Wednesday, July 16, 2014

That's What Friends are For: A Cyber Lovefest

Totally unsolicited comment from a friend of mine while we were enjoying a short lunch break the other day: "You're not REALLY going to stop blogging, are you?"

My answer was direct: "No."

Now, this friend is one who is involved in skating but is not someone who follows me on any other form of social media (at least that I know of). I have to admit, I was flattered. I've been at this since 2009 and, as you all know by now, I don't monetize my blog. My intention has always been to have it as a journal - or an open diary, if you like. I've invited you all to see my world. 

However, that started me thinking about the people on social media I admire. There are many, but four are my key "Go-To" people, not only because of their great love of figure skating, their voluminous knowledge about the sport and their passion at preserving it, but because over the years they have become great friends. I have to admit, too, that two of the four I have NEVER met in person. I know that may seem strange, but our world is small. Sometimes just trusting, respecting and eventually confiding in them is what makes friends into family.

First, there is my namesake counterpart.

Allison Manley has one of the most intelligent podcasts around. ManleyWoman Skatecast has been on the scene for awhile. As an adult competitive skater, mother of two, web wizard and incredibly intelligent all-around person, Allison and I have become close friends and confidants. If you are not familiar with her work, and if you are a true fan of skating, do yourself a HUGE favor and listen to her wonderful interviews. I was honored to be one of her early subjects. She has gone way beyond the "skate mom" interviews since then, including some of the truly GREATS in our sport.

Next is a former skater, current coach and choreographer, on-beyond prolific Tweeter and one of the most respected voices in skating, Doug Mattis. We first met in San Jose. Since then, we have been cohorts in so many wonderful causes, including Nick and Tricia LaRoche's fundraising event "An Evening on Ice," the powerful and important "Skate for Hope," and support of Audrey Weisiger's "Young Artists' Showcase" where some of the top amateur and young professional skaters show off their incredible choreographic talents in an annual, web-based competition. If you don't follow him on Twitter - DO! @DougMattis is the place to be.

Speaking of Audrey, this is a woman who has my total respect. Noted as an iconic coach, Audrey Weisiger has taken her knowledge and brought new hope into what has been called the  "dying swan" sport of skating. Never deterred by outside voices, Audrey has built her Grassroots to Champions and Young Artists' Showcase into the voice of skating where the "art and sport" become one in an understandable and unexpected way. I have had many chances to actually meet Audrey in person. I cannot believe it has not happened. I've been interviewed by her and I have even been a guest judge for YAS. But we have never met face-to-face. Perhaps this year, Audrey.

Finally, I have one friend whom I have never met but whose writing is thoughtful, intelligent, well-researched and passionate. Ryan Stevens was a competitor for Canada, a former female impersonator (check out this incredible interview by another favorite blogger/podcaster of mine, PJ Kwong) and probably one of the best chroniclers of skating history - present and past - out in the bloggisphere today. I'm not quite sure how I "met" Ryan, since we have never had the pleasure of being in the company of one another - but I can tell you we are truly kindred souls. Ryan's blog "Is That a Skate Guard in Your Pocket or are You Happy to See Me," has become a bible, of sorts, for skating interviews with an edge, as well as a research source for those who really want to know some of the lesser-known facts of our sport.

Four friends. Two I know in person; two I have never met personally. All four of whom have not only influenced my life publicly and privately, but who have been my cheerleaders over the past five years.

In a way, I guess this is a public "Thank You" card. If it were not for the four of you, I probably would not have had that friend at lunch the other day ask me if I was going to end my blog. 

Yes, Virginia, we can still believe there is a Santa Claus. Life on the Edge continues...whether I want it to or not. 
As the saying goes, "It is what it is."   


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Remembrances of Things Past: Confessions of a Hoarder

I admit it. I am a bit of a hoarder. Not as bad as the TV show, but I do have years of memorabilia to sort through. There are trophies, scrap books, clippings and all the accoutrements that come with being a skating parent. There are literally more than 150 old VHS competition video tapes, countless photos, dozens of lanyards and credentials - and boxes of travel folders, hotel reservation confirmations, boarding passes, Starbucks receipts and  - of course - credit card bills. Yes, they are all still tucked in some nook and cranny, some file folder or even old suitcases in either my closet, office or garage. It's a lifetime in the world of competitive figure skating, and one that I look back at with great love and reverence - as well as a bit of confusion as how this all came to be, back in a cold rink in 1990 in Aspen, Colorado during an ice show as we watched the great Robin Cousins skate and this little face turned to us in amazement and said, "I want to do that."

