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Subj: Kurt Browning Date: 11/3/03 12:57:00 PM Pacific Standard Time From: Kurtkountry To:,,,,, CC: BCC: JBAKER369

Major life changes afoot

Dancer Sonia Rodriguez and skater Kurt Browning glide into new roles with help of financial adviser, SHOWWEI CHU reports


UPDATED AT 3:27 PM EST Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003 Sonia Rodriguez's toes are bandaged and her hair is still damp from an afternoon of rehearsals at the National Ballet of Canada.

No one would guess from looking at the principal dancer that she recently had a baby with husband Kurt Browning, the four-time world figure-skating champion.

Becoming parents is not the only change in their lives. Before son Gabriel's arrival in July, Mr. Browning, 37, decided to scale back his gruelling schedule this year with Stars on Ice, the skating show that used to take him to six dozen U.S. and Canadian cities for about half the year since 1994, Ms. Rodriguez, 30, said.

They have worked hard, she said, knowing their careers are relatively short, but "we felt at this point, we can relax a bit, which is why he's stepping back.

"We've been investing this whole time, anyway, so we're sort of prepared," she added.

The voluntary pay cut and the additional expense of a nanny to look after the baby while Ms. Rodriguez prepares for her leading roles in next month's National Ballet production of Onegin and There Below, have made the two, she said, more conscious than ever about managing their money.

To simplify matters, they've decided to hire an accountant in Toronto rather than stay with their current one, who gives them advice through Mr. Browning's Edmonton-based lawyer.

"It's a big life change for us, with the baby and with him cutting back this much," Ms. Rodriguez said.

"We know we're probably not the best to know what to do, so we really felt like we needed somebody [here] who could help us out," she added.

The two are private banking clients with Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and have had a major part of their savings managed by its investment management firm, TAL Private Management Ltd., for more than five years, she said.

Ms. Rodriguez declined to say how much they have invested with TAL but, according to the firm, there is a minimum requirement of $1-million to be eligible for the service.

"We have everything in there," Ms. Rodriguez said.

"This is money [with which] we've just basically gone, 'Here. How aggressive do you want to be? We want to be aggressive.' "

When the two first invested with TAL, "we were getting huge returns," she said.

Like many other investors, however, the couple got hurt when the tech bubble burst three years ago, and things were "getting pretty choky for a while," she said.

But she is not overly concerned. "We knew this is not something we needed tomorrow." As it turns out, their portfolio is doing better this year, she said.

Ms. Rodriguez has been earning a living since she was 17, when the National Ballet hired her to join its corps de ballet in 1990, after the company's artistic director arranged an audition for her at the urging of dance principal Betty Oliphant, who judged a competition that Ms. Rodriguez had won the year before in Italy.

The National Ballet, which promoted Ms. Rodriguez to the position of second soloist in 1995, first soloist in 1997 and principal dancer in 2000, deducts 3 per cent from her pay cheques for registered retirement savings, which are also matched with a 5-per-cent contribution from the company. She declined to give a figure.

Stars on Ice does not have a similar plan, so Mr. Browning does not have RRSPs through his employer, Ms. Rodriguez said. But he earns money from product endorsements and television shows in addition to his contract with Stars on Ice, she said.

This season, he will perform in all the Stars on Ice shows in Canada, but will only make guest appearances in the United States, she said. He was taping his third Gotta Skate television special, which was why he was unable to participate in this interview, she said.

The couple is also planning early for their son's future. They will open a registered education savings plan as soon as they get a social insurance number for the baby, who was born in Spain, Ms. Rodriguez said.

It was her work that introduced her to Mr. Browning, whom she met at a National Ballet reception thirteen years ago in Edmonton -- an event neither planned to attend, she said.

Before they were married, the couple shared a home in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto. But it was an inconvenient location for their busy schedules so they decided, over a bottle of wine one evening, to move.

Since 1996, they have lived in an early 20th-century house, which Mr. Browning purchased in Toronto's Forrest Hill neighbourhood for $695,000, records show.

"That area has taken off. It's just crazy to buy now," Ms. Rodriguez said.

After experiencing cottage life with friends and after serious consideration, the two decided three years ago to purchase a house in Minden, Ont. That 4,000-square-foot home with cathedral ceilings was purchased for $429,000, property records show.

"Kurt really likes the lifestyle," said Ms. Rodriguez. "We felt ready."

They now want to spend more time at their country place, so they've decided, with the help of a contractor, to redo its basement. It started with getting rid of a little mold, and advanced to ripping away the carpets and more, she said.

Thinking ahead, they also recently bought a condo, figuring their son could live in it when he's grown up, she said. In the meantime, the 1,050-square-foot place, about a 10-minute walk from their Toronto house, is being renovated for her mother, who is moving to Canada from Spain by the end of the year, she said.

The condo was purchased before the baby was born for $282,000, records show. But it needed some work, so she hired a contractor to install a new kitchen and bathroom. There's still a fireplace and closets to come, she said, adding, "it's all pretty much under control now."

The renovations, her son and her dancing leave little time for much else these days, Ms. Rodriguez said. 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. Take care, John JHB ONLINE KURTKOUNTRY