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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

My years as a figure skater marked some of the best and worst moments in my life.

Image Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Today’s Olympic saga reminded me only of the bad.

I watched three young girls crumble underneath the weight of the world on their shoulders, their whole lives' work unraveling in four short minutes. The kiss and cry box was flooded with tears, validating its very name.

As a retired skater and avid fan of the sport, I’ve watched these girls grow up. I followed as the “quad squad” made history, amassing medals, sponsorships, and fans along the way. All with cute little smiles on their young, innocent faces.

I got up at 5:00 a.m. to see how the past four years of hard work would unfold. What I saw was utter devastation.

There was the gold medal favorite, Kamila Valieva, who shrouded in a doping controversy, skated the worst program of her life only to fall apart the moment the music ended.

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There was Alexandra Trusova, the silver medalist who couldn’t believe she had been bumped out of first place by her teammate after she performed a history-making five quad jumps (trust me—that is unheard of). “I hate this sport, I never want to skate again, you knew all along,” were just some of the frustrations we heard between her cries (in her native Russian). She almost refused to visit the podium but eventually obliged, mascara smeared and all.

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And then, there was Anna Shcherbakova, the gold medalist, sitting alone, clutching a teddy, staring into open space. Experiencing what was supposed to be the happiest moment of her life, Anna said she “felt empty.”

Image courtesy of Peacock TV

Three girls who trained every day together. Traveled together. Made Tik Tok videos together. And now, they were emotionally crushed together.

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I took to the internet to try to make sense of what had just unfolded. Some sort of explanation. Answers. Was she doping? Was it a conspiracy? Were the scores unfair? Where do they go from here? Is there hope?


There are no answers in these situations. Only heartache. Time is your only solace.

So here are my few words of wisdom to those inconsolable girls and anyone else facing crushing defeat.

You are so much more.

You are so much more than your clean edges and your nimble figures. You are so much more than your level-four-step sequence and your fully rotated jumps. You are so much more than those perfect arm movements or an extended spiral. You are so much more than five quad jumps or a clean skate.

Heck, you are even so much more than an Olympic gold medal.

You are human, you are young, and one day, you’ll be free from all this angst. I know it’s hard to see now, but there will come a time when these heartaches just won’t hurt anymore…

Did you know that Trusova, the silver medalist, is actually a really fun, easygoing teen? She’s known to laugh and giggle and usually smiles her way through competitions. Anna Sherbakova is one of the hardest-working people on the skating scene. She is eloquent, educated, and kind. And Kamila. Kamila is a fierce competitor. She is humble and constantly working to learn from others.

Being a competitive figure skater was challenging, thrilling, and motivating. It taught me persistence and endurance. In the best of times, I was a free bird gliding through the air, untouchable by the worries of the world. And in the worst of moments, I was a broken child, unsure how I could face the world the next day.

But my greatest achievement was being able to take a step back and realize I am so much more than a podium finish.

I am a mother, a wife, a daughter. I am a writer, a thinker, and a talker. I can be impatient and too much of a perfectionist. I ignore my kids while I’m trying to work, and I decline school committee meetings more times than I accept. But I also stand and make my daughter deviled eggs almost every day because it’s the only protein she eats. And every night my kids eagerly await to tell me their favorite part of the day and what they’re going to try to do better tomorrow.

I am a work in progress, and so are you. And as long as we are working to be better people, there’s no stopping what the world throws at us.

So to Kamila, Sasha, Anna, and anyone else experiencing the crushing weight of defeat, just know you are so much more than a sum of your visible achievements.

We are human, we are rich, and we are deep.

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