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She’s spent 72 years on the ice, and counting

Marcia Roussos is greeted by former students “the Messina Girls," sisters (from left to right) Marisa O'Dwyer, Beverly Fernald, and Christine Messina at a Nov. 21, 2015, event celebrating her 80th birthday and career as a figure-skating coach.
Marcia Roussos is greeted by former students “the Messina Girls," sisters (from left to right) Marisa O'Dwyer, Beverly Fernald, and Christine Messina at a Nov. 21, 2015, event celebrating her 80th birthday and career as a figure-skating coach.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

When Marcia Roussos fell in love with skating, it was nowhere near a rink.

It was 1943, wartime, when the then 8-year-old Marcia Ganzel first joined the crowds gliding about two frozen ponds near Quincy's Furnace Brook Parkway, about a half-mile from her childhood home.

But come sundown, when most others went home, she often kept right on, her twirls and criss-crosses the last imprinted on the surface of the ice.

"It was such a wonderful feeling,'' she said, "to step on that ice and just stroke, and feel the wind in your face and skin."

That feeling imbued in her a lifelong love of figure skating and started her on what's now a 72-year career — and counting — as a performer and a teacher. At a recent event celebrating her arc, Roussos, now 80 and living in Norwell, made it clear she's not quitting anytime soon.

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She says she's "semi-retired," meaning she no longer teaches children to skate, but she still gives weekly lessons to adults at arenas in Hingham and Pembroke.

She does so, grudgingly, sans skates. She took them off for good two years ago when sciatica in her left leg became too nagging.

Not that the petite Roussos, who brims with energy, didn't try.

"I got on the ice and my right foot was fine,'' she said, "but my left foot didn't work. And it wasn't worth it if I fell.''

What keeps drawing her to the ice, though, is "just the feel of walking it, the coolness of it, the cold. It wakes you up very fast."

Her grandmother, whom she affectionately called äiti — Finnish for mother — was the first to notice her passion, and began taking her to skating lessons when she was 14.

"We'd walk a half-mile to the bus stop and take three buses and one subway to get to the Skating Club of Boston" in north Brighton, she said, "and the same thing coming home.

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"The love of [skating] grew there," she said.

It was there, too, that she was noticed. A man she knew only as Mr. Solomon, who worked for professional skaters Ed and Wilma Leary, asked whether she'd like to join an ice show that toured the country, she said. Just 19, she became the youngest member of a 13-person company.

She made good money, she said, but it was hardly the Ice Capades: The troupe actually created makeshift rinks in hotel dining rooms.

In 1956, after two years of touring, Roussos found her true calling — teaching the sport.

She started in Weymouth and eventually coached in many towns south of Boston, including Foxborough, Rockland, Cohasset, and Bridgewater.

Roussos estimated she's taught more than 1,000 students, many of whom went on to careers with the Ice Capades and Disney on Ice and the like. For years, she choreographed and directed her own mini-versions of such shows for local ice clubs.

As a coach, she's received three master ratings from the Professional Skaters Association. Of nearly 5,500 instructors registered nationwide, that group says, she is one of 57 still teaching to have achieved that distinction.

Vicki Hildebrand, a national US Figure Skating judge and former coach, said she's known Roussos by reputation for years.

"Marcia is known as somebody who is a really good person to train skaters from the minute they start, all the way up until they achieve their highest level," said Hildebrand, 56, of Williston, Vt. "She understands skating."

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But sticking with it wasn't always easy. After the birth of her first two sons in the 1960s, she was hard-pressed to continue, and things only became harder when she and her first husband, James Hebert, divorced.

"It's not easy when you're single," she said. "I just had times where I thought, Jeez, should I be pursuing something else at this point?"

She never did.

At a recent event in Abington, as family and friends celebrated her 80th birthday, some of her former students paid tribute.

"Marcia absolutely loves what she's doing,'' said Ian Macadam, 40, a past New England skating champion who credits Roussos with keeping him on the ice when he arrived here from Scotland. "That is something that she passed on to all her students."

Lauren Luscombe and Kara Protulis held back tears as they spoke of learning from her.

"She sets the bar high, and she gets you there,'' said Luscombe, 43, of Scituate, a Roussos student for about 16 years.

"She makes you do things that you don't think you can do," said Protulis, 40, of Cohasset, "but she knows you can do it.''

Roussos was showered with three awards of appreciation at the ceremony, two by her son Garry, 55, who has gone on to his own ice career as operator of Garry Hebert's World Academy of Hockey in Foxborough. BJ Roussos, her husband of 29 years, watched proudly, alongside her sons Christopher Hebert and Peter Breen, both from previous marriages, and eight of her nine grandchildren. The third was presented by her grandchildren to honor her as an "exceptional grandmother."

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In the final tribute of the night, Bob Donahoe, president of HD Sports, a London-based company that manufactures figure-skating blades, presented her with a specially made pair. The inscription read, "Coach Marcia."

And while the new blades won't be hitting the ice, the coach made it clear she still will.

"I'll still keep up with the skating,'' she said, "as much as I can."


Ella Torres can be reached at sara.torres@globe.com. Follow her @Ella_RTorres.