Monday, April 26, 2021

E Pluribus Unum - "Out of Many, One." Remembering Susan Bonn


Photo courtesy of Lexi Rohner
Out of Many, One

Out of so many wonderful friends in our tight-knit world of figure skating, there was one who affected my thinking about all things ice and beyond myself and my little corner of the skating world. Susan Bonn was a guiding light who brought together people from all walks of life for one of her many purposes on this planet. Whether it was her passion for the creative art of paper flowers, her passion for her friends and family, or her passion for the art and sport of figure skating, she was the one we looked up to as the supernova in our stratospheres.

Out of many years in this sport, I’m hard pressed to remember exactly when I met Susan. It may have been in Cleveland in 2009 or Spokane in 2010. But the first one that clearly comes to mind was that next year.

Out of many glasses of wine over the many years of attending competitions together, I remember one in particular in Greensboro. It was 2011 and the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed our US Team on their way to Prague for Worlds in 1961. As busy as she was, Susan found me in the overcrowded room, gave me a kiss and said, “Thank you for being here,” as if my presence among the multitudes of honorees and officials was something of which to take note.

Out of many
, one of the other times was at Skate America in 2014. I was using a cane after doing something to my knee. Though my memory is sketchy, Susan had just gone through something with her back. We joked about “getting older.”

But, out of many, one of the most impactful memories I have was the time Susan asked my husband and me to speak to Friends of Figure Skating members in 2014 – Olympic Nationals in Boston - about our experiences as skating parents. 

Actually, whatever Susan asked me to do, I gladly did. She was that kind of irrepressible force for this occasionally immovable object. Afterwards, a package arrived at our home. It was a beautifully engraved cutting board inscribed with our names and a thank you on the back. It was totally unexpected. It was a treasure then and is a poignant reminder now - not only of her, but of spirit and graciousness.

We saw one another every year at Nationals, whether it was just a quick hug in passing, or longer events like Memorial Fund, Hall of Fame and Friends of Figure Skating. Spending any amount of time with Susan was always a highlight of my trips.

We all missed the opportunity to be together in 2020 with the pandemic, but plans were in the works for a grand reunion. Just weeks ago, we were messaging back and forth about the upcoming US National Championships in Nashville. More than simply being where the 2022 Olympic Team will be named, it was more about finally being able to get everyone together again under one roof to once again share our love of a sport that has brought us so much.

Out of many memories I have from all these years, the one thing for which I am most grateful - besides her unwavering friendship - is that Susan brought me an on-going dedication to helping support our athletes in every way possible. Her enthusiasm was contagious; her focus unwavering. Her dedication unquestionable. What a gift she shared with us.

There is a hole in our hearts right now. It will be there for a long time to come. But we will take the lessons Susan taught us and move them forward with the devotion and passion that were her trademarks. While we will not be privileged to bask in her enormous presence, see that smile and twinkle in her eye, or hear that always present laugh, we will know she’s there with us. She will always be there because Susan brought so many of us with her on this journey. Out of the many she touched, there will always be one light that will not be extinguished. It shines on all of us from having had Susan in our lives. She was one in a million.

Rest well, my friend. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

An Open Letter to 2020: Things I Learned That I Didn't Know I Needed


Dear 2020: 

No sense in rehashing what you wrought in this universally challenging year. Volumes will be written by those much better equipped than I. 

However, on my part there have been some personal revelations, life lessons, and some things I needed to be reminded of, that are worth chronicling here. I'll just call them personal observations and lessons learned. Here are a few of the highlights:    

