Sunday, April 3, 2016

All The World's a Stage - Final Thoughts on Boston 2016

I'm not sure I have "final thoughts" on Worlds 2016. I'll leave that to the people who were actually there. All I can say is that having it in the US and having it in Boston was the BIGGEST shot in the arm skating could have received in our country.
Everyone brought an A Game. It didn't matter where they ended up in the rankings, they earned their way there through years of hard work. My hope is that they'll take away a lot of pride, as well as things to work on for the future. In some cases, the immediate pain of not meeting their expectations will hopefully pass into the realm of Lessons Learned and they will move forward.
For all those skaters and coaches who will go back to the drawing board as we head in to year three of the quadrennial and the march to PyeongChang, remember every moment in Boston - good and bad - and use it to build on your strengths. After all, this is a sport  you do; it is not who you are. Good or bad, it only defines you as a person if you allow it to do so. How you view yourself is the only thing that matters in life - on and off the frozen ponds and white-hot glares of the outside world. That is your ultimate "A Game," and it lasts long after the ice melts.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Turn, Turn, Turn




I haven't had a lot to say lately about skating. As a matter of fact, my last blog was in January. Friends have asked, "Aren't you going to keep writing?" 

Maybe. 

When I started this diary of a mad skating mom back in 2009, there was a lot to say, and I thought it was going to be more of a journal than an autobiography, of sorts. What happened some 308 pages later (yes, I know because I actually put my blogs into print) was a chronicle of experiences that amazed and astounded me. It was born out of a pressing need to let people know what it was like to be on this journey. It was cathartic to sit for hours on end, albeit in short bursts, and write about our exploits, observations, highs and lows. It was therapy.


But being on the outside looking in this year, I have to say I'm having a difficult time finding my voice. No "Go Alexander" has reverberated off the walls at competition from my husband. Nary a butterfly has flitted by begging for attention. Hyperbole has been left to other practitioners while I have stood silent sentry. (Okay, so that's a bit melodramatic but it sounded good.)

Bottom line: I've been trying to find my new new skating "identity." I went to St. Paul and found it incredibly awkward to be sitting in the center of the arena in the 7th row after 20+ years in my precious Lutz corner. I watched some inspired skating. I reconnected with a number of longtime friends and met some new ones that I've only interacted with on Twitter and Facebook. I spent a lot of time hugging, kissing and being part of a wonderful, quirky and slightly dysfunctional "family reunion." It felt as if I had donned a new wardrobe that was like a slightly ill-fitting suit; you know, the one where you like the look, but the pants are too short or the jacket too tight.

I know I've talked for a long time about switching from my best Erma Bombeck style of writing to channeling my other favorite and entertainingly caustic writer,  Anthony Bourdain. No matter how I try, I'm finding it's not in my nature. Sure, I could take potshots at a LOT of things - and a number of people - in and around skating. I just can't bring myself to do that. For every time I get angry,frustrated and cynical, there are those times that I look back in utter disbelief that I've been given this gift and a chance to share it all with you.

Next week will be the end of the second Quadrennial - that's two years of the four between Winter Olympics. I know what it's like to be a parent going through this time. I was blessed (or cursed, if you count the boxes of consumed antacids) to do it twice. The anticipation is palpable. Expectations are sky-high. 2018 seems like it is as far away as another galaxy, and about as incomprehensible. It isn't. Believe me, I know. 2018 will become the number of seeming seconds before the Nationals that will determine our Olympic skating team for Pyeongchang. It's right around the corner, and while it will not mean another trip for me as a skating parent (though I hope to go as a volunteer), it is the year I will retire from my job and move into the next chapter of my life.

I suppose that is part of why I haven't had much to say. Life seems to be writing those chapters. At this point, I'm the annoying backseat driver who keeps trying to put the pedal to the metal or apply the imaginary break; in reality, I'm only along for the ride.To be brutally honest, that's what I've always been - along for the ride. 

