The first time a young Coco Kaminski set foot on the ice, her parents put her on a frozen Lake Minnetonka to learn to skate with her siblings. “As soon as I could have skates on my feet, my mom strapped skates on me,” says Coco, whose full name is Colette. “We always had a rink or were at the rink.” She was the fourth child in a Minnetonka family, including a sister who skates, but her parents didn’t push her toward competitive skating. Coco developed that passion all on her own.
Skating coach Judy Johnson Bouts still remembers when she met Coco as a tenacious 4-year-old. “Coco and her mother were taking a mommy-and-me skating class at the Minnetonka Ice Arena,” says Johnson Bouts. “She had such a love for it. She was so determined.” Even as a preschooler, Coco showed a resolve to master skills that were unusual for her age. “I was teaching her forward crossovers and she would not stop,” says Johnson Bouts.
When Coco started competing at the age of 5, she would give her coach her favorite stuffed animal to hold while she was on the ice. “I think it was a bunny,” says Johnson Bouts. “Now, she’s my fearless flyer.”
Now, at 18 years old, Coco is a dynamic skater whose talent has been sharpened with practice and discipline. “I’m a really big jumper,” says Coco. “I feel like I want to be known for my big jumps and power.” She practices as many as six days a week, often rising early to fit in extra stretching or conditioning. Coco has received many state awards, competed in the U.S. Junior National competition, and won USFSA Double Gold medals. “She is self-motivated and a hard worker,” says Johnson Bouts. “You never have to tell her to get busy, and she never misses a practice. “
Through her years as a student at the Blake School, Coco juggled her rigorous skating schedule with academic work. When many of her friends stopped competitive figure skating to participate in other team sports, Coco kept pushing through to the next level. More often than not, her competitions meant travel, having to miss several days of school, and complete make-up work on her own. “That’s one of the things that makes me so proud of Coco,” says Johnson Bouts. “To be able to balance all of that with competitive skating is tough. She’s done a great job of it.”
Joining a National Team
In 2013, Coco’s talent presented an unexpected detour. Because Coco’s father is from Poland, she has dual United States-Polish citizenship, and so received an invitation to compete on the Polish national team. “It was tricky, because it meant I had to give up skating for any qualifying competitions for the United States,” says Coco.
“But U.S. figure skating is extremely competitive and still very political. It seemed like the best opportunity for me skating-wise and opportunity-wise. I get to travel and be a Polish citizen.”
Since then, she’s traveled to Europe to compete for Poland. “I’ve been excited to see how much support she gets over there,” says Coco’s mom, Brenda Kaminski, who travels with Coco. “They really want her to succeed. They really appreciate her ability to jump and her commitment.”
To represent Poland in world competition or at the Olympics, Coco would have to earn a certain number of points, or Poland would have to get a slot to send a competitor. “I know I can get that amount of points,” says Coco. “It’s just a matter of doing it. I’m hopeful, and competing for Poland has made it more of a reality.”
But Coco’s path as a competitive skater hasn’t been all glitz and gold. A skater who is now known for her jumps first had to endure her share of painful falls, on and off the ice.
A few months after she received the invitation to compete for Team Poland, Coco suffered a back injury that would have debilitated other skaters. “I don’t know exactly what happened,” says Coco, “but one day, I couldn’t move my back. I just lay on the floor and it was extremely painful.”
Instead of giving in, she got treatment, started physical therapy and kept going. “This back injury was significant and would’ve ended some skaters’ careers,” says her mother. “But you don’t know Coco.”
Her strength and perseverance in overcoming injury can possibly be attributed to the role skating had played only a year before Coco’s back injury, when her father battled stage-four prostate cancer, which devastated the close-knit family. During the yearlong treatment, Coco stayed with family or friends while her mother stayed with her father in the hospital. “I skated through it all, but I don’t think my head was all there,” remembers Coco. “The rink was a nice place to go relax. Most of the people didn’t know [about my father’s cancer], so my life was normal when I was at the rink.”
With her father’s cancer now in remission, her back healed and her drive to compete intact, Coco has overcome all the hurdles life has thrown at her. “I don’t think anyone would’ve blinked an eye if she would’ve quit,” says Brenda. “But she gets sheer enjoyment out of the sport. When she gets on the ice, she’s a different person. She blossoms and it’s fun to watch.”
Coco started college this fall at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., with the East Coast location making it easier to travel to Europe for competition. While college is a priority, Coco also plans to keep skating and competing as long as she enjoys it. “I always think, I’m not going to do something I hate,” says Coco. “If I skate in college and it gets too hard, then I’ll reevaluate.”
Those around Coco believe her talent is still developing, and her best performances are yet to come. “I feel like she’s recovered from injuries and she’s about to shove off and break through on some of the consistency with her triple jumps,” says Johnson Bouts. “[Competing for Team Poland] is a great opportunity for her.”
Coco admits it would be amazing to compete in a high-profile international competition, but she’s very unassuming about her ability and accomplishments. “Most athletes in a solo sport really have to put themselves out there and have a lot of personality,” says Brenda Kaminski. “She’s really humble about what she’s accomplished and her raw ability. The passion to skate is in her heart and in her blood.”