The world of figure skating has been very good to me.
It got me to Japan a couple of times with the ice shows. Alistair was in the audience when I guest skated the night we met. And during my vet school interview, that’s all they wanted to talk about.
Seriously. I was all, “don’t you want to know about my horses or the ferret we had?” while the interviewing professors just wanted to hear about touring in Japan and what I thought about power skating.
Oh, sure, there’s the body image issues that I’m fairly certain most figure skaters have to deal with. That whole ‘puberty in spandex’ thing will make or break you in this sport.
It can be heartbreaking to see a young skater’s body change into something that shouldn’t be seen in spandex and sequins- particularly if they love the sport like I did. Its even more heartbreaking to be that skater but, thankfully, I was lucky.
I loved to skate. I loved it so much I moved away from home at the age of 12 for half of the year to train with my mentor, Dr.Hellmut May in Vancouver. I did that every year except for grade 12.
I wasn’t the most natural skater but I worked my ass off. I was graceful and I had excellent school figures. I loved the hour I spent 2 or 3 times a day working on “patch”, learning to lean and turn my body over and over in perfect angles around perfect figure-8’s. I eventually could stand on crystal clean ice, push off on one foot and complete a full circle, coming right back to the exact same spot I pushed-off from with my eyes closed. I knew my positioning that well.
I loved the silence of patch. The work ethic required. The improvement you would see before your very eyes. I loved getting down to check if my brackets and rockers were clean, or if my edge didn’t go flat as I came back to center.
I loved it when Doc would smile during patch lessons, his coffee-in-hand, spilling onto my tracings as he would show me where he wanted my hands. His assistant coach, Faye, taught me ‘skating side up’ with my arms, which I have passed onto every single student I have coached over the years.
I also loved ice dance and competed at first with my brother, until he quit, and then with my friend, Matt. We never told Doc about this because Matt was well on his way to National medals and dancing would take away from that. Until I took Matt out doing the “Killian” one day and he couldn’t train his jumps. Ooops. We fessed up but both ended up pursuing singles careers.
I graduated high school at 16 realizing that I was a very good skater but not a great one. Canada produces so many thousands of skaters and I knew then that college would be a smarter choice.
I was an unlikely showgirl after 3 years of college. I had gained the suggested amount of weight one gains when living on their own and many shows just weren’t available for Canadians. A wonderful family friend (and my younger sister’s coach at that time) was the connection who helped get me on board with ‘American Ice Show’ in Japan.
We were a small company that stayed on-site in a little house on a fairground beneath the world’s 3rd largest Ferris wheel.
But talk about a fish out of water.
I was independent and full of confidence but I certainly wasn’t worldly. I was a heavy little girl surrounded by lanky Beautiful People, most of whom had years of show experience already. I was immediately self conscious of myself the moment I met the rest of the cast in Los Angeles.
My friend kept an eye on me. He knew my parents were kind of backwards about a lot of things so he cut me some slack. Even though I had the largest thighs and chest of the girls (the “boob girl” of our cast… nice), he never once said a peep during the twice-daily weigh-ins.
Yes. Twice daily. Because you can gain or lose so much weight in a day, right?
My friend told me I would be rooming with one of the guys. This shook me up a bit because I wasn’t so sure about having a guy for a room-mate. What would The Parents think? What if he came onto me? What if he didn’t?
When we got to our room, he started decorating his side. (We were there for 2 months, might as well make it feel like home). Even as he was putting up calendar pictures of all these different firemen I still didn’t quite get it. I just figured he had friends who were firemen. Or maybe he worked as one when he wasn’t on tour. Lets just say, he never hit on me and that was fine.
At least part of the theme of the show was ‘disco’. That gold getup in the first picture with the ostrich feathers on my head was performed to “Last Dance” by Donna Summer. Loved that routine. Didn’t love the fact that if you leaned too far to one side the weight of that head piece would tip you over but hey, learn to stand up straight.
The Japanese entertained the tall, blonde girls from California but I was usually invited out along with everyone because I’m so “genki”. The Japanese enjoyed my sense of humor, as did my cast mates, even if I wasn’t a Beautiful Person.
My second show in 1994 was on a different fairground in northern Japan, by Sapporo. My genki personality landed me the role of Sailor Moon during the character portion of the show. I signed a lot of autographs that tour but not as Tanya Koftinoff, like I had practiced as a kid. I cheerfully signed as Sailor Moon to a chorus of ‘domo arigatos.’ I was the “boob girl” in that show, too, but I had started to figure my body out by then.
I had also met Alistair just before going to Japan that time. I had found happiness and with that came a better attitude towards my own body. (Which is why those of you who have met me later in life are shaking your head, wondering where those boobs have gone.)
Like I say, skating has been good to me. I am still fairly connected and still do a bit of choreography now and then. I know that Doc would be proud to know that he taught me well- he taught me to enjoy this sport and to share it with friends & family. He taught me to work hard and focus, which helped get me into (and through) vet school. He was a leader to me and a close group of friends, some of whom became National champions and Olympians. And some of us who were just very good skaters. Whose lives were shaped by this sport. I cherish the friendships I have made through figure skating.
Even the ones with the Beautiful People.