As I mentioned in a previous post, I was first introduced to figure skating while watching Janet Lynn compete in the 1968 Olympics on television. It was love at first sight. Something about the way the skaters moved across the ice resonated deep within me.
I readily identified with Lynn. Like me, she was a small blonde girl from Illinois with a bad pixie haircut. I immediately began imitating the spirals and spins in front of the TV on the hardwood floors in my socks. I knew it was just something that I had to do. I intuitively knew it was something I could do. But what was an 8-year-old girl to do? I had no skates and I had no money. Ask Mom.
My mom was the master at making impossible things happen. I might have just as well asked for the moon as a pair of skates — there just wasn’t money for that kind of thing. With the powerful combination of prayer, resourcefulness and $2, Mom found a pair of skates for me at the local thrift store that fit me exactly. For some reason unknown, they had been spray painted silver, but I loved them. Then she drove me to the neighborhood park that had a makeshift ice rink (an asphalt rimmed basketball court that they flooded in the winter) to try out my “new” skates.
As I sat in the car lacing up the silver beauties for the first time, Mom gave some basic instructions: Hold your hands out for balance and try to fall on your butt and not your front teeth. And so I hobbled out of the car wearing my snowball hat and my silver skates and made my world debut as the next Janet Lynn to an audience of one. Skating was as natural to me as walking. By the end of the session I was confidently skating backwards and fearlessly trying the jumps and spins I had seen on television.
Figure skating is not a sport for the economically challenged. Over the years, Mom managed to cobble together enough money for some lessons and competitions and eventually some good skates, but it was always tough. Most of the girls I skated with had a wardrobe of expensive costumes and the finest gear. I didn’t know at the time the serious sacrifices my parents made so I could do this thing that I loved. I even got to compete once at Wagon Wheel in Rockton, Illinois, Janet Lynn’s home rink. I skated as much as money would allow until the middle of my high school years when other things, like boys, began to seem more important. But being a figure skater remains central to the core of who I am.
I still love the cold stale smell of an ice rink. I still love to skate, although I’m not as fearless or as flexible as I used to be. And while I did not become the next Janet Lynn, I did get to live out a dream to the best of my ability and resources – thanks to my resourceful mom and the silver skates.