The other night I was watching PBS and there was a show on featuring folk and rock singers from the 60's. I was about to turn it off when out walked Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. I went to Chicago Latin School with Roger (then Jim). He was a senior when I was in 7th grade and he performed many times in class assemblies. Roger looked amazing and his voice still had a wonderful resonance to it. He started playing the iconic "Turn, Turn, Turn." Of course, in the 1960's the lyrics had another purpose behind them. However, now the words from The Book of Ecclesiastes made me reflect on where I am now in my life. 

To those skaters, coaches and parents either at the start or nearing the end of your journey, I have only one thing to say: Enjoy the process and be kind to one another along the way. Skating is a difficult sport. Don't get caught up in what others may say about you on line or in print. Stay above it, if you can. Be the best athlete, coach and parent you can be because that's all you can strive for in life. Pay it back when you can; always pay it forward because that's an obligation you should have to everything in life. And when the time comes, decide how you want to be remembered by those around you. That's the only important thing.

So, please forgive me if I don't write as much any more. I won't stop, but it will be less frequent. It's a turn of events that was as inevitable as growing older - and hopefully wiser. Thank you for your understanding.  




Saturday, January 2, 2016

We Are Family




I am going to St. Paul for Nationals. This decision did not come easily since our skater is not competing. On the other hand, all the stars aligned with nothing critical scheduled for that weekend at work, with excellent airfare, tickets and company offered by a good friend who won tickets in our auction benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. 

Kismet.

I posted on social media that I was going and it was like opening floodgates. Suddenly, everyone of my friends responded. From fans to coaches, skaters and media people the replies were the same. "That's so exciting! I can't wait to get together!" 


That got me to thinking.

I'm an only child. Growing up, I was primarily raised with adults who were in the entertainment industry. I didn't have siblings, though I did have a step brother and sister I saw infrequently and for very short periods of time. My family world revolved around my parents, their friends and their friends' children. I had my friends at elementary and secondary school, then at university. They all came and went with the wind and I understand that. Lives change; interests change. 


It may surprise some of you that I am somewhat of an introvert. Yes, that is greatly at odds with what I do for a living; it is, however, something I learned at a young age being raised in a media family. When you are home, you can be yourself. However, when you are in public, it's Show Time! You're "on," no matter what. 

I mention all of this only because it puts in perspective the amount of surprise I felt with the reaction I received to my simple statement of attending my 14th US National Championships, and only the second without a "horse in the race," so to speak - the first being St. Louis when we attended because it was an Olympic year and we were in the first alternate slot. Tickets had been purchased and we wanted to see how different the vibe was when skaters were laying it all on the line for a trip to The Mountain. This made me realize that I was now a member of a like-minded, occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) dysfunctional family of people who look forward to this frozen reunion in places that are many times difficult to reach, are always expensive but are undoubtedly exciting and certainly fun. Like all families, there's that weird member you could do without seeing, but for the most part it is a time to renew acquaintances and recharge the soul. 

A good friend of mine, whom I don't see nearly enough, posted on Facebook today:
 "I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them . . ."
No truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to skating. Everyone I have met, interacted with; those I have kept close and those I have let go, have all taught me something - not only about the sport, but about myself as a person. I have grown a lot in the past 27 years of being on both the inside and outside edge. 

So, I will pack my bags, my hat, scarf, boots and heart and head to St. Paul. After all,  I cannot think of anything better than having another chance to laugh, drink wine, cheer and hug. For those of you whom I will see at the Xcel Center in a few weeks, consider yourself warned: I'm that "crazy aunt" who will happily hold you close and give you a kiss, whether you want it or not. After all, we are family.
See you in St. Paul!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Most Tangible of Intangible Assets


 
 
We are half way through the Grand Prix. Though I have no intensely personal reason to watch since I have no "horse in the race", so to speak, I've been fascinated by what is going on, as well as what isn't - at least in my view. I haven't been able to define my sense of uneasiness. It's intangible; illusive. I can't put my finger it. I just continually feel like a character in Samuel Becket's tragicomedy "Waiting for Godot."

https://youtu.be/chDj5AfgRUE
Photo from Zimbio.Click for video.
But this week in China, when Javier Fernandez went back to his roots in a short program that blew me away, the light went on. His skate was a tour de force, not for the technical prowess, which was certainly there, but for the pure emotion he displayed and the connection he had with his homeland and its music. It was beautifully choreographed, but it was so much more than that. It was emotional. It was born out of a deep-rooted understanding of the soul of the music, and for just short of three minutes he took me on his journey.
Now I had a tangible reason for my apparent apathy. With so many of the competitors this season I was seeing little that made me want to get up to watch at all hours of the day and night. Jumps, spins, transitions and footwork, for the most part have been quite impressive. However, I found myself content to view the videos on line. But even then, watching on my computer after the fact, what I was seeing didn't move me to generally love - well - what I was seeing.
 
