’s book author” to your impressive resume! I know you have a second book coming out. Any plans for more after that?
Nancy: There will be another book about Sassafrass heading to New York City at Christmas time with her mom! Of course, she’s going to skate at Rockefeller Center and make snow angels. All of it is based off true events.
Joe: How amazing! I’m looking forward to it. So here’s my last question. What has been the most rewarding aspect of this entire process for you?
Nancy: I think it has been accomplishing something new. You know, I didn’t go to university because I went right on tour when I was 19 years old. Then when I came home, I started skating right away. So, I never had that university experience. Skating has just always been my life. Then seeing this book with my name on it, it blew me away. When it all came together, it was such a special moment. I’m looking forward to writing more books. I have a lot to say, and I just want to share it with the world. I used to speak face to face with young skaters. I did it for 40 years. Now with my writing, I can still reach out to them and coach them in a completely different way.
Joe: You know, it’s your skating dream. But now, it also can be someone else’s dream. That’s very exciting. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and share your story. I do want to remind those listening that you can purchase My Skating Dream on BookBaby Bookshop and anywhere else you wish to purchase books. It’s a wonderful story and I’m excited about your new books. Thanks again for being here!
Nancy: Of course.
I relate to you as an author and my experience with 2 of my self published books children’s books, Paige Persnickety’s Purr-fact Pet and Joining Forces with Glory, was similar to yours, in that I selected my illustrators. One was my daughter-in-law and the other a middle school student.
My first and only traditionally published children’s book, Elton the Elf, I had republished last year (as the publisher went out of business around 2013) through Book Baby and was very happy with my experience with them.
My 42 year old niece also has ice skated all her life and taught too, and still teaches. I plan to buy your book for her!