"Do your athletes sometimes wonder why the heck they do this?" I asked Kris Sherard, my stand-in coach at the Adult Nationals Figure Skating Competition, as I stretched in preparation to step onto the ice. "They all do. Dorothy Hamill didn't want to take the ice before the Olympics because her nerves had gotten the best of her. Then she went out and won a gold medal. If you weren't nervous I'd be worried," Kris said.
I'd arrived four days before in Salt Lake City, Utah. I'd only had ten weeks to work with my new coach Kris Amerine to choreograph and learn a new program. This was only my fifth competition and my first at the Silver level. I'd trained as hard as I could learning to eat as an athlete, to push through fear and my mind's limitations, while striving to improve. As I stood at the boards, ready to take to the ice, I looked at the other competitors; All powerful women whose lives were so much like mine. They held full-time jobs, some had families, and yet they found time to be on the ice to practice. Many of these woman had years of experience competing and skating and knew each other from other events. Though they were all competing to win, they were supportive and friendly making me feel welcome as the newcomer.
As they called my name for warm-up, adrenaline pulsed making my legs quake. I ran through the elements of my program - warming up each move's precise technique. I stepped off the ice after six minutes and then had to wait almost fifteen minutes till my turn. They announced my name and I skated to the center. My heart raced and I took one last deep breath before I posed to begin. The music started and I found myself lost in movement. My skating felt shaky but then I began to find my flow as I smiled at the judges. Then I did one move too quickly which put me too far down the ice and I backed myself into a corner causing me to lose focus on my lutz loop jump combination. For the first time I fell in competition. I stood wondering how to get into the next move since I was against the wall. I tried my sit spin and fell again. I stood, took a deep breath and thought, this is my moment, my dream come true, I'm going to enjoy the rest of the program.
I began to skate again finding my edges and speed. The pure joy of being on the ice radiated from my smile and I stopped caring about perfection and just skated. I finished strong, but it was only enough to place twelfth.
Two days later I was back at the arena. This time to perform a program I knew well. Nerves still got the best of me but I thought again, this is my dream come true - live it to the max. This time, I skated my program with passion, emotion, and most of all love for the sport. I glided across the ice taking in the experience and when I finished, the energy I radiated made me feel as big as the ice arena. People came up and congratulated me on my performance and told me how it had moved them. I'd skated well enough to be awarded a Bronze Medal.
If there's one thing that I've learned on this journey it's that nerves, butterflies, and fear will always be there when you go after something you want with all your heart. I'm beginning to understand that those feelings mean you're really living to the max. I've also realized that going after my dreams always gives me more than I expect: I met incredible new friends; bonded deeper with my dear friend Kathy, who in her sixties competed at her first Nationals; and I was showered with love and encouragement by someone very dear to my heart. It was an inspiring week that will remain with me forever.
photos by James Tennery