Just to be sure I wasn't being "that mom" who only cares about watching my skater and no one else, I decided to go back again to some of this year's Senior B competitions, as well as all the videos so far from Grand Prix. Whether competitors were on the podium or not, what I found myself drawn to was their eyes. After all, the eyes are the windows to the soul. The eyes make the connection. They speak volumes without a single word. Here's the wide range of what they said to me:
  • I LOVE TO SKATE! Come join me on my journey
  • You don't have to love me but you have to watch me skate because I'm awesome
  • I'm tossing my hair so I'm emoting
  • If I throw my arms around enough I'll look like I'm emoting
  • I haven't got a CLUE why I'm skating to this music
  • I'm pretending to like my partner
  • I'm bored
  • I'm scared 
  • I'm concentrating so hard I can feel smoke coming out of my ears
  • Don't look at the audience. Don't look at the audience...crud, I looked. Now what?
  • I'm going to survive this
  • PLEASE let this be over
I know the season is just getting started. After 26 years, I know how difficult this sport is and how incredibly hard all these skaters work. However, as a lifelong lover of skating, all I ask is this: If you truly have a passion for what you do, show us - not with a phony point, a choreographed ultra-white grin and uncomfortable-looking wiggle, but with a depth and a confidence that says, "I get it." I don't ask for much. Look me in the eye and give something of yourself that is more than you even knew you had. Show me your soul, not just your score. Trust me to love you for it. If you do, no matter the outcome, I promise I'll watch.
 





Thursday, October 1, 2015

Blast Off...


 
It’s that time again. The season has begun. With it comes a cacophony of voices similar to the screeching sounds reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Skating boards are aflutter. Social media hangs on every tweet or post. The flock has returned to the nest and they are looking for the next new leader to take them, in wedge formation, headlong into infinity and beyond, or at least into this second half of the quadrennial leading to 2018.

Now that I’m on the outside looking in (or is it the other way around), I find myself concerned for the fledglings in the flock. Up until now, they have flown somewhat under the radar, protected by Regional competition and the occasional foray into the wild blue yonder – meaning across one border or another to sample what it is like to fly in the Jetstream; to test their wings.

However, once they’ve come of age, once they’ve landed at Nationals and earned their position in the wedge, the air becomes decidedly more rarified. The scrutiny becomes more intense. There are many people offering advice, observing, criticizing and pontificating based on every scrap of video posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The cacophony rises and falls with every practice, every run-through and every warm up competition at a local rink. New leaders are chosen and discarded by the minute, by the jump; by the spin; by the music or by the belief that a coach will somehow bestow magical flying powers to boots and blades and mystically infuse the chosen with interpretive talents yet to be observed.
Silly.

Let’s come down from the clouds for a moment. The fledglings are just that. For the most part, they are young. They may have athletic prowess that seems beyond their tender years, but they don’t have the flight time, or the experience with the tremendous amount of pressure born of unreasonable expectation. Sure, some will shine – for a while. Some will soar. Some will be grounded for mechanical failure. Some will, unfortunately, crash and burn. Learning to fly takes practice; it takes time to hone your skills as the pilot of your internal and physical ship.

My hope for this season is that those who place sometimes inappropriate pressure born of unrealistic expectations find within themselves some level of tolerance for those learning to navigate the sometimes not-so-friendly skies. After all, you’re not the pilot. You’re not the co-pilot. You're the flight attendant. So, like those of us who have lived this for so long, fasten your seatbelt, observe the no smoking (from your ears) signs, and if the oxygen mask drops from the ceiling, take a DEEP BREATH.

