I recently posted on Twitter for people to ask me questions. I got some good ones. Normally, I put a lot of artwork with my blogs, but this one is different. Yes, it's long, but I hope enlightening. I also hope it sparks other questions; I hope it gives some answers, too.
Did you skate?
I started skating and skiing about the same time I started walking – so early, in fact, I don’t remember learning how to do either. I loved skating, but I didn’t compete. I did figures (and loved them). I was going to get serious about figures in college, but I had a skating accident in high school while working as a rink guard. I was accidentally whipped through a plate glass window. That ended my thoughts of competing. When I was president of our local club, I did take dance tests. Jeremy took me through my pre-bronzes. He came up to my waist and the judges tried so hard not to laugh. It is one of my favorite memories.
Who are your skating idols and why?
I have many skating idols, many of whom are now good friends. I started watching skating on ABC Wide World of Sports. I had seen Sonja Henie in movies, but it was the Olympics that caught my attention. I remember hearing about the crash in 1961. I didn’t know much about skating then. I just knew what happened was horrible. I learned more about it that year. My first skating idol was Peggy Fleming, but I always loved all skating. My favorites to watch were Starbuck and Shelley; I loved Dorothy Hamill, Roslyn Sumners; Charlie Tickner took my breath away. I loved Paul Wylie (I still have the tape from Albertville with a big “Do Not Rewind” written all over the cover). I was a huge fan of John Curry and Tollar Cranston. Of course, there was Scott. There’s always and forever Scott. I liked Kurt when he was competing, but really learned to appreciate him after he went pro. I felt the same about Brian Boitano. I’ve learned to appreciate their competitive programs more now and have watched them on YouTube many times in recent years.
But I have one experience that I must share.
In 1980, like most of the world watching, I was devastated when Tai and Randy had to withdraw from Olympics due to his injury. Like most of the fans in the US, I cried. Like many people moved by this horrible turn of events, I wrote a note to Tai and Randy, never thinking they would see, let alone answer it. Two months later, I received a Thank You note hand written by Randy. It covered the front and inside of the card. I was speechless. It truly was my most treasured possession for years. Unfortunately, I lost it – and my other most treasured possession, a personal Gene Kelley autograph – in a house fire.
A few years later, Tai and Randy came to Aspen and skated in our club show. That was such a special experience for me. I still have the autograph photo they did for our skater up on the wall. Tai has become a friend. I’m so honored to be involved in a sport with such grace and soul where true heroes are more than medals; they are as much about the mettle they display as human beings.
How did you deal with two athletes in such different sports?
My kids are six years apart in age. My daughter was well on her way to competitive ski racing by the time my son started skating. Since I did both sports, and we lived in a ski town, I was able to do both for a few years. I loved doing NASTAR races and the Coca Cola Cup Family Challenge races with my daughter. I also traveled with her to in state races for awhile. When it was asked to run for president of the skating club, I had a conversation with my daughter about it. I told her it would take a lot of time and commitment. I asked her if she would be okay with that. I also told her if it became a problem, I would only do the one term and then not run again. She knew her brother had talent, even at that young age. She said it was okay, as long as I still came to races and drove her from school to the slopes. I did.
I never really thought too much about “dealing” with two athletes in two different sports. I loved and appreciated both disciplines. I still do.
You talk about “normal being a setting on a washing machine.” What do you mean?
Everyone’s “normal” is different, yes? We come from a very nontraditional family. I was raised in a family of actors and radio/TV personalities and producers. This was my “normal.” I moved to the mountains and raised my children in a ski town; this was their “normal.” Nothing about our lives has been “Ozzie and Harriet,” so the only consistent normal to me is what I see written on my washing machine. By the way, it’s a setting I rarely, if ever, use.
What role does music play in your lives and is that how your skater got so involved in his own programs?
Music has always been a huge part of our lives. Being a child of a TV producer, I spent my early years in a studio with a live orchestra. My parents’ friends were some of the best-known singers of their day. Some of my playmates were children of famous musicians. I learned to dance on my father’s feet. I took ballet and tap class. I took three grueling years of cotillion (only because our instructor had horribly bad breath, and we had to wear hoop slips under our black velvet skirts that were impossible to sit in without flying up and causing great embarrassment). A family friend in Chicago owned three of the most popular night spots in the city that brought in some of the best acts around. So, music has always played a huge role in our lives.
My daughter has always loved music, though we tease her that she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. She tried in many school shows, though. I think a love of music is what drew my son to skating. The story about seeing Robin Cousins in a show in our home rink is a true one. Music moves him. Music motivates him. Music is cathartic and what he chooses says volumes about who he is. He started having a say in his music a long time before many others did.
