Subtropical Southwest Florida claims a surprising number of connections to ice and winter sports.  Naples’  Brian Shimer has become a fixture in Olympic bobsled competition and coaching. An 8,000-seat ice arena in Estero now hosts pro hockey, ice shows and recreation for all ages.

Skating music programmer Alex Goldstein of Naples with friends Marina Zoueva and Johnny Johns

Now the beauty and grace of Olympic class ice dancing and other figure skating comes to Hertz Arena as a worldly skating couple move to Naples from Detroit. Soviet native Marina Zoueva’s and U.S.-born Johnny Johns’ International Skating Academy, including four other coaches, will make Hertz a teaching leader in Florida and beyond.

Zoueva, the head coach, says she picked Estero for two reasons. First, she and Johns are outdoors people and know the area from visiting longtime colleague and friend Alex Goldstein of Naples, a world-famous creator of precision music programs for Zoueva and other skaters since the 1970s. Second, the area and Hertz fit the academy’s devotion to year-round athletic training, which now is forced indoors by Michigan winters.

Zoueva says the academy relocation search team found Hertz to be of ideal size for simulating global performance venues. Plus, it is ideally located near an international airport, schools, FGCU, apartments, restaurants, parks and beaches. The mission is to work at sports such as bicycling, soccer and rowing to broaden muscles, motor skills and vision – in sync with Zoueva’s belief in good mental health and happiness stemming from good physical health.

Marina and Johnny with some star pupils backstage at 2014 Skate America  competition – Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Maia and Alex Shibutani.

Hertz officials are pleased, too. Craig Brush, who led the founding of the arena, calls the teaching duo “second to none.’’ “It’s a big deal for us,’’ says Brush. A Brush assistant, Karl Masnjak, enthuses: “The amount of respect that both Marina and Johnny have in the sport of figure skating is unmatchable. They are in that class as the best of the best.’’ Director of skating at Hertz, Kandis Hawkins, is excited about academy students – “the top national, international and Olympic athletes in the sport’’ from around the world, as well as locals.

Zoueva focuses on positivity to build leaders on and off the ice: “Every individual has a special talent. My goal is to find that talent and nurture it in order to help each person reach their full potential.” She adds: “I tell them what to do to be better, better, better. “Put in the work and the medal will come.’’ She, like Johns, speaks from 30-plus years of coaching experience at the highest levels in Russia, Canada and the United States. She had students from the U.S., Germany and Japan in the last Winter Olympics. Her students won gold or silver medals in 1988, 1994, 2010 and 2014; those and others have won additional top honors around the world.

Her competitive and teaching successes, as well as those of Johns, would fill a whole page in  this Marina and Johnny with star pupils magazine.  Students ages 9 to 29 can come to the academy for as little fine-tuning or as much overall coaching as they need. The curriculum includes on- and off-ice drills in ballet and ballroom dancing, mime expressionism and even weightlifting for “explosive power and all-around strength,’’ the academy website says.

And there’s more. The academy will offer skating or other educational opportunities for parents bringing youngsters, and a sort of fantasy camp for adults who have dreamed of skating with stars such as
Zoueva and Johns. She also holds out the chance for the public to come see students’ exhibitions.

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