  • Having a somewhat perverse sense of humor is a survival skill.
  • A commitment to a healthy diet is a survival skill. 
  • Pilates classes with my daughter on Zoom are a great idea on so many levels. It's also a survival skill. 
  • Housebound exercise on YouTube is...housebound exercise on YouTube, no matter which way you slice it and I'm not sure I'd classify it a survival skill (but you could have done better with some of those videos, really). 
  • Outdoor exercise, almost no matter what the weather, is a survival skill.
  •  Zoom volunteer committee meetings lasting longer than an hour is a survival skill that requires a strong constitution, something that's occasionally lacking at my age. 
  • Zoom family calls are an essential survival skill that can be extremely funny and sometimes incredibly awkward. 
  • Memes created in your honor have helped many of us survive, while reassuring me I'm not alone in my twisted sense of humor.
  • Working on a new project with my husband without needing bail money (most of the time) is the epitome of survival skills.
In the category of lessons learned, there are these revelations : 
  • I have way too many pairs of black leggings.
  • I don't have any shoes other than slippers, sneakers, snow and hiking boots, and a single pair of flipflops.
  • I need more soft sweaters because I've reached the point where I want to burn the ones I have.
  • I hate bras. (I really hate bras.)
  • I have socks in my drawer that actually match only because I'm not wearing them.
  • I have socks in my drawer that are older than my youngest child - and possibly my oldest.
  • I know everywhere that Mike and Frank have visited over the past 17 seasons of "American Pickers," and I can now identify motorcycle parts in a pile of junk buried in my neighbor's backyard (don't ask).
  • The people on my mother's side of the family were hoarders, and my mother never threw away anything, including but not limited to: pocket calendar style address books dating back to 1946; bank statements going back to the 1950s, ephemera of all shapes, sizes and unknown origins pertaining to who-knows-what, and old love letters that dated back to before I was born. I'm sure she didn't even remember they still existed, mixed among the aforementioned papers. They definitely fell into the TMI category, and she would have been mortified to know that I had unwittingly perused them.
  • I have large plastic containers filled to the brim with several generations of family photos - including unidentified trees, people, flowers and feet.
  • There are literally no scrapbooks large enough for 32 years of competitive skating memorabilia.
  • Not all old VHS tapes of non-qualifying competitions - currently filling six packing boxes - are "keepers."
  • Cassette tapes of old programs dating back to the early 1990s do not need to be displayed, played - or kept, for that matter. 
  • It's okay to go minimalist. But when in doubt, send a photo to the kids to see if they want it first. I've been out of the mindreading business far too long and I'm woefully out of practice.
However, the most important thing I learned from you, 2020, is to be present. You reminded me to be there for people; to help where I could; to counsel if asked, and to shut up and listen when it was truly needed. You also reminded me the importance of saying "I'm sorry," and "thank you," because both are worth their weight in gold.

As I get ready to fling open our windows and doors to guide you "gently" out and cautiously welcome 2021, I really need to prepare. There is so much ahead; so much to do. 

I'm stronger, and hopefully wiser, because of you, 2020. Your lessons were not wasted on me, and you will not be forgotten. I have a very long memory.

Yours Truly.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Pure Imagination: Part II


Like almost everyone I know, my hope was that pure imagination of what a season could be would give way to actual competition as 2020 came careening around the corner to hopefully a hard stop. Unfortunately, it was not to be. COVID continues to rock our rinks, upending the 2020-21 season and forcing us to find new ways to experience skating. At this writing, the Grand Prix season is all but decimated. Skate America is happening in what's being called The Bubble at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. In lieu of an enthusiastic audience, many of us chose to do virtual appearances via cardboard cutouts, the proceeds of which benefit the USFS Memorial Fund. It's the next best thing to being there, I suppose. I can't complain about having a front row seat for the entire competition for my donation, however. 
📷 by Zach Donohue at Orleans Arena Las Vegas Skate America 2020

Of course, nothing can truly replace the roar of the crowd, the flash of sequins, the thrill of victory and the abject agony of the Kiss & Cry when you're sitting there with your friends and skating family. It is what we live for each season.

So with this in mind, I contacted my co-author, Master Jack, and asked him to elaborate on what skating might be like in the future - say 100 years from now. Having touched on this in Part I of our blog, my young friend sent me a further explanation of how he sees equipment evolving. 
I have no doubt that some forward-thinking boot and blade companies will take note. Some of these ideas are already being incorporated to a much more modest degree than Master Jack envisions. But it is only 2020, after all. Who knows what the future holds for those who dare to dream. 