Brian Boitano once said you have to love your music to really perform it. I believe that, particularly now. The best programs under the current judging system are the ones that surpass the required elements and bring back the artistry. This year, there were many of those programs, my son’s included. I strongly feel that’s the wave of the future in skating.
How important is the support of the family in the success of a skater, and what do you think “support” really means? Is it just money, or is it being there 24-7?
I don’t think it is necessarily one or the other. Every skater needs a different support system. As parents, you grow into understanding what that really means. At first, support is money and being there seemingly 24-7. As skaters get older, things need to change. The problems seem to come from the parents who can’t adjust to the changes. I was certainly guilty of that. There isn’t a skating parent on the planet who can say they “did it just right.” We’ve all spent a lot of money on this sport. We’ve all spent way too much time freezing our tails off in the bleachers on a daily basis. We’ve spent too much time getting over-involved in rink gossip; we’ve nearly all had to deal with skater-coach problems, and with skater-partner problems in pairs and dance.
The one overriding thing to all of the fits and starts we do as a family, to all the missteps and mistakes we make, is to realize we need to listen to what our skater is saying and to act when needed. When they are young, we do make unilateral decisions based on our observations. Some of those decisions are good ones; others are not. We’re not perfect. But when a skater gets to a certain level, support is about listening, guiding and allowing them to act on what they know is right for them. It’s as much about being a cheerleader as being a consultant and confidant because, at a certain level, support has to be like love – unconditional.
What is the biggest challenge skating families have while supporting their skater but keep balanced in the family besides finances?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Challenges change at every level. Certainly, finances are a huge factor. This is an ungodly expensive sport. I think the biggest challenges are keeping a sense of realistic expectation, keeping a balance of home life and rink life, keeping interests outside the sport and encouraging them and mostly keeping a sense of humor. The last is a “must” if you’re going to survive in this, or any sport.
How do you deal with “rink politics” as a young skating parent? Does it get easier?
Oh my. “Rink Politics” is a pretty broad term.
First, let me say it does get easier as you ease your way OUT of the rink. That’s paramount. You can’t help but get caught up in “rink politics” as a young skating parent. It seems to come with the frozen tundra. I don’t know a parent of an elite skater who managed to escape unscathed. My advice: Volunteer to work events. Be a monitor, a practice ice announcer, play music on sessions at competitions. Remember why you’re doing it, though. It’s for the kids; that’s why you’re there, right? Stay out of conversations involving coaches that are not your coach. If locker rooms are a problem, keep your kid out of the locker room. If there are policy issues, ask questions of the people who make the policy, but take time to listen to the answers. You don’t have to agree, but there is usually a good reason for it – safety being one.
How would you encourage more boys to take up the sport of figure skating & also to continue competing in the face of financial challenges?
Most boys I know in the US choose skating. They aren’t forced into it by stage parents because figure skating in this country for guys isn’t respected. That’s the bottom line. I think the problem is keeping them in the sport. That’s a matter of educating parents. It’s something many of us are working on, but I’m not sure it is something we will ever totally overcome. There are too many prejudices and phobias. I even see it within our sport and that really saddens me.
How do you keep competing in the face of financial challenges? That’s not unique to just the boys, but to everyone in the sport at this juncture. If you’ve reached a certain level, you have to sit back and review the final goal. If you and your skater know this is going to be a lifetime career, you find a way. It’s not easy, but it’s like making a decision about college; it’s banking on the future.
When it comes to commitment, we personally feel it’s important is to continue to “pay it forward” though whatever support we can give. More skaters who owe their financial success to the sport need to do that, either through individual gifts of encouragement, or through supporting Memorial Fund – or both. We feel giving a small gift of encouragement to very young competitive skaters is a way of saying, “Good job! We’re watching and we support you!” Sometimes that means more than the actual amount given. Encouraging the heart is the greatest gift you can give.
I watched as much as I could on Ice Network of Michelle Kwan’s induction to the Hall of Fame in San Jose & a friend called me at 4 AM ET to tell me about it but would love to hear your take, as you get it. Thanks
I have to be honest and say that it was a whirlwind. I don’t remember much about the night, except finally getting to meet Charlie Tickner, which was a thrill for me. It was so crowded and there were so many people to see and say hi to. I do remember standing with my friend from Japan during the actual ceremony and being moved by her reaction to being in such august company. Everywhere you turned there was another famous face; the icons of the sport were out in force to honor Michelle. As always, she was gracious, articulate and very humble. She embodied all the things I love about skating.