Synchronized Figure Skating

I’m like this every Tuesday. Go ahead: ask me a question. Will I understand you? Is my brain awake? The answer is a resounding NO! I’ve had three cups of coffe and a nap, but the fog persists. All my daughter’s fault. No, wait. I’ll blame it on my deceased mother. She can’t contradict me. It is her fault, though. She made the biggest mistake of my life when she took my daughter to an ice-skating show at Cypress Gardens when the child was two.  My daughter came home saying, in her adorable little voice, “I do dat, mama.” Oh, why did I think that was cute?

The child begged for skating lessons for three long years. Finally, I gave in. It became apparant immediately that my little girl was not the next Michelle Kwan. Skinny, lanky, long-legged, weak, and uncoordinated, she enjoyed the lessons anyway. She made me skate with her, pulling me around the rink, until I fell on my head and quit. One would think that injury might have knocked some sense into me, but that was not to be.

Competition started, and I must admit that it was fun at first — listening to music, learning the program, shopping for just the right outfit and accessories, having her hair done, paying for the professional video, bringing home the trophy that signified first place or last place or anything in between. That was the world of recreational skating, and it was mostly good.

Then came the REAL competition — United States Figure Skating Association. The dresses became more expensive, the hair less fun, the music more serious, the programs more difficult, the trophies more elusive. I suppose it is still fun, but so more much more stress fills my child’s life. Afternoon lessons and practice once or twice a week became early morning practices several times a week. But I was never as exhausted as I am now with the advent of synchro. I hate synchro. Ok, no, the real truth is I love synchro. even if it does cause me to live my life in a no-sleep, no-money, no life-of-my-own stupor most of the time.

Most people have never heard of or seen synchronized figure skating, even those who watch every Stars on Ice show on television and tune in excitedly to the winter olympics. I tell them to picture synchronized swimming on frozen water. They laugh but have trouble seeing it.  So I try telling them it is a dance team on ice. Somehow that helps. A synchro. team includes between eight and twenty skaters, although the higher-level teams must contain sixteen. Hence, the early mornings. No one else, even the hockey players, wants to be on the ice before five a.m., so that’s the time our teams can practice without trampling anyone. So, I get up at four, I hang out with the other parents, and I like it.

Together, we complain about the cold, the coaches, the dresses, the lack of sleep, the people who show up late, the huge amount of money it costs for our girls to participate in this activity. We lament the lack of vacations because a)we don’t have enough money, and b) our children are afraid to miss a single practice for fear of letting the team down. We talk about how many fundraisers we can cram in to a single season. But we are also awed by the way the coaches choose the perfect music and beautiful costumes and pull together a program that has us sitting on the edges of our seats. Will two or three or four lines of skaters moving at break-neck speed perform a perfect intersection, sliding effortlessly from one side of the ice to the other, inches away from their teammates? Will every skater be on the correct edge for every turn, execute spins, circles, and blocks with precision? Will they smile and sell the show with perfectly synchronized arms and glowing faces? When it all comes together, it’s an amazing sight to be seen.

This is the other side of U.S. Figure Skating. Yes, there is pressure. Yes, the trophies are still elusive. But somehow my daughter doesn’t mind all the stress so much when her best friends are skating beside her, sometimes literally holding her up, keeping her from falling. It is a brutal sport, murder on the knees, the back, the ankles. Coaches try to be encouraging, but they push as hard as they can to get results. It hurts to fall; it hurts to be cut by someone’s skate blade; it hurts to be singled out as the skater who is not cutting the mustard. But, in the end, this sport is worth every ounce of effort, every penny it costs, and all the sleep that is lost. It teaches the skaters invaluable lessons about life, gives them experiences that most never have, and builds friendships that remain special for years to come.  And we enjoy watching the sunrise on our way home from the rink.

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