When Ada native Jennifer Payne was first learning to skate, she borrowed her father’s old plastic skates for a lap around an ice rink.
But she soon realized that her father’s skates weren’t going to work.
“I came back, and I was like, ‘Dad, no! I can’t skate in these. They’re bad skates. They’re bad skates,’” she said. “Of course, he laughed, like, ‘What do you know? You’ve never done this before.’
“So finally, he put me in a pair of nicer leather skates, and I just took right off and never looked back.”
Payne was about 10 at the time, and she begged her parents for skating lessons. They agreed, thinking that her enthusiasm for skating would wear off after a few weeks.
Twenty-two years later, the Ada woman is still skating.
Payne, who holds a degree in figure skating science from the University of Delaware, is an ensemble and understudy performer with Disney On Ice. The series of touring ice shows is produced by Feld Entertainment’s Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice under an agreement with the Walt Disney Co.
The Ada News caught up with Payne in late August, shortly before Disney On Ice was set to begin a five-day run at the Oklahoma State Fair. Here are questions and answers from that interview, edited for clarity and length.
The Ada News: Tell me when and how you got interested in ice skating.
Jennifer Payne: When I was a little younger than 10, my niece actually took skating lessons in Oklahoma City. I would go with her sometimes, and I loved it.
And then when my great-grandmother was sick in the hospital up in Tulsa, so that my sister and I didn’t have to sit around the hospital all day, my dad would take us to do different things. We loved to go ice skating up there. …
When I was growing up, my dad would take me to Oklahoma City. We started in Bethany at Iceland, and then we would sake in Moore sometimes at the Blazer Center, But most of my skating I did in Edmond at Arctic Edge.
My teachers at Ada Junior High and High School were amazing, and they would let me leave class early one day a week. Drive two hours, skate for a couple of hours, spend the night. We’d get either a hotel or — they didn’t have Airbnbs back then, but the equivalent — we’d stay in a skater’s home or somebody’s grandmother’s home.
I’d get up at 3:45 the next morning, skate for a couple of hours and drive back to school. And I’d get to first hour late.
And then in the summer, my dad and I would move to Edmond and spend Monday through Friday there so I could practice skating, and then come back to Ada on the weekends to see my mom and my sister.
My family has really sacrificed a lot for me to get where I am today and for me to be able to skate. That was something that I always knew was a wonderful gift that they gave me. But I didn’t really realize how much until now I’m an adult, and I realize all of the sacrifices that they made to get me here.
My dad was retired by the time I was 10 or 11, so he could take me. And then my mom worked extra hard, extra hours to make sure we had enough money because it’s an expensive sport.
The Ada News: Where were the venues that you skated at when you were growing up?
Jennifer Payne: I skated at all three Oklahoma City rinks: Iceland, which no longer exists. The Blazer Center. But most of my career, I skated at Arctic Edge in Edmond.
My coach was Alanna Jones, and she’s been my coach pretty much from day one. She was a show skater, as well as my choreographer, Chris Castleberry. He was also a show skater, and he used to skate for Disney, and he used to do the choreography for Disney on Ice.
Their love of show skating really got me into wanting to do professional show skating after I stopped competing.
The Ada News: While you were in college earning your degree, did you have any specific career goals in mind?
Jennifer Payne: I wanted to be a choreographer, and I wanted to show skate. So either skate for Disney On Ice or a cruise ship or something like that.
My first show I did was in Valdosta, Georgia, at Wild Adventures Theme Park. I was the principal pair skater there, and we had this whole Broadway revue that we did. That was the summer between my junior and senior year of college.
After I graduated from college, about a week before I graduated, I got this email from Disney that said, “Do you want to go to Japan?” Well, yes. Yes, please. That was a really fun email to get.
And I thought, “Well, I’ll do it for a couple of years, then I’ll get off the road and become a choreographer.”
And here I am, starting my 11th year on tour and going strong.
The Ada News: What was your professional show (in Valdosta) like for you?
Jennifer Payne: It was a lot of fun. I was really young. I had never lived away from home except for at college, so it was sort of the first real job I had living on my own. I lived in an apartment with the other skaters. It was kind of intimidating and overwhelming and so much fun.
I think it was the perfect show to start with because it was such a small-scale show, and it kind of broke me in. I was able to get my feet underneath me and understand a little bit about show skating before jumping into the big leagues with Disney.
The Ada News: Did you start with Disney On Ice right out of college?
Jennifer Payne: I did. I got that email a week before I graduated, and I went, I think, a month after I graduated from the university.
I had never been out of the country, with the exception of one mission trip I did with First Baptist here in Ada to the Bahamas. And I had some visa issues — they were late getting my visa to me — so I didn’t even fly with anybody else. I flew by myself to Japan.
That was quite the experience, doing all of that — bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and completely free and having no idea what I was doing. I remember being so terrified.
And now I look back at it, and I think that was the best decision I ever made was to take that leap of faith and go through this door that God has opened for me.
Now I’m really glad I did. I’ve been to 36 different countries. I’ve traveled the world. I have friends in all different countries, which is really fun. It’s just been the best experience.