LAKE PLACID - Maggie Atkins brought home a bronze medal from the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in Cape Cod a few weeks ago, dressed in a bear costume, out-skating three others in her age group, 61 and older.
Yes, dressed in a bear costume. That's Cubby, with the English accent. She's 81 years old, and she's not slowing down.
The last time Atkins skated in the Adult Nationals, she competed against her friend, Barbara Kelly, a neighbor at The Greenwood apartments, an independent senior living facility on Greenwood Street.
Maggie Atkins poses as Cubby, the old Cape Cod Cubs hockey team mascot, during the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in April in Hyannis, Mass. She earned a bronze medal. (Photo provided)
"What's interesting about Maggie is her past," Kelly said. "All of the traveling with a group from England. She could tell you all about that."
And she did. About the ballet dancing in the 1940s, the ice skating shows in England in the 1950s, the circus act behind the Iron Curtain, and the Coffee Club figure skating group she and Kelly belong to in Lake Placid. And she explained the bear costume.
Atkins was the official mascot for the Eastern Hockey League's Cape Cod Cubs professional hockey team in South Yarmouth, Mass., starting in November 1972. They were affiliated with the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins. The general manager was Jack Crawford, and the coach was Bronco Horvath, both former Bruins players.
Asked how she got the gig, Atkins said, pointing to a photo of her in the original costume, holding the hand of a young boy, "They asked me to do it. ... One of the ladies on the board, she was good at making costumes, and she made this one."
Her husband, Maxwell "Maxie" Atkins, was a refrigeration engineer and helped install the ice sheet at the newly built Cape Cod Coliseum, home of the Cubs, in 1972. They had originally moved to Boston in 1969, from Maggie's hometown of Blackpool, England, because Maxie got a job as the refrigeration engineer for the new skating rink at Boston University. He, too, was a professional figure skater in a previous life. The couple moved to South Yarmouth with their three children, but Maggie's mascot days were numbered.
"I did it for two seasons, and then they got a young boy to dress as the Gloucester fisherman, so he was the mascot," Maggie said, "because they changed the name to the Cape Codders."
This year's U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships were held in nearby Hyannis, Mass., and Maggie hadn't been back to Cape Cod since moving away in 1996, shortly after her husband died.
"So I thought full circle," Maggie said. "Let's bring back Cubby. Remember the Cape Cod Cubs? That was my reason for going. ... I didn't go to medal; I went for the Cape Cod Cubs."
True to her spirit, Maggie dressed in a Cubby costume made by one of her daughters, complete with a vintage hockey stick, and performed to an edited version of "Are You Having Any Fun?" by Tony Bennett and Elvis Costello. Yet, for a variety of reasons, she decided to skip wearing Cubby's large head in the competition.
"If I had the head that's in the picture, I couldn't have skated, other than going round and round and round," Maggie said.
Although Maggie didn't run into anyone from the Cape Cod Cubs days, her homecoming was well worth the trip.
"It was great," Maggie said. "I was looking forward to being on Cape Cod, even if I didn't skate. I wanted to be there for a week, but like everywhere else, it's changed quite a bit. The mall is totally different."
Maggie once worked at the Cape Cod Mall in Hyannis. When she left Cape Cod, she followed her daughter, Alice, to Georgia and then to Saranac Lake. And once she arrived in the Adirondacks, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper about a new skating club for adults, the Coffee Club, organized by Barbara Kelly, who is several years older than Maggie.
"We started the Coffee Club in 1996, and she was the first person to call after I put the ad in the paper," Kelly said.
"As soon as my second daughter arrived up here in Saranac Lake, the first thing we did was look for skating," Maggie added. "The first thing my daughter and I did was sign up for the Coffee Club."
The Coffee Club is sponsored by the Skating Club of Lake Placid, and yes, coffee and baked goods are served during the meetings every Thursday morning at the Olympic Center.
"We skate around," Maggie said. "Then we chat. We skate around and come off. We have a coffee. Back on the ice and skate around some more."
Now the two 80-something skaters are headed to Seattle to take part in the U.S. Figure Skating Governing Council meeting from May 1 to 3. And they haven't ruled out competing in the future.
Maggie has come a long way from Blackpool. She was born Margaret Watson in 1932, as Lake Placid was enjoying the afterglow of the third Olympic Winter Games. As a young girl, she was thinking about dancing rather than skating.
"All I wanted to do was dance and go on stage," Maggie said. "So from 5 or 6 years old, I was going to dancing school, primarily training in ballet."
She was skilled enough for ballet but found her body wasn't built like the other dancers.
"They'd take me in the school, yes, because I could do everything as well as everybody else, but I wasn't tall enough, you see," Maggie said.
So she went back to her hometown in Blackpool and visited the skating rink there.
"At the end of the rink, they had a stage with about six dancers on there," Atkins said. "So I get on the stage part. And being on the ice rink, I had to rent skates and learn to skate. I learned just enough. Way back in 1950, you didn't have to do a lot to get into the chorus, the skating group. So I learned just enough to get in there. And as they say, the rest is history. I've been in ice shows ever since."
Maggie danced at the Blackpool Ice Drome in 1949 and taught herself how to skate. A year later, she was touring with the Ambassador Ballet company until it went bankrupt and she was hired as a professional skater in 1951 at the Margate in Blackpool, soon becoming a chorus girl in the summer and winter ice shows at the Ice Drome and Pleasure Beach in Blackpool.
"In the meantime, this guy had come up from London, joined the show, and we got married," Maggie said, referring to Maxie, who joined the company in 1954. They married at the end of the 1954 season. Maggie and Maxie decided not to renew their contract for 1956.
"Whoever was there said, 'Oh, but what are you going to do?'" Maggie said. "I said, 'Oh, I don't know, join the circus.' Because you don't have skating circuses, right? And we did. In 1957, we were in a circus touring East Germany."
After skating in the circus, they settled down in England and began to raise a family of three children: Nigel, Peggy and Alice. Maxie began a career as a refrigeration engineer for ice rinks, and Maggie was a homemaker. But they never lost their love for skating. In 1961, the couple skated in a production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in Liverpool for Queen Elizabeth II.
Asked why she continues to skate, Maggie said, "Because that's what we like to do."
"We love it," Kelly added. "It keeps us moving. It keeps us feeling like a part of the community."
"I feel like I'm a different person on the ice," Maggie said. "Once I get with a lovely bunch of ladies who skate, they're the best people I've ever met. And I just enjoy it, especially with the music. I can't keep still when the music is going."