Saturday, February 12, 2011

Straight from the Heart on Valentines..

I've always loved skating. I started skating about the time I started walking. No, I never competed. I took tons of lessons over the years, though. I did figures and actually loved them. I was a rink guard in high school, helped teach Basic Skills and participated in shows at my old hometown club. Mostly, I just loved to skate.

However, loving to skate and truly understanding the depth and commitment of that love are two different things.

During the National Championships in Greensboro, we were fortunate to attend a Hall of Fame reunion of family members from the 1961 U.S. Team that perished in a plane crash on February 15 while on their way to the World Championships in Prague. Many had not met before. Many had not spoken about their solitary yet shared experience since the  day that changed skating's landscape, and forever changed their lives. Now, in an overflowing room of officials, friends and fans, these families accepted special recognitions and publicly faced a lifetime of private emotions.

It was not a simple task to move about the room that night. There were friends to greet, so many things to talk about, so many of my own emotions to control just minutes before the start of the Championship Men's short program. But listening to the words of the presenters; listening to the simple but heartfelt speeches of the family members who accepted the lovely silver commemorative bowls, I was struck by one overwhelming emotion: Love. Everyone in that room was there because of it. Love of friends; love of family; love of a sport that brought them together not just to remember tragedy, but to celebrate personal and public triumph. It was deeply moving and soul satisfying. It reminded me why I love this sport, and why I will continue to love it long after our skater completes his competitive career and moves on to make his own hopefully indelible tracings in years to come.

In this series of endless Kodak moments, nothing was more impactful than watching the face of a lovely older lady while she talked in animated fashion to Peggy Fleming Jenkins during the Hall of Fame event. This beautiful woman was the sister of one of the Team USA members on that fateful 1961 flight. She wore a button with her brother's picture, his smile frozen in time from 50 years ago. There was so much joy in her voice as she thumbed the pages of a scrapbook she had brought to the event. While it broke my heart that his life, and the lives of all those who were on the plane February 15, 1961, were never fulfilled, I was overwhelmed by the sheer pleasure it obviously gave her to share her memories with someone who knew, and who understood.

As I circulated around the room listening to the conversations - seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter as remembrances were recounted and people  reconnected - I came to realize that I was witnessing the heart and soul of skating. It's not just the spins and spirals, the scores, the competitions, the components, the travel or travails of our day-to-day in this sport. When all is said and done, it's this deep, abiding love that makes skating great. It is our history. It is our legacy. It is what everyone at every level of involvement should understand, and no one should ever forget.

Read more in Phil Hersh's great column in the Chicago Tribune
Read John Henderson's  touching article in the Denver Post

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