It is now quarter of a century later. I thought I was going to able to abandon my seat in the Lutz corner (for those of you who are uninitiated, it is the place you will find more than 90% of skating moms at competitions) and take my rightful place front row center. I thought I would figure out where I was going to put all this "stuff" so I could start the next, few chapters of my life. I figured it was time to stop hoarding and clean my skating house.

While sorting, pitching and packing, I came to an epiphany of sorts. All the photos - boxes and boxes of them; all the videos, old music cassettes (who
remembers those?), competition medals, test certificates, chaperone credentials, ticket stubs,years of costumes and other memorabilia were actually representative of the really what is really important: Favorite trips, favorite rinks and cities; favorite competitions over the years. Certainly, those mattered. But what is truly the MOST important thing in this quarter century of frozen moments is all the friends I've made along the way. If it were not for skating, we probably would never have gone to some of these places nor met any of these people. Whether they are around the corner, the block or the world, they are the most important part of my collection.

So, I'll  happily hoard my friends. I hope to keep them long after the music stops and the ice is resurfaced and the lights are shut off in the arena. 
  But along the way - starting very soon - look for me in the bleachers or standing by the glass (in a Lutz corner, of course) at some of my favorite past non-qualifying competitions; not to have "Remembrances of Things Past," (well, maybe a little..) but to look into the eyes of the new young ones coming up in the sport while I remind myself about how it all started, how far we've come, and still how far there is to go - in whatever direction life leads us. And, along the way, I hope to surprise a few people, see old friends, make new friends, encourage some young skaters and their parents - and in the process create new memories.  After all, skating is a family. And family is everything.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deja-Vu...All Over Again

While my loyalty to the Boston Red Sox is well recorded, there is one Yankee who coined many, if not most, of my mantras over the past 25 years of competitive skating. Yogi was the one every reporter could count on for what are now called "sound bites" - those juicy bits of language that can sum up a baseball game - or life - in the matter of a few well, or ill-chosen and juxtaposed, words. 

I've been thinking about Yogi a lot lately. So many "Yogi-isms" continue to define my past, present...and apparently my furture. See if you agree:

“If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
 “We made too many wrong mistakes.” 
 “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

  “90% of the game is half mental.”
 “You have to give 100 percent in the first half of the game. If that isn't enough, in the second half, you have to give what's left.”  
“The future ain’t what it use to be.”
(that's why...)
“When you come to a fork in the road, 
take it.”
“It's not too far; it just seems like 
it is.”  
(that explains why...)
“We're lost, but we're making good time.” 

 “I never said most of the things I said.” 
“If you ask me anything I don't know, I'm not going to answer.”   
(and that's the reason why...)
“Never answer anonymous letters.”
( messages, emails or posts)
“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
“No matter where you go, there you are.” 
 (and, of course...)

 “I just want to thank everyone who made this day necessary.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


noun: conundrum; plural noun: conundrums
    a confusing and difficult problem or question.
    "one of the most difficult conundrums for the experts"
    synonyms:     problem, difficult question, difficulty, quandary, dilemma; More
    "the conundrums facing policy-makers"
        a question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle.
        synonyms: riddle, puzzle, word game;
        "Rod enjoyed conundrums and crosswords"
late 16th century: of unknown origin, but first recorded in a work by Thomas Nashe, as a term of abuse for a crank or pedant, later coming to denote a whim or fancy, also a pun. Current senses date from the late 17th cent.

Here you have it. I haven't blogged in a long time and I do apologize for that, but life has gotten in the way many times since Sochi. However, now I find myself faced with a conundrum: Do I end this blog of "Life on the Edge" as I have stated many times in past months, or do I continue? I have to admit, I'm not quite sure. So many things have changed, yet so many things seem to stay the same. 

My gut says, "Finish a winner. You've been at this since 2009 and you've shared a wonderful journey. Walk oh-so-softly into the night. Take a center row seat and enjoy after 25 years of competitive skating."

My heart says, "Are you really ready to abandon this monologue? Are you ready to throw in the chamois and abandon the Lutz corner?"

I don't know.

This month we hit 25 years in this sport. In "dog years," that's the lifetime of Methuselah. I am two-and-a-half times again that old. That makes me the skating equivalent of dust.

So, here I am - not knowing what to do. I guess I'm not the only one. We'll see what the future holds. We'll see if life on the edge of skating puts on its skate guards and departs the ice, or if it becomes the never-ending story.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

From A Life Lived On The Edge - A Modest Proposal

 "I grant this food may be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children."

