A glass door swings open. An excited young mother careens into the rink lobby, her eyes never leaving the ice.
"He's next!!" she yells in the general direction of her husband who is sitting at a table correcting school papers while munching on a plate of fried chicken tenders. He nods and goes back to his work. The music begins and the mom comes flying through the door again. "His music is starting!" The husband drops his pen and they both hurry to the glass to watch their eight year old Pre-Pre boy go through his program with the speed and skill of most boys his age.
I was a casual observer as their scene played out. It happened immediately following a session where our skater was working with one of his skating idols who is choreographing a short program for this final competitive year, and a final Olympic bid.
Years ago in Vail, we sat in a seminar given by two wonderful coaches from Denver. They spoke about what it takes to get to the Big Show:
"Every young skater when asked about their dreams says, 'I want to go to the Olympics.' That's a lofty goal, but there are a lot of steps to take along the way," they cautioned the room full of fresh-faced young skaters and skating parents. "You can't skip many steps and expect to reach the top."
Watching the excitement of the young mom, and the total commitment of her Pre-Pre level son to his program, took me back to a time and place I didn't think still existed in the grey matter depths of my psyche. I remember pressing my forehead to the glass in the unforgiving cold of the Aspen Ice Garden all those years ago. I even remember thinking to myself at one point (though I would have never dreamed of saying it out loud to anyone) that my little then 10 year old skater could compete against older guys and actually win. Parents are unrealistic when it comes to our children's actual skill levels. We are dreamers; that's our job. Some of us just have wilder and more grandiose imaginations.
My eyes scan the room again. I notice another mom tying her daughter's skate and reminding her to listen to her coach and work on her jumps. Another young skater runs into the rink beaming as she shows off her new costume for this weekend's competition. Two very young girls in show costumes are struggling to balance in their skates while doing off ice choreography with a young coach for an upcoming show. Intermixed are Juvenile, Intermediate and Novice skaters rushing from one rink and one session to another. There are junior and senior skaters; National, World and Olympic competitors are casually walking past. Many are longtime friends and stop to give me a hug. Some sit and talk for awhile. A couple of them joking still call me "Mom." It suddenly dawns on me that my 24-year life in skating is playing out around me like my own personal reality TV show.
On the wall in the center of the rink where the young boy is skating, and his parents are watching, is a large banner with five circles; three on top and two below. They are forever intertwined - not only by stitches, but in meaning. We are fortunate to have been in their presence, and hopefully we will be there once again. No matter what happens, they are forever a part of us. I could not be more grateful.
But the the words of those two coaches nearly 20 years ago in Vail keep running through my head as I watch the young skaters and families. There are a lot of steps on the road to the rings and not all roads lead there; some of them lead to performing, to coaching, choreography, judging - and some lead to being incredibly successful in careers outside the sport. It's the shared experiences and the discipline, time and training they represent, that bind us together forever.
I step back into the rink, walk to the glass, press my forehead to it one more time and watch while my skater prepares to go through his new program. As he takes his place, I find myself fighting the urge to careen through the glass doors like that young mother did and yell "He's next! His music is starting!"
It's funny how things tend to come full circle.