I have been fortunate in all my years of being around skating to meet and call friend some truly amazing people in our sport. Not only were they medalists, stepping atop the podium to the accolades of the crowd, they have continued to be true champions and leaders throughout their lives. They worked hard at what they learned; they worked hard for what they earned. No doubt, some had their bouts of hubris, but what they shared with all of us speaks volumes to what it means to have a champion's heart. These are some of the gentle ladies and the true gentle-men of skating. They have elevated spirits and enriched lives both on and off the ice. They are the reason young skaters dream.
My first true skating memory of a champion on ice was Peggy Fleming. I was still skating in earnest when I watched her glide her way to gold. At that point in my life, I didn't know her story. I didn't care. All I knew was that this graceful vision seemed to have a clearly beautiful soul. Humble - seemingly even shy - she was grace personified. She caught my imagination and secured my love of the sport, allowing me to truly appreciate the skating of other Greats over the years including Carol Heiss, Tenley Albright, Janet Lynn, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, and incomparable Michelle Kwan.
In those earlier days, I was mostly enamored with the women of the ice. But as I spent more time reading and watching films, I gained a great appreciation for the athleticism of Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins and Dick Button. They introduced me to "the black boot" side of the sport. Later on, there was Charlie Tickner, Scott Hamilton, Robin Cousins, Brian Boitano, Paul Wylie and Kurt Browning. And even before that, there was my all-time favorite when I was growing up, the gentlest of gentlemen show skaters, "Mr. Debonair" Richard Dwyer. I would plead to go to ice shows when he was in my hometown. He defined class on ice.
But, I personally learned about the heart of a champion in 1980.
I wasn't the only one who cried when I watched my favorite pairs,Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, withdraw from the Olympics in Lake Placid after Randy's injury. I wasn't the only one who penned a heartfelt note of support. I also wasn't the only one who received a personal, handwritten reply on three sides of a thank you card some months later. Until I lost it in a fire, it was my most treasured possession and sat next to my autograph from a wonderfully gracious Gene Kelly, who punctuated his signature with a kiss on the cheek of a then star-struck nine year old girl. I couldn't help but think about how many notes Tai and Randy wrote over those months of his recovery, and how many people were as surprised as I to receive that precious envelope filled with gratitude and love.
The thing that continues to impress me about all these great people is how much they have given back to the sport for which they sacrificed so much when they competed. Their backgrounds and stories are different, but their hearts are all the same. They are not perfect, but they don't need to be. What they possess is something so much more than what we see on television or in magazines. They possess the gift of deep commitment and caring. In their own ways, each one has given back to skating more than the sport could have ever given to them.
Webster's dictionary has many definitions of hero, but the one that rings most true to me is, "One who shows great courage." A heroine is defined as "a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities." These human beings, with all their human qualities and seemingly super-human skills, were recognized by their medals, but they did not allow themselves to be defined by them. Instead, they used their successes on the ice as a springboard to do good in other arenas. What they publicly shared with us through their personal triumphs,tragedies and lifetime accomplishments, has meant more than those fleeting moments on the podium. They made the sport richer, and many lives richer, for being the people they are.
So, this is my personal but very public note of thanks. May we all continue to learn from your caring, sacrifice, sharing and boundless love of life, as well as from the common bond that you all share. Thanks to those treasured frozen moments you brought to life with your hearts, and for all those things you've done with your lives since then. You were, are - and continue to be - my heroes and heroines.