Much as Jonathan Swift, who wrote the original essay anonymously in 1759 to mock the heartless attitudes of the hierarchy towards the poor in Ireland, I was going to make this  piece my own form of Juvenalian satire - "contemptuous and abrasive, addressing social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule. This form is often pessimistic, characterized by irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invective, with less emphasis on humor."  Somehow, that wasn't me. I try to be funny, occasionally glib but with a point - you know, the way I have written for so many years when talking of things I feel passionately about in skating. However, events of the past seven weeks have made me rethink my approach. 

You know that I have been a "modest" supporter of IJS. I am a realist. The 6.0 system is gone, so we need to make the best of what has been handed out. Since the original COP-cum-IJS was instituted in 2003, incessant tuning and tweaking has taken our sport to a place I not only strongly disagree with, but I truly feel will ultimately kill it, if it doesn't kill our athletes first. The latest problems became abundantly clear this Olympic season, though they had started to rise from the ashes of 6.0 a long time before. Programs have given way to a battle for points; with a few exceptions, skaters and coaches are being rewarded for being good mathematicians. Music is redundant and, in a majority of cases, seems to be superfluous to the smelly-foot spins, mechanical movements and flailing footwork. I thought this was supposed to be the "art and sport" of figure skating. 

We should have seen this coming. I don't think any of us wanted to believe it.  I was in denial until I saw what was going on, live and in person, from the stands in Sochi. And it wasn't just our skater's epic fall that resounded around the world; it wasn't just watching Plushenko crumble under the weight of his injuries. It wasn't watching mathematics defeat magic, or flailing defeat form. It was ALL those things that came together in one Perfect Storm on the Black Sea. 

I pondered this for a long time afterwards, mostly at 3AM. What insidious thing has taken over since 2003 to bring us to this point? What series of carefully placed monkey wrenches has been thrown into the mechanics? I started looking at programs closely.
"After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points."
  1. Skaters are over-training and injuries are overtaking the sport 
  2. Math appears to be the only prerequisite to doing well
When did this start? Well, of course it began with the new scoring system, but it took a stratospheric leap, so to speak, when one rule was instituted - bonuses after the halfway point in a program. 
"As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation."

If you are one who is only interested in the math, be it a coach or a skater, in my humble opinion a dangerous precedent has been established. Push yourself through. Forget choreography; don't worry about presentation. Break out the abacus and start ticking those little beads from one side to the other. It doesn't matter if you fall. You started with a high base mark. "Calculated" risk is worth taking. Jump...jump...jump, jump, jump. If you need to relate to the judges or the audience, simply exaggerate your arms, point, wink and shake your booty. It doesn't matter because those little boxes are filing up. And a beautiful thing is being lost in the process.
 "I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection."

So, with apologies to Jonathan Swift, here is my "Modest Proposal" to the ISU:
  •  Rescind the rule of bonus points. It is causing skaters to either attempt things they shouldn't be doing, or making them abandon choreography in favor of a higher score which is contrary to what the "art and sport" of skating is all about.
  • Institute a form of the "Zayak Rule" for jumps that limits quads to one in the short program and two in the freeskate. No more. No plus points for having them late in the program. 
  • Make skating to the music worth something. It's supposed to be worth something.
  • Somehow give acknowledgement to clean programs.
  • Stop the practice of submitting program content in advance as it telegraphs a "bias" to the judges and the technical referees before a program is even presented. Score what you see, not what you think you're going to see.
 There you have it. My opinions are mine, as unsophisticated and uneducated as they may be, I firmly believe they are modestly reasonable. 

Of course, if the ISU eliminates the short program all of this will be moot. Because, like a master chef who readies his knife to surgically slice the fresh young meat he's laid upon a slab of ice while administering his final cuts, skating will be poorly served - not as an amuse bouche, but as entrails - the remains of which will be set upon the floor as scraps, to be devoured, spit out and then forgotten.
"A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter."
Food for thought.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sochi Sojourn Part Five: Everything You Wanted to Know and Weren't Afraid to Ask

So much of our experience during competition has been well chronicled. In fact, the reports, blogs, Tweets and posts actually made it difficult for me to find a way to talk about our experiences outside of what happened. It was a conundrum. 

The only seeming solution was to reach out to some wonderful friends to see what THEY wanted to know about our experience in Sochi. Since I've shared so much, and since so much (true and not-so-much) had been reported, I felt friends would truly have the questions that needed to be answered.

I was correct.

Below are some wonderful queries that made me think; made me wonder and made me both smile - and shed a tear or two. Here is "Everything You Wanted to Know and Weren't Afraid to Ask About Sochi."

