Saturday, August 29, 2020

Virtual Reality

I received a call the other day from the mom of a young skater who was about to have her first shot at making Nationals in Junior Ladies. The mom was frantic because of the new competition structure put in place for the 2020 season due to the continuing pandemic. 

"How can they DO this to us? It just isn't fair! 

It's not what we were expecting."

Well, 2020 wasn't what we we were expecting. Remember when we wished 2019 would just go away? I don't know about you, but 2019 is looking pretty darn good right now. 

I didn't really have an answer for this mom, other than to tell her that unprecedented times call for unexpected changes. Trite, I know, but it was the best I could do on short notice and being put on the spot.

What I wanted to say to her, I'll say to all of you. Skating is a sport. Full stop. The fact that any skaters at all are getting back on the ice in the midst of a disease that has been ravaging people in countries around the world is kind of a flipping, lutzing, miracle. If you get any semblance of a truncated season, consider yourself one of the lucky few. 

2020 obviously hasn't come with a book of instructions. The pages are being written - and rewritten - nearly by the hour as things continue to evolve. There are no norms. There is no normal. It's a "Lewis and Clark" moment where every step is being mapped for the first time, in real time.

The other side is that there are groups of people in our skating world who are working their axels off to make something - anything - happen in order to salvage something looking like a season. From the local clubs to our national governing body to even the ISU, no idea is off the table, as long as it first takes into account the health and safety of everyone involved, from skaters and their families to coaches, officials and - yes - fans. Unlike other times in our sport's history, right now the wheel is not being recreated, it's been thrown out the window. 

I am not privy to any insider competition information. I'm just sitting here in front of my computer trying to make sense of it all. What I do know is that I've seen  the fierce dedication of coaches and choreographers who have been finding new ways to keep skaters enthusiastic and engaged through on line classes via Zoom. What I do know is that the Peggy Fleming Trophy competition in June may have been that invaluable "scout" for our expedition into the unknown. Also, what I know because of my involvement with my husband's new podcast venture, is that musicians are exploring new platforms with no signal delay so that they can gather together virtually and play together in real time. All kinds of new technology is being tested daily; some of it may even be applicable to having competitions in real time. Logistically, it would be incredibly challenging from an organizational and technical standpoint - and fraught with possible pitfalls - but it is doable. As we've said in this household for an entire skating career, "Anything is possible. Pigs Can Fly."

The most important thing you can do right now is to be patient. You probably have a lot of things to worry about that are infinitely more important. If your kid is able to be on the ice and have some sense of "normal," be grateful. If you're an adult skater and back on the ice, you're already grateful. I know; I see your posts on Facebook and Instagram. 

Most of all, try to keep perspective. Nothing can truly replace being there live and in person for a competition, but that may be our virtual reality this season. We simply don't know. 

As one of my favorite bosses told me years ago, "You can't hold back the ocean." 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Pure Imagination

I have a wonderful young friend. He is nine years old with an amazing shock of curly red hair. He's creative, funny and fun, and he just happens to be a skater who is competing Freestyle 2 and whose favorite jump is Salchow. He calls me "Mrs. Allison" because he's polite like that. I call him "Master Jack." 

We got to spend some quality time together at the 2020 US Figure Skating National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina this past January - what now, in this time of pandemic, seems like a lifetime ago. Jack got to meet some of his favorite senior level skaters, like Madison Hubbell (you cannot fault his good taste), as well as Nathan Chen, among many others over the course of the weekend. 

He sat in the stands absolutely transfixed, watching every edge and every nuance. He was absorbing it all like a sponge; I was impressed. 

One day, on the way to the arena, Jack and I were talking about what skating might look like in the future - not in the near term, but a hundred years from now. Jack pondered my question, came up with a few ideas and then we both promptly forgot amidst the excitement of all that was going on around us. 

Enter COVID-19 that turned our worlds upside down. Like all kids, Jack was coping with school at home, not being able to see his friends and not being able to skate. I sent Jack a letter with words of encouragement; in return, he sent me a lovely letter written in his best cursive. We were now officially Pen Pals. 

Recently, Jack's been skating again on limited sessions, like just about all the skaters who have rinks that have been able to open. In chatting with his mom, I remembered Jack's and my conversation and I asked if he would be willing to use his creative talents to tell me, in words and artwork, what he thought skating in 2120 might look like.
Master Jack gladly responded with his insights:

"I think in 100 years, skating will have septuple axels and salchows. 

