Passion on ice

Skating instructor rises from childhood abandonment to storybook life doing what she loves

Posted: Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kim Muir says her life has been like a Walt Disney fairy tale, though it certainly didn't start that way.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Sure, Cinderella had it rough with those evil stepsisters and that wicked stepmother, but Muir, now 37, was found next to a garbage can in her native country of South Korea when she was 6 months old.

No offense to Snow White, but how do you like them apples?

Yet since, the Detroit Red Wings skate coach has truly led a storybook life.

"I feel very blessed," Muir said with an assuring, confident smile.

After all, it takes a confident person - especially one who is all of "5-foot on a good day" - to show full-grown NHL tough guys how to skate the right way.

But she's been skating far longer than most of them. Actually, she wanted to be one of them.

"My brothers played college hockey, and my dad coached and reffed," she said. "My whole family was involved with hockey so I knew the verbiage. Being the youngest, you get drug to the ice rink all the time, and I thought I was going to be a hockey player."

Muir was adopted by a Detroit family when she was 4 years old.

"I was fortunate enough to have this Scottish-American family in Detroit who wanted a girl," she said. "There was a five-year waiting list for an American girl, so someone suggested they go international adoption. I didn't speak a word of English and we had a language barrier for about a month. And I was afraid of men when I first got here because it was always women taking care of me in the orphanage.

"Somehow, I overcame that, even though I'm sure my dad still wished I was afraid of men sometimes."

Muir went on to become a figure skater - one who could do incredible on-ice backflips - competing in the United States Figure Skating Association for eight years.

"I don't regret the fact that I never played hockey because I am truly a figure skater and a performer," she said. "I competed and went to training camp at the Olympic training center, and I was just like all the other athletes that were so close, yet still so far and never made it."

At 15, a hockey coach noticed Muir skating one day and asked her if she would work with some of his players.

"People always want what other people have," she said of the coach's admiration for her skill in a pair of skates. "I started out with two players. The next thing you know, I had 20, 50, 100. By the time I was 18, I had this full business going and I was making a lot of money."

So much so that her parents were afraid she wouldn't go to college. Two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree later, Muir thought about going into medicine. But she couldn't ignore the call of the ice.

"I went to medical school for one year but still, the passion was always to do this; to skate, to teach, to be a part of people's lives and build relationships," she said.

Muir has been to Juneau each of the last three years working with the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team and other locals at Treadwell Arena.

"The people here in Alaska are exceptionally nice. They make you feel welcome, and working with their kids, they all encourage each other. Back in Michigan, you don't see that as much," she said of the reason she keeps coming back. "When you see a 9- and 10-year-old skating with a 5- or 6-six-year-old and encouraging them, it's great. Whether they fall on their face or whatever, they're always picking each other up.

"That's the genuine spirit of the good-natured people here, and that's what brings me back every year," she continued. "Whether I make money or don't make money here, it's always worth my time. It's more about the relationships you can build. Hopefully, these become life-long friends and not just a short vignette of my life."

A life that sure has been sweet. Even if it didn't start out that way.

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