Q: Did you truly feel safe at all time or were you ever scared since the riots on independence square and people of interest were but few hundreds of miles away? 

A: We never felt threatened; quite the opposite. There is something about Olympics that brings people together like no other event could possibly do. Peace and harmony through sports: That’s what the Olympics embody. That’s truly what we felt while were in Sochi. There was nationalism, but that’s true at all events.  It is a very special thing when, despite political differences, the world can come together.

Q: Compared to other Olympics did you feel that less people were there, when I saw pics of the streets or events it seemed somewhat empty?

A: We were there right after opening ceremonies. Most of the sports were in qualifying rounds early on; not figure skating, however. The first few days it did seem a bit strange. It was the “Russian Olympics,” with very few spectators from other countries. By the time we departed, it was a global happening that was more like Vancouver was in 2010. The issue with Sochi was not whether people stayed away, but the distance away. We flew 20 hours to get there. By anyone’s standards, that’s a schlep! Once we arrived, it was the trip of a lifetime that we got to take twice.

Q: Were you able to enjoy any of the other sports during your time in Sochi?

A: We were offered tickets to a number of events, but because of what happened to our son, and the media and sponsor requests we were honored to do, we actually only saw one other event: Long track speed skating. What an incredible experience to sit in the Adler arena, amidst the Dutch fans, and watch the initial trial events. It was incredible. We wanted to go to curling because I became obsessed with the sport during the US Team trials on TV, but tickets were sold out. The arena was small and access was at a premium. We were offered hockey tickets, however the games were during practice ice or at competition times. The Mountain Cluster was not close so, once again, we didn’t get to see any snow events. That’s my only regret from both Olympic experiences. I hope to remedy that in South Korea where I would dearly love to volunteer for the USOC or the Olympic Committee in some capacity. I love South Korea, so it’s a natural fit for me to want to attend in 2018.

Q: What was your favorite thing about Sochi that had nothing directly to do about the competitions directly?

A: Oh, that’s simple. We love discovering new wine and in Sochi we were able to get wine from Cuba and Russia. It almost felt “illegal” to sample wines from countries not easily accessible to us. We truly enjoyed having a chance to do that. Remember, we are products of the Cold War so this was a true treat.

The other favorite thing about Sochi was the sunsets. The Black Sea is beautiful. The beaches are rock, not sand, and when wet, they absolutely glistened at the close of day. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.

Q:What was the biggest comfort of home you missed having/doing while traveling?"

A: COFFEE!! Oh, there was coffee, of sorts. We attempted coffee once or twice, but it was the color of that infamous “water” photo posted by some member of the media on Twitter before the Games began. We drank lots of bottled sparkling water and the occasional Diet Coke (Lite Coke) when we needed a caffeine boost.

Here’s a funny story: Our son came to meet us after practice one day. He was carrying a Starbucks cup. We nearly tackled him to find out where he got coffee. He brought his own Via with him. The cup had come from NBC. It seems they had their own stealth Starbucks – complete with Baristas – imported from the US. If you thought pin trading was a big thing at Olympics, "black market" Starbucks was the coveted prize! Even though we were in the Today Show Green Room one day, we never found the Holy Grail of coffee.

We flew back through Frankfurt on the way home. The MOMENT we got off the plane, we made a beeline to the main terminal and found Starbucks. I was sick as a dog with a sinus infection and I was on antibiotic. It didn’t matter. Addiction is addiction.  Antibiotics and Puffs be damned! It didn’t matter that I couldn’t taste anything. It was COFFEE! It was Starbucks! It’s a First World Skate Mom Problem and the solution was at hand. After eight straight days of caffeine deprivation, this was heaven!

Q: What's the one thing you could have done without after eight days in Sochi?

A: Hearing “Sleduyushchaya ostanovka ..” (the next stop is…) 14 times a day going to and from Sochi to the Olympic Coastal Cluster on the bus. It was burned into our brains. I still hear it in my sleep!

Q: What was your favorite experience?

A: There were so many that were on an equal level.  I’ve already talked about discovering Cuban and Russian wine.  I will never forget the sunset walk in Sochi and dinner along the walkway at a small cafĂ©. I also found my now famous “Fuzzy Bunny Slippers,” the joy of my life.

We were so honored to be asked to represent Olympic families with US Olympic sponsors.

