The call came while Kiri Baga was at a restaurant. The 14-year-old skater shouted in disbelief when she heard the news: She would be making her first trip overseas, to compete in Germany in her first Junior Grand Prix event.
Few in the figure skating world had heard of Baga before she won the U.S. novice championship in January. That anonymity ended in late September, when she won the women's title at the competition in Germany -- and followed with another Junior Grand Prix victory in Turkey two weeks later. The two golds vaulted the Bloomington teen into December's Junior Grand Prix Final in Tokyo, adding another city to the expanding itinerary of coach Lorie Charbonneau.
Charbonneau already had a busy fall planned with daughter Kate, the Canadian junior women's champion, who trains with Baga at Bloomington Ice Garden. Kate, 16, finished second in Croatia and eighth in Poland in her two Junior Grand Prix events and will compete for an Olympic berth at Canada's national championships in mid-January. Four days later, Baga will pursue the junior women's title at the U.S. championships.
Though Charbonneau doesn't like to fly, she's never been so happy to show her passport.
"We joked for years that someday, I'd be at an international competition with Canada on one side of my jacket and USA on the other,'' said Charbonneau, who lives in Prior Lake and coaches at the Figure Skating Club of Bloomington. "This season has been a dream. And it's just starting.''
Kiri and Kate are close friends and spend most of their time together at the rink. The girls attend an online high school and train three hours a day, five days a week, on the ice. In between, they do ballet, Pilates and other workouts to enhance their strength and flexibility.
When Baga was 9, her rapidly emerging talent prompted her mother, Brenda, to drive her from their Duluth home to the Twin Cities every weekend to train with Charbonneau. Later, Kiri began staying with the Charbonneau family three days a week, and Brenda and Kiri now rent a home in Bloomington.
Kiri didn't advance out of the regional competition before the 2008 U.S. championships, making her an unknown entering the 2009 nationals. But she had developed great confidence to support her skills. Her well-balanced style, which combines superb jumping ability with graceful spins and precise footwork, earned her the title -- and impressed U.S. Figure Skating officials so much that they began monitoring her for potential international assignments.
It's uncommon for a skater just graduating from the novice level to be chosen for a Junior Grand Prix. Though Baga expected only to gain valuable experience from her first international competition, her poise and her faith in her talent and preparation put her atop the podium.
"When they called to tell me I was going to Germany, I yelled, 'I can't believe I got this,''' she said. "I don't think they were expecting me to do very well. But I'm glad I could show them I was right up there. Representing the United States was an amazing experience.''
Because of a visa problem, Baga missed her pre-event practice and arrived in Turkey the night before her second international competition. She kept her cool and won to secure her spot in the Junior Grand Prix Final.
Kate Charbonneau is an alternate for that event, but her focus is squarely on the Canadian nationals. A Winnipeg native, her family has lived in Minnesota for 12 years. She frequently travels to Canada for training and competitions, and she is a contender for one of Canada's two Olympic berths.
Given her skaters' accomplishments this season, Lorie Charbonneau expects she could be spending more time in airports in the future. She may be a reluctant traveler, but she's eager to see where this journey takes them all.
"A lot of little girls have an Olympic dream, but very few put in the work to make it happen, like Kate has,'' she said. "For my daughter to be so strong and to stick to her goal, I admire her. And Kiri is a wonderful, wonderful skater; our expectations for her are so high that it takes a lot to surprise us.
"We're excited for what's happened so far, and we're taking it all in. But we see this as just the beginning.''