Saturday, August 29, 2020

Virtual Reality

I received a call the other day from the mom of a young skater who was about to have her first shot at making Nationals in Junior Ladies. The mom was frantic because of the new competition structure put in place for the 2020 season due to the continuing pandemic. 

"How can they DO this to us? It just isn't fair! 

It's not what we were expecting."

Well, 2020 wasn't what we we were expecting. Remember when we wished 2019 would just go away? I don't know about you, but 2019 is looking pretty darn good right now. 

I didn't really have an answer for this mom, other than to tell her that unprecedented times call for unexpected changes. Trite, I know, but it was the best I could do on short notice and being put on the spot.

What I wanted to say to her, I'll say to all of you. Skating is a sport. Full stop. The fact that any skaters at all are getting back on the ice in the midst of a disease that has been ravaging people in countries around the world is kind of a flipping, lutzing, miracle. If you get any semblance of a truncated season, consider yourself one of the lucky few. 

2020 obviously hasn't come with a book of instructions. The pages are being written - and rewritten - nearly by the hour as things continue to evolve. There are no norms. There is no normal. It's a "Lewis and Clark" moment where every step is being mapped for the first time, in real time.

The other side is that there are groups of people in our skating world who are working their axels off to make something - anything - happen in order to salvage something looking like a season. From the local clubs to our national governing body to even the ISU, no idea is off the table, as long as it first takes into account the health and safety of everyone involved, from skaters and their families to coaches, officials and - yes - fans. Unlike other times in our sport's history, right now the wheel is not being recreated, it's been thrown out the window. 

I am not privy to any insider competition information. I'm just sitting here in front of my computer trying to make sense of it all. What I do know is that I've seen  the fierce dedication of coaches and choreographers who have been finding new ways to keep skaters enthusiastic and engaged through on line classes via Zoom. What I do know is that the Peggy Fleming Trophy competition in June may have been that invaluable "scout" for our expedition into the unknown. Also, what I know because of my involvement with my husband's new podcast venture, is that musicians are exploring new platforms with no signal delay so that they can gather together virtually and play together in real time. All kinds of new technology is being tested daily; some of it may even be applicable to having competitions in real time. Logistically, it would be incredibly challenging from an organizational and technical standpoint - and fraught with possible pitfalls - but it is doable. As we've said in this household for an entire skating career, "Anything is possible. Pigs Can Fly."

The most important thing you can do right now is to be patient. You probably have a lot of things to worry about that are infinitely more important. If your kid is able to be on the ice and have some sense of "normal," be grateful. If you're an adult skater and back on the ice, you're already grateful. I know; I see your posts on Facebook and Instagram. 

Most of all, try to keep perspective. Nothing can truly replace being there live and in person for a competition, but that may be our virtual reality this season. We simply don't know. 

As one of my favorite bosses told me years ago, "You can't hold back the ocean." 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Pure Imagination

I have a wonderful young friend. He is nine years old with an amazing shock of curly red hair. He's creative, funny and fun, and he just happens to be a skater who is competing Freestyle 2 and whose favorite jump is Salchow. He calls me "Mrs. Allison" because he's polite like that. I call him "Master Jack." 

We got to spend some quality time together at the 2020 US Figure Skating National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina this past January - what now, in this time of pandemic, seems like a lifetime ago. Jack got to meet some of his favorite senior level skaters, like Madison Hubbell (you cannot fault his good taste), as well as Nathan Chen, among many others over the course of the weekend. 

He sat in the stands absolutely transfixed, watching every edge and every nuance. He was absorbing it all like a sponge; I was impressed. 

One day, on the way to the arena, Jack and I were talking about what skating might look like in the future - not in the near term, but a hundred years from now. Jack pondered my question, came up with a few ideas and then we both promptly forgot amidst the excitement of all that was going on around us. 

