The months rolled by. John continued to get better and better, and each time he came home he shocked us all. One time he brought home a friend, a skater from Wilmington named Russ Witherby (Russ would go on to compete in the 1990 Oympics).
In 1982, John’s mother drove me to New York to watch him perform in Madison Square Garden. The following year, I flew to Wilmington for a week to visit John and Russ and skate on their world-famous rink. I skated exactly once, on their elite training session. When I collided with David Santee, I was so horrified and embarrassed; I simply refused to go back.
John sat me down and told me how disappointed he was in me and my lack of progress. He could see that I’d lost direction. I don’t remember if I cried, but it stuck with me.
When I came home, I decided to enter a little local competition in the mountain town of Gatlinburg, and George Davies was not coming with me. This was a very small town event. The rink was actually in a mall.
John decided to accompany me to this event as my stand-in coach. We drove up together, John giving me his pep talks and encouragement. I was skating to the theme from “To Kill A Mockingbird”, which was the music I was supposed to have used in the competition I had to drop out of.
The warm-up started, and the bane of my life - the axel - was in my program. By this time I was a fairly good skater, albeit inconsistent as hell. I landed 2 axels in the warm-up. “Laura, that’s enough!” John was saying from the sidelines. “Don’t win the warm-up! You’ve done enough! Save it!”
“Let me do just 2 or 3 more,” I insisted. I landed all 3.
The program started.
I fell on the first axel. I got up, did a perfect layback spin, flip, loop, camel…and I decided to go for it and try the axel again. I fell.
At the very end of the program, I sacrificed an element to try to squeeze in one perfectly landed axel. Just one more shot to do this. I landed on one foot…and then sat down.
I got off the ice and pretended to laugh it off.
After all, I wasn’t going to the Olympics.
That last moment has haunted me for 30 years. Despite the fact that I actually won 2nd place (probably based on the fact that the judges had seen me land the jump in warmup), that moment has been an epic failure in my life experience.
Just how many times since then have I "sat down" in life?
It’s something I have to make right.