For three years after my hockey career ended, I could only skate when the Ice Capades were in town, which was three months out of the year.
There was a burgeoning group of ice dancers and figure skaters who managed to convince the powers that be that we needed a freestyle figure skating session. I begged my mother for a pair of figure skates, the hockey skates (which were barely used) were sold, and I was off and running.
I took lessons from a lady named Barbara, who taught me to bend my knees, hold my arms out like a dancer, and hold my edges. She taught me a waltz jump and a two-footed spin. After the hockey debacle, I felt like a swan. It was heaven.
Since this was only 3 months out of the year however, I had to take up something else, and that something else was tap dancing. Ballet bored me, I didn’t have the long legs required, so I tapped in all the school productions.
However, in 1980, there was news of a new year-round rink being built at the edge of Centennial Park. That changed everything. Much to the dismay of my dance teacher, I threw all my eggs into the skating basket. The skating rink was quickly built, and I was there the night it opened. I skated every day I could. Barbara was the resident coach for a few months, and there was no figure skating club in place. But that year, things happened quickly.
I met a 15-year boy named John who showed up out of nowhere, jumping and spinning. Where did he come from? I never saw him at the Municipal Auditorium. I was in awe. He saw me doing a waltz jump, and he immediately skated up to me and told me how I could do it better.
John was a prodigy. He had just started skating a few months prior and was an absolute natural. He had purchased his ice skates over the phone from the Robert Unger Skating rink in Knoxville, and even though they were two sizes too big, he was skating around in them. A friendship quickly developed, and every day I skated, he was there. I wondered how he even went to school. (He had dropped out to skate full time.) I told him that I had recorded every single ice skating event from the 1980 Olympics on our new VCR machine, and he immediately invited himself over to watch every single one of them.
A coach arrived from Huntsville that year. An eccentric man named George Davies. He would change the course of John’s life forever. Realizing the talent before him, he gave him 100% of his attention and began to set the wheels in motion for his future.
That summer, they closed the rink for maintenance (that would be the last ice free summer of our lives), so John and I religiously poured over those tapes until we had memorized every move, every jump and every routine of every skater competing in Lake Placid. We begged our mothers to drive us to Atlanta, to Knoxville, to Chattanooga, to Huntsville to just get some ice practice in. We imitated all the skaters programs we had memorized, we taught ourselves the choreography, and John constantly pushed me to jump higher, skate faster, try new things…
By now we had upgraded our skates, and John was landing doubles. The rink re-opened in the fall, and skaters from Huntsville and Atlanta started migrating to Nashville. A family named the Shimmins arrived from San Francisco, and their daughter Nadine was the envy of (and an inspiration to) us all. A slight red haired wisp of a girl, she was as graceful as she was athletic, and she could skate pairs. She and John were paired up immediately, but it didn’t last long. George had secured sponsors, and John was snatched away to train in Wilmington, Delaware under the auspices of Ron Luddington.
I was bereft.
Without John, I was directionless. I had lost my best friend, and George Davies didn’t push me the way John did. Skating became more of a social outlet, a platform for me to show off to all my friends, and as my mother was fond of saying, “You’re not going to the Olympics.”
I slid into a host of eating disorders, started dating undesirables and navigated the world of boys, parties and falling grades. Through it all I continued skating, even doing an intensive summer training school. But right before I was to test and compete in a bonafide USFSA event, I was in a car accident.
A boy I barely knew took me out to a baseball game and decided to show off how fast he could drive on Radnor Lake. The car spun out of control and rolled down a hill, toppling mailboxes and a small tree, before spitting me out on someone’s lawn. To this day, I don’t know how or why I survived that. I walked away from it, but I was banged and bruised up enough to have to drop out of the testing and the competition.
John came home for a visit a few months later, and he was a bit different. Polished, professional (and a little bit preening), John was now landing triples and had become a true competitor. No one could believe that he had only been skating for two years.
I had truly been left behind.