Enter COVID-19 that turned our worlds upside down. Like all kids, Jack was coping with school at home, not being able to see his friends and not being able to skate. I sent Jack a letter with words of encouragement; in return, he sent me a lovely letter written in his best cursive. We were now officially Pen Pals. 

Recently, Jack's been skating again on limited sessions, like just about all the skaters who have rinks that have been able to open. In chatting with his mom, I remembered Jack's and my conversation and I asked if he would be willing to use his creative talents to tell me, in words and artwork, what he thought skating in 2120 might look like.
Master Jack gladly responded with his insights:

"I think in 100 years, skating will have septuple axels and salchows. 

There will lifts in pairs where the male jumps in the air while lifting his partner.  For costumes, I think ladies will be able to wear two piece costumes and boys will be able to wear shorts. 

In dance, I think there will little rockets on the back of their skates to make them go even faster.  

Possibly back flips will be allowed in competition.

For all skaters, I think they will have the ability to have fireworks coming out of their skates. I think we will be able to have all events in outside arenas where the temperature is controlled.  There will be fireworks during every event, and the fireworks are what will play the program music."
I won't be around to see if Jack's predictions come true, but somehow I don't think he's that far off. At least I hope not. Because what comes from the pure imagination of a child is often our future. I certainly hope so.

Post Script:

July 17, U.S. Figure Skating did something remarkable. In the midst of the continuing pandemic, they brought us skating again - and hope - by presenting the first virtual competition ever attempted: The Peggy Fleming Trophy. It wasn't live, but it was skating - and a glimpse into what our future may be, at least for awhile. With so many lows of late, it was something that got us all excited about how today's technology could bring us back together via watch parties, Twitter and Facebook, to enjoy and critique this very unique event. It took a lot of work, imagination, and skaters willing to put themselves out there in front of a virtual judging panel with just a scant few weeks of training after being off the ice for months. They became the Alpha adopters - the vanguard of what skating might become. There were no fireworks (though there may have been a few rockets on skates involved for some of the competitors), but this new world was something we certainly wouldn't have predicted ...just like my buddy Master Jack's vision for the future. 

You know, he may be on to something.

Monday, June 22, 2020

What Matters Most - Life In The Time of COVID-19

Photo courtesy US Figure Skating.
Purchase of masks helps support Memorial Fund.

It's been more than a year since I did a blog. I thought I was done, but apparently I can't escape - particularly when life has dealt us challenges unlike we've ever experienced before. If we survive this, let's hope none of us - in whatever time we have left on this "mortal coil" - will ever have to experience anything like it again. 

Which brings me to this new musing.

There's a new "normal" now that's a bit different than the one I talked about in 2009 when I first started sharing my thoughts about life on the edge of skating, though some things seem to never change. Like the mysteries of giving birth for the first time, this chapter that's unfolding before us does not come with a set of clear instructions. We read, watch and listen to experts, but then we are pretty much left to figure it out for ourselves. The phrase, "We're all in this together," while true in the universal sense, sometimes seems awkward and discomforting during a pandemic. 

I could go on with a diatribe, but we're all doing that in our own personal-planet lives. This is meant to be an observation of what seems to be happening in our molecular world of ice, and how we might be able to apply it to the bigger picture of life on a decidedly different edge. 

Like virtually everything, skating came to a hard stop in late February or early March, depending on where you live on this planet. What was promising to be an exciting third year of the quadrennial cycle leading up to the 2022 Olympics evaporated in a nanosecond. The ice was figuratively, and literally, pulled out from under us, leaving  nowhere to turn. People were frozen in strange places, many far away from home. Some found solace through sheltering in place with friends, becoming unwitting roommates for more than three months. Most found themselves alone with their thoughts and fears; forced to examine themselves in a way they may never have done before. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,”
~ Charles Dickens.  Tale of Two Cities  
Winter of despair? Definitely. 
Spring of hope? Nope. 
Summer of enlightenment? Stay tuned.

