The kind that hopefully takes over when I’m shaking in my boots from fear of complete decimation, and I know if they see it—and worse yet—if I see them see it, I’m dead.
I remember the first time I became aware I possessed a superpower.
The year was 1989.
The bows were big and the hair was bigger.
A nine-year-old me skates toward center ice, wearing a shroud of brevity with audacious confidence, masking sheer terror. The stadium seating surrounding the massive, Olympic-size rink gave me a feeling of being a tiny, helpless ant trapped at the bottom of an enormous bowl.
It was the first skate of competition season. I had skated in competition before, but this was, as they say, next-level sh*t. The opportunity and privilege to compete at this level was hard-earned. Each skater had bled for this.
Months of dedicated practice, blisters on my ankles and the arches of my feet rubbed raw from hours and hours of skating, persevering through days of red-hot, pissed-off defeat, wearing impressive bruises from hurling myself into the air, crashing over and over onto the unforgiving ice, peppered with intermittent moments of pure triumph heralded by the sweet sound of my blade cutting into the ice on the proper edge, earned me the right to this defining moment.
Figure skating is never a team sport.
The competition is tight and beastly.
It’s the nature of the sport.
Many times, the only thing standing between a skater and a gold medal is another skater screwing up. I suppose, for some, it’s only natural to hope one’s competition gets her blade caught in her tights.
I had always struggled to understand and accept the cutthroat, catty attitude that permeated the sport I loved so dearly. I was enchanted and inspired by watching other skaters perform their programs. I didn’t have it in me to root against these girls I witnessed training as hard as me on my home ice. It was heartbreaking for me to know they watched me, just waiting for me to fail.
Eventually, it was this attitude that would force me to quit.
I fell in love with figure skating when I was two years old. I became what is known as a “rink rat.” Translation: I was on the ice as much as possible.
How, might you ask, does a child from the age of two manage to spend most of her childhood on the ice?
Incredibly supportive parents, that’s how.
I adored everything about it—the smell of the ice, the various clawing, scraping, and cutting sounds I could make with my blades, the light feeling in my heart as I raced around the rink (which I compared to what a bird must feel while flying through the air), and of course, and perhaps most interesting of all, the intricate designs I could craft into the ice.
I was always overjoyed when I got to be the first one out on the ice after the Zamboni machine had worked its magic to transform the rink into a pristine, placid blank canvas. I would enter the ice backward so I could watch the work of art my skates would conjure and unfold. I never could resist throwing in some spins…I imagined the spiral shapes my blades created to be like having a spirograph on my feet.
In preparation for the new competition season, my mom and I had bejeweled my costume ourselves using a hot glue gun and faceted, multicolored rhinestones. I had picked the dress, electric blue shiny spandex with black tiger stripes, topped off with a giant silver, sequined bow to hold my high ponytail.
I’m not sure that my costume reflected my music, “The Theme from Ice Castles,” too well but, it was genuinely mine and I was oh-so-proud to wear it.
So here’s nine-year-old me, heart pounding, sweating bullets, frozen at center ice as my music begins. I push off to begin my program…
My mind went completely blank.
I skated around a bit trying to play off the fact that I probably didn’t even know my own name, let alone this two-and-a-half-minute program that just 30 seconds before, I knew frontward, backward, and sideways, hoping that it all would come back to me.
It didn’t happen.
I let it go and, boy was I effin’ pissed.
The sound guys stopped the music. The judges called for me to exit the ice. What happened next would become what my Dad calls his proudest parenting moment of all time.
I skated back to center ice, knowing I had blown the competition, but I would be damned if all my hard work, all my parents’ sacrifice, and my coach’s dedication was going to come down to one big blank.
Poised at center ice I raised my right hand with my little white glove like a mini Michael Jackson, and called out in the deepest, loudest voice I had ever mustered,
“Start it over!”
I f*cking nailed it. I skated that program with more passion and conviction than ever.
With unwavering ferocity.
I had no chance of placing in the competition to earn a better placement for the next one, let alone any chance at a medal.
I’m sure in the eyes of some, my decision to skate my program after my unfortunate mishap was pointless, perhaps even stupid, and a waste of everyone’s time.
I didn’t care.
I did it for me. I knew that my parents and my coach would appreciate my effort to rise to that self-inflicted occasion, but honestly, it was the first time in my life that I knew I was taking my respect for myself into my own hands.
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