There will lifts in pairs where the male jumps in the air while lifting his partner.  For costumes, I think ladies will be able to wear two piece costumes and boys will be able to wear shorts. 

In dance, I think there will little rockets on the back of their skates to make them go even faster.  

Possibly back flips will be allowed in competition.

For all skaters, I think they will have the ability to have fireworks coming out of their skates. I think we will be able to have all events in outside arenas where the temperature is controlled.  There will be fireworks during every event, and the fireworks are what will play the program music."
I won't be around to see if Jack's predictions come true, but somehow I don't think he's that far off. At least I hope not. Because what comes from the pure imagination of a child is often our future. I certainly hope so.

Post Script:

July 17, U.S. Figure Skating did something remarkable. In the midst of the continuing pandemic, they brought us skating again - and hope - by presenting the first virtual competition ever attempted: The Peggy Fleming Trophy. It wasn't live, but it was skating - and a glimpse into what our future may be, at least for awhile. With so many lows of late, it was something that got us all excited about how today's technology could bring us back together via watch parties, Twitter and Facebook, to enjoy and critique this very unique event. It took a lot of work, imagination, and skaters willing to put themselves out there in front of a virtual judging panel with just a scant few weeks of training after being off the ice for months. They became the Alpha adopters - the vanguard of what skating might become. There were no fireworks (though there may have been a few rockets on skates involved for some of the competitors), but this new world was something we certainly wouldn't have predicted ...just like my buddy Master Jack's vision for the future. 

You know, he may be on to something.

Monday, June 22, 2020

What Matters Most - Life In The Time of COVID-19

Photo courtesy US Figure Skating.
Purchase of masks helps support Memorial Fund.

It's been more than a year since I did a blog. I thought I was done, but apparently I can't escape - particularly when life has dealt us challenges unlike we've ever experienced before. If we survive this, let's hope none of us - in whatever time we have left on this "mortal coil" - will ever have to experience anything like it again. 

Which brings me to this new musing.

There's a new "normal" now that's a bit different than the one I talked about in 2009 when I first started sharing my thoughts about life on the edge of skating, though some things seem to never change. Like the mysteries of giving birth for the first time, this chapter that's unfolding before us does not come with a set of clear instructions. We read, watch and listen to experts, but then we are pretty much left to figure it out for ourselves. The phrase, "We're all in this together," while true in the universal sense, sometimes seems awkward and discomforting during a pandemic. 

I could go on with a diatribe, but we're all doing that in our own personal-planet lives. This is meant to be an observation of what seems to be happening in our molecular world of ice, and how we might be able to apply it to the bigger picture of life on a decidedly different edge. 

Like virtually everything, skating came to a hard stop in late February or early March, depending on where you live on this planet. What was promising to be an exciting third year of the quadrennial cycle leading up to the 2022 Olympics evaporated in a nanosecond. The ice was figuratively, and literally, pulled out from under us, leaving  nowhere to turn. People were frozen in strange places, many far away from home. Some found solace through sheltering in place with friends, becoming unwitting roommates for more than three months. Most found themselves alone with their thoughts and fears; forced to examine themselves in a way they may never have done before. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,”
~ Charles Dickens.  Tale of Two Cities  
Winter of despair? Definitely. 
Spring of hope? Nope. 
Summer of enlightenment? Stay tuned.

The encouraging thing is that we're a resilient lot. Brilliant and resourceful, coaches, clubs, skaters, choreographers, contemporary and ballet dancers, and personal trainers discovered Zoom as a way to further development, and to keep enthusiasm from waning in the face of - well - no faces or places to train. 
A massive disadvantage suddenly became an unexpected boon to learn from people they would rarely, if ever, have a chance to access during day-to-day training preparation. Those who had the resources and willingness to take a new path, found a brave new world - and a way to stay connected.

Now, with rinks in our 50 seemingly different and individual country-states here in the U.S. starting to sputter to a start - and with the future of a season still uncharted but most likely unexplored territory - it is incumbent on all of us to step up, and back, to take a bird's eye look at the horizon. 

As a parent of a now-professional skater and choreographer, my goal is laser focused: to love unconditionally and non-judgmentally; to be there to bolster and encourage. By truly listening, we came to the realization that our bottom line hasn't changed; the love of what's been our lives for more than 32 years is still there. 