It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride to PyeongChang.

Make sure you know what the flock is going on before you blast off.
 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dear Universe....




 
"Dear Universe,
Thank you for letting me live out my dreams since I was five years old. I know you're thinking there were other unfollowed follies in these 30 years of mine, but figure skating has always been my first and foremost love. So, I thank you.
Sincerely,
Me"
 
My son recently posted this on his Instagram and Twitter accounts for all the world to see. It not only made me very proud, it was corroboration that all those frozen moments of the past 26 years were worth every second. Not that I didn't already know, but to see it in print - to see the image and emotion of pure joy behind the words - actually took my breath away.
 
It also made me stop and think about what this sport can really mean to  skating parents like me as we transition into our new "Normal."   
 
Many of my son's contemporaries have now left competitive skating. They have moved on, but many have not moved out. I follow on Facebook and Twitter; I marvel at what they are still accomplishing - some without national and international titles; most without realizing the Olympic dreams they harbored since childhood. They have taken their passion for skating in new directions that will do nothing but improve the sport for the new generation coming to the ice. We have many who are touring the world doing shows, either with companies or on cruise ships. Their travel photos and posts of the places they've been and the things they've seen are better than I could have imagined.
 
Some have moved on to working as professional skaters and choreographers for companies who are exploring alternative movement on ice. It's exciting to see their creativity as they defy convention and push the boundaries of what we thought could be done.
 
Several skaters have moved directly into coaching and are bringing along exciting new singles and teams. A few have chosen the path of commentating, replacing the "old guard" with a freshness born from understanding the system as it is now because they've been there, done that and they can communicate it in a way that makes sense.
 
And certainly, there is immense pride in those who took the discipline of practice and competition they learned in skating and applied it to becoming scientists, researchers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, nutritionists, trainers and teachers with the same passion and dedication they exhibited in their years on the ice. 
 
As parents, what more could we ask of the Universe than to see our children follow their passions and make it their lives? I guess the only other thing we could hope is that they see it, acknowledge it and say thank you. It makes us realize that, in some small way, we did something right.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Thursday, June 4, 2015

An Open Letter to My Son on the Occasion of His 30th Birthday..



 
There are many things you know, many you remember, and some you may not. But on the occasion of your 30th birthday, it seemed like an appropriate time to share with you 30 very special memories:

1.       I had eight miscarriages between you and your sister.
 

2.       I had a tubal pregnancy and emergency surgery.

3.       You were supposed to be “twins.” (Looking back now, I can’t imagine having two of you – identical or fraternal.) I lost one six weeks into the pregnancy. You were tenacious and hung in there. Thank you.

4.       I was confined to bed for three months after you decided to shift. I begged the doctor to allow me to work through World Cup on Aspen Mountain. When the event ended, so did that stint of working for Aspen Skiing Company. The upside was that I learned how to crochet; it’s a skill I’d like to relearn when I have the time, and inclination.

5.       You were going to be named Gregory. Your sister chose your name.
 
6.       After having one Cesarean, because Gwen was quite comfortable hanging out, I was going to try to have you in the “normal” way. Like everything in our lives, “normal” is how you define it. Apparently, for me, that meant another C-section.

7.       In the delivery room, I lost a lot of blood and they nearly lost me. I remember hearing general chatter go to hushed whispers. I remember seeing a white light. I also remember thinking this was not how this story was going to end.

8.       When they put you down beside me, the only clear memory I have was looking at your hands and saying to the doctor that you had remarkably long and slender fingers. At that point, I thought you might play piano. I was correct about the musicality, just not the instrument with which you would create it.

9.       During a short hospital procedure , to the amazement of the doctor and two nurses, instead of crying you fell asleep on the table. That was the start of your being able to sleep almost anywhere and at any time, a trait that has served you well.

10.   You (mostly) slept through the night right from the start. When you didn’t, I’d sit in a rocking chair and sing a song I made up for you.

11.   You never had colic. I learned from having Gwen six years before that Mexican spices and breast milk are a lethal combination.

12.   Both you and your sister had chicken pox – TWICE. As you get older, remember that because you’ll need a shingles shot when you are my age.