I got to meet Bonnie Blair, who actually introduced herself to me. I found that amusing since she’s an idol of mine. We were asked to talk to sponsors as Olympic moms. I had to leave for the freeskate and Bonnie took my place. As I was being ushered out of the event and escorted to the Iceberg Arena because the men’s completion was already underway, Bonnie turned to me and said, “I’m honored to meet you. I’m Bonnie Blair Cruikshank. I can’t believe what your son did! Good luck to him tonight!” The impact of that simple statement didn’t hit me until the next day.

Q: Which Olympics was more exciting and enjoyable and why? 

A: These experiences were wildly different. Vancouver  was our first trip to the top of Olympus. We didn’t know what to expect; we hadn’t received much information and we were left to our own devices to a great degree. Sochi was completely different.

US Figure Skating started preparing us for this trip well in advance of our even knowing if we’d be attending. We had webinars every month beginning in August. We had information; we had questions answered. We were as prepared as anyone could be to go half-way around the world and into a political “danger zone” in order to attend the Games. We also had the great advantage of having been to the “Top of the Mountain” before. We found ourselves in the enviable position of being able to advise new parents about what to expect, where to go and who to rely on. While each experience is unique,
there are trusted “known” elements – like P &G Family Home and the USA House. These were our safe houses; the places with internet, old friends from home, smiling faces, big hugs and warm hearts. We couldn’t have survived without them in Vancouver, and we really would not have survived without them in Sochi.

 To a great degree, though, I’d say Sochi was the most enjoyable. We had experience, and that meant the world to us. While we loved Vancouver (personally my favorite city on the planet), we went into our second Olympics with experience. You can't understate the value of that.

Q: Top Five “Yea’s and Nays” in regard to the differences between Sochi and Vancouver.
Sochi – Culture, overall experience, unique locale, transportation, security.

Vancouver – Atmosphere, outside options to explore, food, international feel, friendliness.

Sochi – Lack of ability to communicate with the volunteers, the sheer distance between venues within the park, lack of understandable signage, lack of COFFEE!!

Vancouver – Transportation (it was a hot mess), lack of pre-Olympic information caused us to waste at lot of time; distance between venues within the city made it nearly impossible to attend other events, even if you were offered tickets. There was a severe lack of communication and there was no financial support. Thank GOODNESS for the help that was graciously provided this year by every family through the Destination Sochi: Family Tree program this year.(If you donated: THANK YOU on behalf of all the families! You made this happen!)

Q: Have you watched any of the Paralympics on TV?

A: I am a huge fan of Paralympics. I was a blind ski guide in Aspen for years. I watched as much as I could and was so grateful that NBC and NBCSN broadcast hours on TV, along with being able to watch on the internet when broadcasts were not available.

Q: Do you foresee a time when adaptive athletes will compete in winter sports directly against able bodied athletes ?
A: Yes, but it will depend on the sport.  To me, it isn’t as much a matter of adaptive athletes against able-bodied athletes; it’s about being an Olympic athlete and representing  your country. All athletes have my total respect.  I know what we’ve gone through to raise an Olympian. I can only imagine what Paralympic parents have had to do. It truly humbles me.

Q: What did you see of Russian culture that gives you hope for the future?

A: The youth. There were more than 30,000 volunteers at the Olympics – most of them young people in their 20’s. I saw the eyes of the future of Russia in Sochi.

 Q: What was your favorite Olympic moment?
A: I suspect you’d think it was watching my son rise like a phoenix after the short program and go on to honor his sport and the Olympic spirit by finishing, even though he was injured. While that was certainly a pivotal moment of which I am extremely proud, my favorite moment came right after the short program skate when a young woman from Kazakhstan who was sitting next to me, realized I who I was. She was so moved by what happened – and so attuned to the fact that I was upset and frantic for word on how my son was doing – she turned to me and in broken English asked if she could give me a hug.  We held on to one another and we both cried. It was a moment I will never forget.  That one act of kindness from a complete and total stranger, defined what the Olympics truly mean.  

In retrospect, Sochi was so much more than I expected it to be, but for many different reasons. While we also left with many questions about Russia, the people and daily life outside of the Olympic experience, we also left with a great respect for the history and the culture. The Black Sea is truly beautiful. The people are proud; the culture is genetic. But in my opinion, ultimately, like China, the eyes of the world will be the final judge of what happens in the future. Olympics open up vast possibilities that truly transcend politics IF politicians allow it to be so. In the end, I think I saw the eyes of the world in the fresh, young faces of the Russian Olympic volunteers. If I am any kind of a judge of character, I'd say the future will be much brighter than the past because the Olympic experience is a present that cannot be manipulated - nor its lessons ignored. 
Thank  you Sochi. Thank you Russia. I hope you realize what a change you made, not only in us, but deeply within your very heart and soul.