As Coralie Raunig steps into the rink at the Hampton Roads IcePlex, trim and stylish in a short black dress with a sparkly silver neckline, she feels the years fall away.
Raunig is 87 years old. She has 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, with a seventh on the way. But when she skates, she’s again a little girl playing with her dad on a frozen Montana pond.
“I have such a sense of freedom,” she says. “If you have any thoughts or worries or concerns, you better don’t dare bring them on the ice. You better let go and concentrate.”
A retired special education teacher, Raunig drives from her Williamsburg, Va., home to the York County rink twice a week, arriving by 6:30 a.m. for hour-long skates. Since rediscovering her childhood passion at age 65, she has added a coach to choreograph dance routines for amateur performances and competitions, which she enters two or three times a year in her hand-sewn costumes.
Raunig isn’t reckless, nor is she fearless. In recent years, she has given up bigger, frequent jumps for small hops, slow spins, smooth glides and elegant arm motions. She often wears knee and posterior pads, has had her bone density checked and has learned how to protect herself in falls.
Other than normal post-workout aches, Raunig has only been hurt once at the rink, when she hit the back of her head on the ice last spring and needed one stitch to close a cut. “I can’t pop right back up anymore when I fall, but people also know not to come help me,” she says. “Just let me take my time. If I can’t get up, I will crawl off.”
Luis Lovett, Raunig’s longtime coach, says her desire to skate is much stronger than any practical limitations of age. “Coralie is very dedicated, and she loves to entertain,” Lovett says. “She gives it everything she has. I don’t think she holds back at all.”
The octogenarian is also an inspiration to his younger students, Lovett adds: “She’s certainly proof of the longevity you can have in this sport.”
Raunig started skating at age 4, during her childhood in Great Falls, Mont. She tagged along when her father went ice fishing on inlets of the Missouri River, pretending to be a ballerina as she slid around him and scooted through his legs. Her family couldn’t afford skating lessons during the Great Depression, so she taught herself moves by reading a library book that she renewed for a year.
“Almost everybody skated,” Raunig recalls. “We kids would get skates from Montgomery Ward for Christmas every year, since we’d outgrown or worn out the pair from the year before.”
At 19, Raunig put her skating life on pause to follow her high school sweetheart, David, to Annapolis for his schooling at the U.S. Naval Academy. They married the day after he graduated, traveled the world for his work, raised four children together and will celebrate their 65th anniversary in June.
When David was sent to Vietnam, Coralie decided she needed to be able to support herself in case he didn’t return. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Old Dominion University and the College of William & Mary, respectively and built a 22-year career as a teacher, mainly in Newport News elementary schools. She and David moved to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Queens Lake in 1976 and share their home with a 170-pound Newfoundland dog named Barney.
Once she retired, Raunig quickly realized she wouldn’t be happy sitting at home or with “typical” pursuits such as Bridge or garden clubs. “I hadn’t skated for 45 years, but I said, ‘I just know I can do it,’” she recalls. “I’m one of those types of people.”
With her flair for the dramatic, Raunig refers to a “Copacabana” number at the 2017 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in North Carolina as one of her favorite performances. Wearing a bright yellow-and-blue costume with a 15-inch tall headdress, she won an award for oldest competitor at the event, given in honor of a woman who had skated until her death at age 90.
Raunig likes going to the IcePlex early, when the ice is smoothest and the rink is emptier. “It’s fun talking with the kids there,” she says. “They do zoom around me, but they’re careful and very kind.”
Each winter, Raunig is happy to see more local outdoor rinks for skaters of all ages. As for those who feel too old to try a new sport, she encourages them to overcome worry and excuses: “What I hear most is, ‘Oh my ankles are too weak.’ Well, you can solve that by getting skates a size smaller than your regular shoes. Just go for it.”
As for Raunig, she plans to skate as long as she’s physically able. “I think I’ll know when I can’t anymore,” she says. “Until then … life’s too short not to do what you really enjoy.”