It's a long way from Northern Manitoba to London, England but that's where figure skating has taken Colin Ratushniak, with many other stops along the way.
Ratushniak was born in Thompson and moved to Gillam with his family at the age of two, which is when he first started ice skating thanks to some inspiration from an aunt who is a figure skating coach and lives in Lynn Lake. He took up figure skating when he was 12 years old and there were no longer enough hockey players in Gillam to make up a full team.
Now, he's one of 16 pairs of celebrities and figure skating professionals vying for the prize on the ITV reality show "Dancing on Ice" in the United Kingdom, the second-highest rated show in the country behind "X Factor," which features Britain's most famous figure skating duo, the 1984 Olympic ice dance champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
"For me this is the highlight of my career," said Ratushniak, 26, in a Jan. 5 e-mail from London, where he is preparing for the first live show Jan. 9. "A boy who grew up in a small town of 1,500 people in Northern Manitoba to now hitting the big screen with nearly 11 million viewers is very exciting."
Ratushniak's partner in the competition is Laura Hamilton, a TV presenter for Nickelodeon, who had never been on a pair of ice skates before training for the show started back in October.
"We have been training her for about 10 hours per week for the past eight weeks and this girl has come a long way!" says Ratushniak, admitting that working with a non-skater is a new experience that brings back memories of his own early days of skating. "Preparing for the show has been a very different experience from any other show that I have done. I've always worked with other trained skaters and professionals. It is thrilling to watch and work with Laura every single day. It kind of brings me back to my earlier days of skating when all the simple moves that I now take for granted become the highlight of the day when she masters them."
But a new twist to the format of the program, now in its sixth season, means all that hard work and preparation could quickly come to an end. The first and second weeks of the show will see four couples eliminated from the competition.
"It all comes down to a public vote," says Ratushniak. "Unfortunately, voting is only open to U.K. nationals which is why we are hoping that anyone from Canada can let their friends and families in the U.K. know about us to vote."
According to oddsmakers, Ratushniak and Hamilton are the favourites to win, but that doesn't mean they'll take anything for granted.
"Since the show is all down to public vote it really is anyone's game," Ratushniak said. "I do, however, think we have a great chance since she is fearless and will try anything! I know Laura and I would be gutted to go so quick in the competition especially after all the hard work we have put in over these past couple months."
One audience member who will definitely be rooting for Ratushniak asnd Hamilton is his mother, Wendy Ratushniak, who is travelling to the U.K to take in the first two episodes live.
"I'm going to be in the audience there on Sunday," said Wendy, whose sister Lois Hainstock is a long-time Thompson resident. "I think this has been the biggest thing of his career. I'm trying to get people who have a lot of friends and family in the U.K. to vote."
Her son also seems to have landed a partner who matches his personality well, says Wendy.
"I know that she's very high-energy. I think he couldn't have been paired with somebody better."
Ratushniak's moves on the ice took him out of Northern Manitoba in 1998, when his family moved to Brandon, where he continued training and began his competitive career, reigning as the men's provincial figure skating champion from 1998 to 2002 and capturing a bronze medal at the junior national competition in 2000.
Following his graduation from high school, Ratushniak made figure skating his job.
"I made my show skating debut with Disney On Ice and toured to more than 300 cities, 30 countries, and five continents," says Ratushniak. "In 2008 I started working with other producers such as Rand Productions and Karen Kresge Productions."
Still, he says, it was a chance encounter that landed him his current gig.
"I was doing a Christmas ice show in Hong Kong last winter and was working as a bartender on the weekends," Ratushniak explains. "The lounge was very quiet one evening and I got speaking with this gentlemen. We exchanged our stories and as it turns out he was an ex-executive for the TV station that is producing 'Dancing On Ice'. He told me to send him my CV. I really thought nothing of it to be honest but thought why not, what do I have to lose. Seven months later I got an e-mail from the producers of 'Dancing On Ice' saying they would love me and my professional partner to join the show! It was an epic feeling and we of course said yes!"
Because it's televised, this job is different than any he's had in the past.
"As it is essentially a reality show, we have cameras on us at all time and we are mic'd up," Ratushniak writes. "We have been at the studio over this past week and this is a right proper 'Hollywood' set. There must be about 20 different cameras all trying to get the best shot for the viewers at home. Another part of doing this show comes with the exposure. My Twitter followers have skyrocketed, people are sending in pictures to be autographed and girls screaming my name across malls. It's all very flattering."
Whatever happens, the exposure Ratushniak's getting can only be good for his career, he figures.
"I never thought that being from a little town up in Northern Manitoba would I ever get that chance simply because you don't hear that happening ever," he says. "Hopefully, the exposure that this show can give me will one day open up doors for future shows, or even into other avenues that I cannot even imagine yet. I would love to do more television work and maybe this is just the platform that I need. I'm looking forward to the big debut this Sunday!"