But like all love, it's challenging us to find new paths. Being able to navigate the changes, being flexible, encouraging and supportive is the foundation of the "emotional home," the safe place we spent years constructing in this sport. Sharing that has been the greatest gift.

Life in the time of COVID-19 is allowing all of us to continue to build to our strengths,  and make sure we supply a solid foundation. Our greatest challenge isn't having to  wear masks - or possibly not having a "normal" skating season. Frankly, that's the least important out of all this. What's important is staying on firm, supportive ground and not sinking into a mire of mental quicksand. That's our newest test. That's how we'll survive, and thrive until we find our footing again. Just being there and present is truly what matters most.     

Saturday, February 2, 2019

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Revisiting that Question 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, I wrote this blog about my alter-ego, my other persona; what was - and still is - my other name in the skating world. I had cause to revisit this last week at the US National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. It got me thinking.

Skate to Eliminate Cancer at
Campus Martius Park, Detroit

As you know, my son is no longer competing. However, he had a lot to do, both on and off the ice, since Detroit has been his home-away-from-home for 10 years now. When I couldn't be with him, I found myself watching him on the Jumbotron, at the Ice Desk, and also on the ice during Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as at a Scott Hamilton "Skate to Eliminate Cancer" event held outdoors at Campus Martius park in the heart of downtown. I went to Nationals, not only to spend a little bit of time with him, but to be with my skating friends for our annual "family reunion." 

So, after all these years, and all but one Nationals since 2003, I'm fairly well-known around the concourse, in restaurants, and sometimes in the ladies room lines. However in our skating world, I'm not always known as Allison Scott, the now-retired PR professional, blogger, US Figure Skating volunteer for Friends of Figure Skating and Memorial Fund events and 29 year skate parent. In this circle of friends and fans, I still take on my other identity. Like Clark Kent goes into a phone booth, turns around twice and comes out dressed as Superman ready to take on the world, I walk into an arena, turn around twice(usually because I've immediately lost the people I came in with) and become "Jeremy's mom." People I've known for years often times can't remember my given name. I get hugs and the first question is "How's your son? Is he here?" The second thing is usually an enthusiastic - and occasionally awkward - introduction to friends. "I'd like you to meet my friend Jeremy's mom." 
No joke. 
I then have to say something like, "Hi, I'm Allison Scott. So nice to meet you." 

I bring this up because I have been around a long time, and I have had a fulfilling professional career in public relations. But  what concerns me is that I see so many parents, whether they work outside or as a stay-at-home parent, lose their own identity along the way in this sport. It's always wonderful to be identified with your child, and that recognition as a parent of your skater is -hopefully - positive. But don't let it be the only thing that defines you. 

There is a saying by Horace Greeley that goes, "Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."  
Make sure you remember who you are. Your kids will always remember who you are.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Facing Your Fears - Part 3: On The Edge of Glory

Between my last post and this one, I managed to have Christmas and New Year's all in one day with almost all my family. 
Oh, and I also retired. There's that, too.

One day last week, when the weather was lovely and the sun warm, I took our 8 year old granddaughter to Skate at the Park. She had only been on skates once before, and that was indoors. Being the life-enthusiast that she is, getting out of the house and to the rink was a breeze. Sweater weather made things much easier. A relatively decent pair of rental skates added to the excitement - for about 30 seconds. 

You know from my previous two Facing Your Fears posts that I was just getting back on the ice myself. Inching up a slippery ramp and then helping my granddaughter onto the ice was a fear I hadn't expected. I was scared of falling, or falling on her.
(Deep breath.)
"Let's try using the buckets."
That was the start.

With temperatures again pushing 50 degrees, the ice was rapidly softening and rutting. That made the edges by the rail something akin to skating on a severe case of acne. Raised bumps and uneven edges were everywhere, making the task of holding on to her while she held on to the buckets quite the challenge. 
After much cajoling, and reminding her that turning can't into can happens by doing, we started to make headway.  About 30 minutes into the session, the "Can't" started to become, "Let me try myself but I want to stay close to the 
I suppressed my inner Skate Mom and didn't even try to give anything  resembling "instruction" because it was not going to go well if I did - either for her, or for me. We set some goals of going from one panel to the next without holding on. After a turn around the postage-sized rink, that started to seem like a doable thing. One panel turned into two, then three.

