I replaced my old beloved (but crumbling) SP Teri custom boots and dull (beyond sharpening) Gold Seal blades with the more economical Jackson boots and Coronation Ace blades (more on that later). I learned that the world of figure skating had changed quite a bit since I was last in it. Gone were compulsory figures, always the bane of my existence. I would never have to do "patch" again. (If you're an older skater, you know what I'm talking about.)
In the current world of adult skating, there was now a group of tests for Freestyle and for "Moves in the Field" (a completely new phrase to me). Moves in the Field are really a watered down offshoot of compulsory figures - not as difficult but you still have to skate in a prescribed pattern. In this new world of adult testing for the USFS (United States Figure Skating), there are 4 categories: Pre-Bronze, Bronze, Silver and Gold.
I realized fairly quickly that to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, I would need to skate more than 2 times a week. A lot more. With Pam's guidance, I started to learn all of these Moves in the Field, and for the first time in my life, I was grateful that I had spent a few years doing compulsory figures! It paid off.
What I wasn't prepared for was the concept of skating alone, in front of 3 judges holding notepads. And they usually don't smile. It's a surreal experience.
In February, I passed my Pre-Bronze tests. That's the easy one. I didn't have to do a program, and I only had to skate in front of one (very nice) judge. In March, Pam drove me to Artesia (the home rink of Michelle Kwan - they even have a Michelle Kwan museum upstairs). These tests were a bit more difficult, I had to skate a program to music, and that was my first experience with the 3 judges and notepads.
I believe that's the first time I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?"
During all of this, I was working on my competition programs and preparing for the big artistic showcase that was taking place at Pickwick Ice in Burbank in June. Pam and I decided that for this June competition, I would "skate up", meaning I would compete at the silver level, even though I hadn't yet taken the silver tests. The reason for this was because I felt that I really was capable of skating at the silver level and I wanted to challenge myself. Also, many of the skaters in the bronze category had come to this sport late in life and didn't have the advantage I had of a childhood spent on skates. It wasn't a level playing field. (A couple of skaters in the bronze group actually thanked me for leaving that group.) However, I was painting myself into a corner, because according to USFS rules, if I placed in this competition and went on to the national competition in August, I would HAVE to have passed my silver tests before competing in August. There is no "skating up" at Nationals.
Well, I did place (more on that later), and am now set to compete at the National Competition in early August.
SO. The first thing I had to do was pass the silver tests. And I didn't have much time.
It's a pretty big leap from bronze to silver. On paper, it doesn't look like much, but when you have to string together 3 single jumps, 2 jump combinations, 2 spins, another combination spin, and footwork in 2 minutes -- it's a daunting task and I compare it to running a 5K as fast as you can. The Moves in the Field also contain a sequence of inside and outside, backward and forward, "three-turns in the field" which has tripped up many a skater. Again, thank God I did compulsory figures back in the day.
Pam got me on the docket for June 22 test date (hello, did I give myself any time at all??) and I hit it hard, skating 6 mornings a week for two hours before heading to work. I wasn't so concerned about the Moves in the Field, but that Freestyle program was a beast, and I hadn't skated a perfectly clean program once. Not even once.
The morning of the test session arrived and I was an absolute bundle of nerves. I wasn't ready for that Freestyle program and I knew it. I kept saying "If I only had two more weeks." A small group of friends came to watch and though it stressed me out at first, I was so grateful for the support.
I passed the Moves in the Field no problem, then it was time to warm up for the Freestyle. They give you 5 minutes which flys by at the speed of light. I ran through my elements, and to my dismay I was two-footing the landing on my jump combination. My legs were actually twitching on my footwork. Nerves nerves nerves....
Warm up was over, I got off the ice, walked over to Pam and said, "Well, this ought to be interesting...."
"Just click off the elements," she said. "One at a time."
Keep in mind I had not skated this program cleanly in practice, not once. When they called my name, I felt like it was somebody else skating out to center ice. I was the observer of this person in the blue dress, just telling her what to do.
I miraculously, inexplicably landed the jump combination - on one foot. "Ok," I thought. "Game's on." One element at a time. I clicked them off one by one, the flip, the loop, the toe loop, the sitspin, the camel-sit combo spin, the jump sequence, the layback spin (not mandatory but I thought I'd throw it in for extra credit). I got to the end of the program, the moment where you are so exhausted, you have to really just pull the last vestige of energy out of your body and deliver. One camel, that's all I had to do. Minimum of 3 revolutions. Come one, you can do it. Get that leg up there and count....1....2.....3.......
It was over.
I skated off the ice. My friend Fran was crying. ("That was a real nail-biter," she said.) I couldn't believe what just happened. Pam was ecstatic.
Then the judges called me over to reskate one element. I thought for sure it would be that dreaded jump combination. Maybe it wasn't strong enough.
"We just need to see you do that last camel again," they said. "We can't agree on the number of revolutions you did. One of us says it was 3, and one of us says it looked like 2-1/2."
They gave me one practice try, in which I did 5 or 6 revolutions. "Can you use that one?" I asked.
"No, you said that was your warm-up, so now you have to do it again for the test."
At this point I was ready to drop. I did it again (not as well), and they passed me.
Pam and Frank and I went out to celebrate with margaritas. It was a very, very good day.