Our oldest daughter is a senior level skater. My husband and I are way too familiar with early mornings at the rink, twice a day practices and off-ice conditioning. I have bedazzled more skating dresses than I care to think about over the years and I can usually predict when a skater is going to fall on her jump from the way she sets up her entrance.
Our daughter will probably hang up her skates after this season, which will be bittersweet, but even without getting to the U.S. Championships or international competition, it has been mostly a good road for her.
Skating can be expensive, time-consuming and at times frustrating, but there are tangible benefits. Our daughter learned valuable lessons from this sport about what is important to success: Commitment and hard work. The right equipment. A good coach or teacher. A good support system. As parents, we learned to make the hard calls for our budget and say “no” to the competition or workshop we could not afford. As a result, we don’t have a second mortgage and we do have a coach who gets paid on time.
Our daughter lettered in academics at our local public high school and graduated with a scholarship. She attributes this to the self-discipline and perseverance she learned from figure skating. She gained a second father in the person of her coach, who shall be known on this blog only as the Mad Ukrainian. (We lucked out with him. He yells a lot, but nobody shows more concern for their students’ well-being.) The unspoken code of deportment required of all skaters, parents and judges at competitions has also helped her through difficult personal encounters outside skating. (Never cry. Never whine about marks. Never EVER bash another skater, even if you’re an Olympic medalist. This is bad form, and the Skating Powers That Be will exact revenge. I’ve watched them do it.)
She learned not just how to win and lose graciously, but that at some point, everyone fails. She knows now to get up, assess the goal and change it or try again.
She is also able to use her knowledge to coach younger skaters, which is a boon to her wallet (and ours!!) and a credit to the Mad Ukrainian. She’s worked with international-level coaches and choreographers over the years. While she might struggle with the all-important triple jumps, she takes pride in footwork and spins that garner high marks and compliments.
Most important to her and to us, she has learned that competitors and their families can be friends. She has — and needs — dear friends outside the discipline, but only another skater gets the triumphs and disappointments of the sport. The same goes for parents and siblings. We’ve watched some of these young women for years. By now, our families sit together in the stands and cheer for all of them. Sure, each mom wants HER daughter on the podium. But we all know how hard every skater out there works. We’re not blind or stupid, either. We don’t focus on details the way officials are trained to, but we can generally tell who should get the best scores.
Figure skating throws up hideous public scandals periodically, but for every incident of knee-bashing and bribed judges, there are countless unseen episodes of kindness: Competitors squealing “You’re here!!” and tackle-hugging each other in the rink lobby. An official taking time to comfort a little girl in a sparkly dress who forgot her routine. Experienced skating moms guiding new ones through a first competition. Rivals and their families laughing together at a post-competition dinner. These are the intangibles that gold medals can’t replace.