But things really got better when my granddaughter made a friend named Olivia. 

Olivia was also using a barrel, but she was already stepping away and was trying things on her own. She and my granddaughter started venturing out to the center of the ice with the barrels. The squealing changed from terror to joy as the two of them figured it all out. Before I knew it, they were both racing around the ice at an amazing clip. The operative phrase went from "Hold on to me!" to "I can do it myself. Watch!" 

It was "Skate With Team USA" that afternoon, so we stopped for lunch, went back to the rink, got our skates on again and tried to find a centimeter of ice that wasn't taken up by all the people who had come out to skate with the athletes. At that point, I was exhausted. I had been on my skates for nearly four solid hours. I also had no intention of getting on the ice with the Team members, all of whom I knew. That would have been taking the Skate Mom thing to an entirely new and awkward level. 

At the end of the day, exhausted and exhilarated, we headed home. My granddaughter faced her fears and learned that anything is possible if you are willing to work for it. 

Me? I managed to do some very tentative crossovers for the first time in five years. 

At home by the fireplace that night, with hot cocoa in hand, we both agreed that we had accomplished much that day in the park, under the sun. 

And we agreed that it was just the beginning.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

FACING YOUR FEARS: PART 2 - A Breath of Fresh Air

It had been a couple of weeks from the time I'd  braved the ice. My first foray was the most difficult. It had been a long time coming, a lot of pain and a few more years had floated under the bridge. I chronicled that event in my last blog, and then life started moving quickly as I found myself facing my immanent retirement.

Skating outdoors was the next step in my three-part return to achieving my "Bucket List" dream, but the weather had not been particularly conducive to doing that, and frankly I was not sure exactly where to go. I was looking on line to see about outdoor venues in my area when Skating at the Park came up. Every winter for a few months, the city constructs an outdoor venue in a city park right in the heart of downtown. The location has its upside - and some downsides - but it is convenient, and the view of the mountains is lovely, particularly in the evening with the holiday lights shining.

This would be the perfect place to start, but all my close group of adult friends who skate live in other places. I didn't want to go by myself, so I figured I'd wait and perhaps go inside one more time just to make sure I'd be okay.

Then, last weekend a friend of a good friend who had friended me on Facebook (that's a lot of friending in one sentence), sent me a message. She had mentioned before about going, but frankly I had forgotten with everything else going on. The message read something like this:
"It's a beautiful day! Let's go skating at the park.I can meet at 11am."
"I can't do 11, but I can meet you at 1," I replied. "I have a couple of things I have to do first. Text me about 12:30 and we'll go."
"Sounds good."
I finished my errands early and put everything away. Suddenly, a wave of nervous adrenaline swept over me. I started getting dressed. Nothing seemed right. Everything was either too heavy or too light. I couldn't find my gloves. Was I going to need a hat? I didn't want to wear jeans because what if I fell? I'd be soaked. There's no place to change.

And so it went - until the phone rang. Then everything fell into place and off I went.

I had only met Lori one time before, a few years back when Adult Sectionals were held here. She is a competitive adult skater and very active in that wonderful world of men and women who are totally dedicated to the excruciatingly hard work, dedication, camaraderie - and fun - of competing in this sport as an adult. When I came up to the park, I recognized her right away from her photos . We chatted, paid our admission, headed to the benches and put on our skates. We talked about fears; about what both of us were facing in taking this step back on the ice. I wasn't aware until that moment about Lori's battle with injuries and surgery, what she had faced, and her own questions about getting back after some time off. We inched our way up the ramp, dodging young children and some very excited foreign visitors who were obviously on the ice for the first time. We both slid our blades on what could barely be called ice because it was a perfect blue sky day, and the 50 degree temperature at 1 in the afternoon had turned the extremely small and overcrowded surface into a giant, rutted Slurpy.

I honestly thought I'd only last about 30 minutes. I think Lori felt the same. But, we moved (I'd hardly call it skating) around in circles, maneuvering around the masses, and talking about how difficult it is to come back to the ice as an adult after you've had life-changing events. Thirty minutes turned into more than an hour. In that time, we both laughed, gained confidence, and we gained a deeper understanding of one another and what it took for both of us to meet on that sunny day in the park, put on our skates and simply get started again. Each in our own way, that simple step was a huge victory for both of us. 

