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Sackville couple’s learn-to-skate harness hitting store shelves this fall

Martine and Chris Patterson, shown here with their kids Emma and Jake, have invented a harness that is deigned to teach children at a young age to skate while also helping ease the load off parents’ backs.
Martine and Chris Patterson, shown here with their kids Emma and Jake, have invented a harness that is deigned to teach children at a young age to skate while also helping ease the load off parents’ backs.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – With a new skating season set to get under way, parents looking to find an easier way to teach their young toddlers to skate may be in luck.

A new product is set to hit the market this fall that will help make the struggle less of a challenge.

And the invention comes from a local couple who faced the same problem when hitting the ice with their children.

Chris and Martine Patterson of Sackville have designed a harness that aims to save the backs of parents across the country while helping kids learn how to skate safely starting at a very young age.

“It’s a great way to introduce them to skating in a fun and safe way and to make it an enjoyable and fun experience,” said Chris.

The idea came to Chris after a trip to the local arena where he attempted to take his daughter skating a few years ago. Emma, who is now four, was a year and a half at the time and Chris said after holding her up for only a couple of laps around the ice, his back started getting sore and she wasn’t enjoying it either.

“It was not fun for anyone,” he said.

So after doing some research on the Internet, and not finding a lot of options out there that would help kids that young, he thought maybe he should come up with his own skating aid. His idea was sparked further by watching his daughter one day play at home in her jolly jumper.

“I thought if she slipped, she’d just get caught in her harness . . . so I thought this could work.”

So he and his wife Martine, who is a physiotherapist, headed to the garage and, using some PVC pipe, a jolly jumper harness and some skate laces, began to rig up their new invention.

Then they headed back to the rink where they took Emma skating once again.

“This time we stayed for the whole ice time,” he said. “She was having fun and I was having fun.”

Other parents, of course, began to notice and started asking about this new device and where they could get one. Chris said he initially just put this harness together to teach his own kids to skate; but when he saw the interest coming from other parents, he started realizing its potential.

Left to right, Russell Pauley, Jacob Mitton, and Jake and Emma Patterson test out the latest prototype of the couple’s learn-to-skate harness invented by a Sackville couple.

“That’s where I got the idea it would be something good to bring to market,” he said.

Then came the hard part. With this being their first experience as entrepreneurs or inventors, the Pattersons have been learning as they go.

More than two years in, they are still in the process of patenting the two-stage learn-to-skate harness but things are looking positive on that end, said Chris, with their invention having been described as “innovative and inventive.”

During those two years, they have had a number of meetings with interested companies and ended up striking a deal with WinnWell, a firm out of Mississauga, Ontario that sells hockey equipment, nets and skating aids.

“They loved it,” said Chris.

Then prototypes were made and tested, until the harness was just the way they wanted it.

Chris was able to use one of the prototypes for his son Jake this past winter. At 13 months old, and just learning to walk, Chris said Jake was able to stay out on the ice along with his older sister.

“He was enjoying it and getting a skating technique at only one year old.”

The harness seat is able to be adjusted, said Chris, so that it can be lowered or raised depending on the needs of the child – whether they can put more or less weight onto the ice. Even at young ages, they can still learn balance and technique even if they are relying more on the harness, he said.

“It’s a great way for parents to get their kids out on the ice as early as possible.”

And the push handle allows parents who are not good skaters themselves to be more confident teaching their kids.

The harness seat also can be removed so that it becomes a more traditional skate trainer when the child gets a bit older.

Chris said he worked with WinnWell on packaging for the harness, then began marketing it to retailers.

The harness, which folds and fits into the trunk of any car, will hit a number of store shelves this fall in Canada and the US, with one of the major ones being Pro Hockey Life.

“If sales go well this fall, we hope to go into more the following year,” he said

Locally, the harness will be available at Payzant’s Home Hardware in Sackville and at Maltby’s in Amherst. It is already available online at winnwell.ca

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