The encouraging thing is that we're a resilient lot. Brilliant and resourceful, coaches, clubs, skaters, choreographers, contemporary and ballet dancers, and personal trainers discovered Zoom as a way to further development, and to keep enthusiasm from waning in the face of - well - no faces or places to train. 
A massive disadvantage suddenly became an unexpected boon to learn from people they would rarely, if ever, have a chance to access during day-to-day training preparation. Those who had the resources and willingness to take a new path, found a brave new world - and a way to stay connected.

Now, with rinks in our 50 seemingly different and individual country-states here in the U.S. starting to sputter to a start - and with the future of a season still uncharted but most likely unexplored territory - it is incumbent on all of us to step up, and back, to take a bird's eye look at the horizon. 

As a parent of a now-professional skater and choreographer, my goal is laser focused: to love unconditionally and non-judgmentally; to be there to bolster and encourage. By truly listening, we came to the realization that our bottom line hasn't changed; the love of what's been our lives for more than 32 years is still there. 

But like all love, it's challenging us to find new paths. Being able to navigate the changes, being flexible, encouraging and supportive is the foundation of the "emotional home," the safe place we spent years constructing in this sport. Sharing that has been the greatest gift.

Life in the time of COVID-19 is allowing all of us to continue to build to our strengths,  and make sure we supply a solid foundation. Our greatest challenge isn't having to  wear masks - or possibly not having a "normal" skating season. Frankly, that's the least important out of all this. What's important is staying on firm, supportive ground and not sinking into a mire of mental quicksand. That's our newest test. That's how we'll survive, and thrive until we find our footing again. Just being there and present is truly what matters most.     

Saturday, February 2, 2019

WHAT'S IN A NAME: Revisiting that Question 10 Years Later

Ten years ago, I wrote this blog about my alter-ego, my other persona; what was - and still is - my other name in the skating world. I had cause to revisit this last week at the US National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. It got me thinking.

Skate to Eliminate Cancer at
Campus Martius Park, Detroit

As you know, my son is no longer competing. However, he had a lot to do, both on and off the ice, since Detroit has been his home-away-from-home for 10 years now. When I couldn't be with him, I found myself watching him on the Jumbotron, at the Ice Desk, and also on the ice during Opening and Closing Ceremonies, as well as at a Scott Hamilton "Skate to Eliminate Cancer" event held outdoors at Campus Martius park in the heart of downtown. I went to Nationals, not only to spend a little bit of time with him, but to be with my skating friends for our annual "family reunion." 

So, after all these years, and all but one Nationals since 2003, I'm fairly well-known around the concourse, in restaurants, and sometimes in the ladies room lines. However in our skating world, I'm not always known as Allison Scott, the now-retired PR professional, blogger, US Figure Skating volunteer for Friends of Figure Skating and Memorial Fund events and 29 year skate parent. In this circle of friends and fans, I still take on my other identity. Like Clark Kent goes into a phone booth, turns around twice and comes out dressed as Superman ready to take on the world, I walk into an arena, turn around twice(usually because I've immediately lost the people I came in with) and become "Jeremy's mom." People I've known for years often times can't remember my given name. I get hugs and the first question is "How's your son? Is he here?" The second thing is usually an enthusiastic - and occasionally awkward - introduction to friends. "I'd like you to meet my friend Jeremy's mom." 
No joke. 
I then have to say something like, "Hi, I'm Allison Scott. So nice to meet you." 

I bring this up because I have been around a long time, and I have had a fulfilling professional career in public relations. But  what concerns me is that I see so many parents, whether they work outside or as a stay-at-home parent, lose their own identity along the way in this sport. It's always wonderful to be identified with your child, and that recognition as a parent of your skater is -hopefully - positive. But don't let it be the only thing that defines you. 

There is a saying by Horace Greeley that goes, "Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character."  
Make sure you remember who you are. Your kids will always remember who you are.