Tuesday, December 14, 2010

how i got sucked into skating

In an effort to start blogging regularly and also to kick-start my daily writing, especially during the semester break, I've decided to try really, really hard to do this 30 Days of Skating challenge that is circulating a bit. I love writing about skating, so I'm hoping that I will stay motivated. If you don't love reading about skating, maybe you'll learn something interesting along the way, but I won't be offended if you ignore me for the next 30 days.

Day 1: How did you get into figure skating?

Well, I suppose a lot of you know this story already. But in case someone's reading who isn't friends with me (how on earth did you get here?), here's what happened.

I was 7 years old, it was February 1992, and the Winter Olympics were happening in Albertville. It was the first year that my mom & my stepdad were married, so I don't know, maybe my mom just really liked the idea of us sitting down and watching the Olympics as a family. She had memories of her family doing that while she was growing up. I didn't especially like sports at the time—I usually hid in my room when the Bears game was on—but my mom lured me into the living room because she was sure I would like watching the figure skating. I brought my Barbies with me, in case skating turned out to be boring, like football.

But skating was magical. It was the pairs free skate, and it was full of sequins and flowy pieces of chiffon and white splatter-painted unitards and girls who did the things I did in ballet class, but they had big strong boys that picked them up and twisted them and twirled them and did them all so high in the air. They were so glamorous. It was mesmerizing. And I was hooked.

So for the next 6 years, I read through the TV guide every Sunday morning at breakfast (this was before FSU, when someone else would post the schedules for you) and highlighted anything that involved skating. Then a combination of things, including but not limited to being an overachiever in high school and Nagano breaking my heart, led to a bit of a skating lapse between 1998 and 2002. I caught things occasionally, but only when I had time. And one of the things I happened to catch was the pairs free skate from 2001 Worlds, when a pretty Canadian pair skated to one of my favourite pieces of music en route to a world title.

The next year, I was in my first year at the University of Miami. I had a randomly-assigned roommate, and she and I got along okay, but we didn't really bond until one day in early February, one of us said to the other, "Um...I hope this is okay, but...um, I really really like the Olympics. Like I will want to watch it constantly." And the other one of us, whoever it was, emphatically agreed.

And the pretty Canadian pair was back, and there was a huge ruckus surrounding them, and in all of the chaos, I discovered that there were places online where one could go to talk about skating and connect with other skating nerds just like me! Cue the 'Hallelujah' chorus. Over the next year, I started chatting with people all over the continent, and I was so geeked out and excited about skating again. That was at the very beginning of regular people being able to put video online to share with others (Soulseek, woot!), and since most of the people who owned the right kind of equipment to do this seemed to be snobby and European, I watched a lot of skating that I hadn't been exposed to in my childhood on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

And then in January 2003, a mutual friend introduced me to Jules via AIM, and I met the sister I never knew I had, who loved skating just as much as me, and who had excellent taste, too! And through Jules, I met Christina and Sarah, and then we met Chele and Erica and Erin, and eventually we met Jen, and there are scads of others, of course, and I finally started going to events, after years of watching skating through the television. I heard the blades and felt the chill and inhaled the Zamboni fumes and learned to identify jumps and spins properly, and I started to get glimpses of what the "inside" of the skating world was like through friendships and encounters with the athletes. The wonder and awe I felt as a kid transformed into respect and admiration for the talented people who dedicate their lives to the sport and share it with the rest of us who sit on the other side of the boards.

The more I went to events, the more that I wanted to make some sort of connection with what I saw on the ice. I'd write reviews of shows or take notes at competitions and post them online. As I began to realize how much I liked writing, I wondered if I could ever write for a skating magazine, like IFS, someday. And I was jealous of Erica & her camera, not in a creepy way, but just in that I was fascinated by how she could capture moments. I started wondering if I'd ever be able to invest in a camera like hers, if I'd even be any good at skating photography. I did the best I could with a dinky little camera, but I knew I was limited by the equipment.

In July 2007, I answered a call for volunteer photographers and writers to work with ice-dance.com at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. They said they'd provide the equipment and teach me how to shoot, so I planned a crazy trip. Crazy trips were already the norm by that point. I spent less than 72 hours there. Once again, there was an instant connection. From the first time I pressed the shutter, I knew I had to get a camera, to keep trying this. Something about it just felt right. I wasn't that good, but I was getting a few decent shots per program by the 3rd day, and U.S. Figure Skating bought 4 of my photos for their web coverage. 3 days after I got home, I bought a used 20D and a refurbished lens. A week and a half later, I covered my first event, solo, for IDC.

It's far from being a career. It's not even that good of a part-time gig, because a lot of the events that I cover—especially the big, expensive ones—are volunteer jobs. But there's absolutely nowhere that I would rather be than behind my camera at a skating event, whether it's the Olympics or a StarSkate Invitational. (Well, when I had to choose between the two, I picked the Olympics...but when the Olympics are not simultaneously occurring, I'm happy to shoot StarSkate!) It's still magical to me. Especially if there's ice dance involved. But I suppose that my love for ice dance, even little kids skating basic compulsories, is a subject for another post.

Shooting the DSC Show in January 2010

1 comment: