“Without experiencing the lows in life, one cannot recognize the highs.” WOW! That summed up my experience in 2009 in one sentence. Coming off the Junior Grand Prix Final 2009 in Tokyo, life was good. After receiving the bronze medal at Yoyogi Stadium with the wonderful Japanese fans, training was going very well and I felt well-prepared for my first US Nationals as a senior man.
That is, I was very well-trained and prepared until my first training session of the day on January 5th, 2010, at 10:30 am, when I everted my ankle on the landing of a triple axel in my program. Rolling all the way from the outside to the inside of the ankle, at first I thought I had broken my leg. Going immediately to my physical therapist, Peter Breen, initially it seemed like a normal ankle sprain, as the swelling was minimal. The pain, however, was acute – so acute, in fact, it hurt to even put the skate on. By the 12th of January, the day I was supposed to fly to Nationals, I was still not able to do what I could, and I had to withdraw. In searching for a better handle on the sprain, we then scheduled an MRI for the next week. When that was read, I was diagnosed with a different type of injury, a “high” ankle sprain.
At this point, having been selected for Junior Worlds, I was still convinced with PT 1-2 times daily, six days a week, that I could regain my skill level in time to compete. My coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, were incredibly supportive, even going with me to doctor’s appointments, and I received excellent treatment from both my physical therapist, Peter Breen (1992 US Olympic team member in dance) and the staff at Children’s Hospital Boston, particularly Dr. Ellen Geminiani and Dr. Michael J. O’Brien. By mid February, however, it became clear that it was, in fact, true – a high ankle sprain takes twice as long to heal as a regular ankle sprain (look at Lucic of the Boston Bruins). The elevated level of strength essential for the triple jumps requires a 95% rehab rate or better, versus the standard 85% functionality rate considered adequate for the general public. We called USFS to give the first alternate, Keegan Messing, a heads-up, and he did a great job representing the US at Junior Worlds last spring.
By the end of May, I was back on the ice full time. Mark and Peter took their students to Milan to train for a week with the Italian skaters, like Francesca Rio and Alice Garlisi, and it was a lot of fun. You can learn something valuable from each new experience, and we enjoyed seeing Verona, the birthplace of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, on our one day off. Spring continued with various show performances, and I worked on my new programs in my daily training.
By Liberty, I was aware of my two Grand Prix assignments in Asia – nearly back to back. Of course, I was thrilled! The logistics of the time differential and the chronological closeness of the competitions were challenging. Finally, it was determined that Peter and I would stay in Asia in the interval between NHK and Cup of China. Akiko Suzuki was very kind and generous in inviting me to train with her on her ice, and that was tremendous. She was terrific to train with on a daily basis – so warm and hard-working, not to mention faster than a speeding bullet!
At NHK, it hit me that I was on the ice with the “really big” guns of male figure skating. I held it together but don’t feel like I was able to get into the character of the performances as much, as I was a little tentative and worried about making a mistake. By Cup of China, I think my programs looked more polished and emotive, and my results showed that improvement. Still, though, I was a long way from my goals of where I wanted my skating to be.
On the long plane ride back from Asia, I looked at where I was and where I wanted to be. With the help of my wonderful coaches, Mark and Peter, we focused on what it would take to get me where I wanted to be with my skating and made plans. Not only did I want to do a good job technically, I wanted to draw the audience in and make them a part of my programs…to share my joy and love of skating with them.
All November, December and January, I trained hard for Nationals. My hope was to skate two good programs, and not focus on the results. When I got to Nationals, I was just SO happy to be there and be able to skate, after sitting out last year.
Greensboro was an amazing host city – a shout out to them for the great job they did with the transportation, volunteers, and overall friendliness and courtesy of everyone I encountered. At the beginning of the week, all the competitors, coaches and chaperones got on and off the buses silently. By the end of the week, however, the warmth and cordiality of the bus drivers won us over, and every single rider would say “thank you” to the drivers. It was an interesting concept, how a small group of courteous people in a concentrated amount of time can change the behavior of a larger group of people for the better. Maybe something we can all learn from?
So now, the high of Nationals exceeded my expectations. Senior men’s freestyle was an amazing event, with so many incredible skaters. I was so thrilled to receive my first standing ovation ever, and to be able to skate in competition the way I had been training. That was a moment I will treasure for a lifetime.
My excitement increased when they named Ryan, Ricky and I to the World Team. Although I am aware there has been some negative publicity about my selection in such a close race, and all the candidates for the team were well-deserving, please rest assured I am training very hard with the goal of representing the United States well in Tokyo.
I look forward to revisiting Yoyogi stadium, and I am very thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy the great Japanese fans again!