Friday, I completed my last full day at work. I have two more half-days before I officially retire after working for more than 47 years in my chosen profession. I have struggled with that for the past few months. I've panicked about being on fixed income, not knowing what was next for me or what I would do with my life after work. However, that one day back outside, talking with a friend, skating around in a slushy circle with the sun shining and the mountains peering over the tops of the buildings downtown, made me realize that somehow everything was going to be okay. I had taken another step forward and achieved another goal, and there would me many more.

That was my "Ah Ha" moment, and it was truly a breath of fresh air.  

Sunday, December 2, 2018



Recently, I got back on skates again. It had been nearly four years since I was on the ice. Arthritis and bunions made it difficult to find comfortable shoes, and impossible for me to get my foot into my old skates, let alone my work shoes. Finally, the pain got so bad that I opted for surgery on my left foot to relieve the pressure. Seven screws, a pin and a plate later, I found myself on a long road to recovery, still with pain and now with toes that didn't bend. First there was the scooter, then crutches and finally a walking boot for eight weeks. After that, there was the issue of finding shoes that I could wear, getting rid of a closet full that had outlived any semblance of usefulness, and experimenting with varying pads, splints and all manner of contraptions on my feet in order to find the combination that would allow me to walk again pain free. That took nearly two years.

Me at Rockefeller Center 1952.
One of the driving forces behind succeeding was to actually get back on the ice. I love skating outdoors. I do not like skating in circles around a rink since I spent a better portion of 29 years sitting and watching those infinitely more talented than I transform those surfaces into magical places of athleticism and wonder. I simply wanted to be on a frozen pond, surrounded by nature and thankful for the absolute joy that feeling brings.

I found a pair of skates called SofTech by Jackson Ultima. They are purely recreational by design. They are functional, but the most important thing about them is that I could get my non-bending toes into the boots. After a conversation with my Jackson rep, the same one who takes care of my son's skates, we concluded that I would 1) not be doing triple axels, and 2) probably not be attempting death spirals (at least not on purpose - or with a partner). This made my choice the best one for what I did want to accomplish: Getting back on the ice just after my 70th birthday.

The skates came in. They fit like a glove. Now, all I had to do was get back to a safe place to test them out.

Nothing outside was open - or even frozen - when my skates were delivered. However, I knew I had to get back on the ice. I had to face my fears of being out of shape, feeling my age and, frankly, being afraid of falling and breaking something. All the "What If's" flooded my brain like a Zamboni laying down a new surface after a particularly rough elite practice session.

I gritted my teeth, grabbed my skates, looked up a public session time at a local municipal rink, dragged my husband along "just in case" something happened, put on my warm socks, my turtleneck, jeans and a fleece jacket, and off we went. My blood pressure was probably through the roof, but I was going to get on the ice, even if I had to hug the boards. Which is exactly what I did.

That first step back was anything but secure. My mind was saying, "Come on. You've skated all your life. You were pretty good for a recreational skater. You passed basic Moves. You passed preliminary dance tests. You did figures for years. You've GOT this." My body was like. "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING??!!! ARE YOU NUTS??? This is NOT like riding a bicycle. Remember the last time you did that? You hit a curb and fell off, bashed your elbow and cut your knees open. This is NOT a good idea! You're out of shape after your surgery. You fell cross-country skiing in Idaho with your daughter last November and twisted your back. You just turned SEVENTY! Go home, have a glass of wine."

Mind over matter - mind over body mass - prevailed. I hugged the boards the first time
around while my husband did some video which, thankfully, did not go viral. Second time around, I felt a bit more brave. I let go, but I stayed within reach of my safety net. By the third time, I was actually doing some stroking. Not stoking like a pro, but at least I wasn't walking. Stopping safely was still eluding me so I coasted into the boards by the door, walked onto the mats, put on my guards and considered it a win. I lasted about 30 minutes total, but the point is that I did it. I felt okay. I didn't fall. I was tired but I was grateful that I didn't take the easy way out.

I bring this up now because I'm facing retirement at the end of December. While my body is saying it's the right decision, this time my mind is like, "WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING??!!! ARE YOU NUTS??? This is not like riding a bicycle..." and you know the rest. So, I'm taking on retirement the same way I took on skating. Mind over matter. Because now time matters, and I have a lot of things I want to do with my life - including skating outside in nature, unafraid and in awe. That's how life should be lived.