13.   You hated (and still hate) peas and tomatoes, which always made me wonder if you were switched with another baby in the hospital. Same could be said for your sister and her taste. Apparently I failed you when it comes to pedestrian veggies, though you recently taught me to like Brussel Sprouts.

14.   You were blonde. Sometimes, you still are.

 15.   For years, you worked on a “condo” made from a large box that was stored in the garage of our friend Laura in Denver. It was quite intricate, with wall paper, furniture and – oh yes – curtains. I would never criticize your curtains as a guest in your home. That would be impolite.

16.   Your favorite books were “Good Night Moon,” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” but you also loved Dr. Seuss, and anything that had sounds, like “Smelly Jelly, Smelly Fish.”

17.   Your sister used to be merciless in her teasing. I told her that when you were big enough to whip her tail, you would be best friends. Moms are smart like that.
 
18.   I still have the ONLY Halloween costume I ever made by hand since my favorite response to you and your sister, when you’d say, “So?” was, “No I don’t.” Actually, I don’t. I do wish I still had your red felt crab claws from the costume I made you when you were Sebastian in “Under the Sea.”

19.   Costume boxes that started out for Halloween but turned into so much more for you, Aaron and Gwen. It became a constant source of amusement.
 
20.   I still have your derby hat from “Big Spender,” and the leather one from your John Denver version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” in the Aspen club shows.
 
21.   I still have your “Happy Feet” bejeweled neck tie from the Silver Circle opening.

22.   I still have most of your collection of masks, like the one you personally “negotiated” the price during a visit to Chicago when we visited an international fair on Navy Pier. You were so proud of yourself for haggling the price.

23.   I still never hang clothing on the rear hook in the car behind the driver’s seat after I smashed the car on the way to Pueblo Invitational. That was your second-ever competition. You got an ear infection and were sick as a dog but you wanted to skate. I had been up with you all night and we even stopped outside of Monument at a rest stop where you tossed your cookies and I considered turning around. We stopped in Colorado Springs looking for the old World Arena and I saw the International Center. Thinking it was the arena, I parked and we went in to find out it was a convention facility. As we were pulling out, we were hit by another car. It was Valentine’s Day. When we got to Pueblo, I had to call Allen and tell him about the accident, something that was not easy since he had roses delivered to our hotel room. Funny that, all these years later, I now work next to that building at The Broadmoor. I think about it every time I walk outside.
 24.   Having you take me through my basic dance tests was a highlight. I remember judge Virginia Mount watching stoically as we skated by. You came just above my waist and it was everything she could do from laughing – not at your ability, but at my lack thereof.

25.   Pueblo Invitational Solo Dance when you were seven or eight. Aspen Skating Club competitors Gary and Ozzie were standing in corners signaling “One Two Three – Four Five Six” as your dance coach Lisa Warner and I sat on the floor laughing so hard we were crying because you appeared to be dancing to music playing in another rink.

26.   Ice Dance and Pairs. Ice Dance and Pairs. I’m happy you are still friends with at least one of those partners. I don’t know how teams do it. I bow down to Meryl and Charlie, who we saw for the very first time at Junior Olympics when they both were no bigger than a minute.

27.   Drives every weekend from Aspen to Colorado Springs, then flights when Allen started working for the airlines so we could get the benefits.

28.   Planes, trains and automobiles. Fighting over map directions (pre GPS and Siri) and redefining “Terminal Entrance” when we couldn’t get out of the airport in Philly on the way to Wissahickon.

29.   HSBC bag from Junior Nationals in Buffalo that was redefined by Jack Courtney as “Holy S#!T Buffalo’s Cold” when we went from warm to a foot of snow overnight. That was also the start of the now famous “Go Alexander!”

30.  People don't realize that you have an oh-so-not serious side that you graciously share with us. As you continue in your journey, do more of this.
 









 We have been around the world and back; been to two Olympics and countless national and international competitions. It all happened because when you were four you saw Robin Cousins skate at a show in Aspen. That was the beginning of this amazing journey that is far from over. Thank you for that.
Happy Birthday, Jeremy. You are the SON-SHINE of my life.
Love, Mom