I just recently got back from competing at the 2014 US Synchronized Skating Championships (Masters Division) and felt the need to recount my past season in agonizing detail. Thankfully, I kept a journal that recorded every glorious moment.
My artistic representation of synchronized skating
How did I not get the memo?
At the ripe age of 31, I got introduced to the world of synchronized skating. Though I skated my whole life, I somehow didn’t get the message on what exactly this thing is, how its such a big deal in the skating world and why so much make up is needed. So… what is it? It’s like if synchronized swimming and the Rockettes mated and their sublime offspring was born on the ice. There is precision, theatrics and athleticism all bundled up in one big sparkly bow with false eyelashes and a lot of hair gel. It’s truly impressive.
Skating Liza Minnelli’s rendition of “New York, New York” at an Admirals Game. Circa 1990-1991-ish
For me, my youth skating experience included some elementary forms of synchro. We pulled together some team exhibitions for the local hockey team, the Norfolk (Hampton Roads) Admirals. Our dresses were handmade and cheap – so that no parent had to spend excessive money. No elements were entirely that difficult, and all skating levels were represented. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college I stumbled across a legitimate, competitive skating team. Being the 18-year-old brat that I was, I stayed on that team for exactly one semester before I quit. From what I remember, it was fun, though I’m pretty sure the girls weren’t all that nice.
Some time last year, I heard that the DC area had a great reputation in the adult synchronized skating world and that their teams consistently placed well at Nationals. My first thought was – whoa, a National competition?!? My second was – the team that consists of adults? You mean I’m not too old to still compete?! As a competitive spirit, I was intrigued. I marked the information session on my calendar and began my YouTube research. Plus, one of my friends at the rink is a synchro goddess, and she was my biggest cheerleader in my attempts at learning a new skill. What’s a synchro goddess, you ask? It is someone who has been a part of this sport since he/she was a zygote and partakes in playing “fantasy synchro” each season. Unbeknownst to me, that does in fact exist.
Performing part of the Nutcracker Suite to a surprisingly tame audience at an Admirals game. Circa 1992
The tryout or not
It was nearly tryout season. I was looking forward to the information session, which was a precursor to the tryout. I like trying something new, so it was going to be a fun adventure. Plus, I was confident in my skating skills, so I was looking forward to learning something new. Then, tragedy struck. Well, not exactly. I had an unfortunate reaction to a chiropractic adjustment, which not only made my back exceptionally tense to the point of not being able to turn my head, but also spurred a weekend full of debilitating migraines. This of course was aptly timed with the information session. I felt like a big pile of steaming dog poo, and I didn’t want to go because I knew I wouldn’t skate my best. I’m a perfectionist, so this was the absolute worst scenario that could possibly happen. Also, I knew that for me to tryout, I needed to go to the information session. I couldn’t just show up at the tryout and not know what is expected of me! Actually, if I’m going to be totally honest here, a few weeks prior to the information session, I started to get cold feet for some unknown reason. I suppose it was the fear of trying something new. Sure, new is exciting, but it’s also scary, especially the older you get. Anyway, for storytelling purposes, let’s ignore that particular fact and just concentrate on the fact that I had an epic migraine and my back hurt, and I was worried about not skating up to my already ridiculous high standard.
I reluctantly went to the information session with my synchro goddess friend. I was heavily medicated and didn’t know my butt from my elbow. Naturally, not only did I feel like utter crap, but I also was totally socially awkward (I blame my concoction of medications). I was not my finest self. I still hang my head in shame when I think about it. Anyway, after some off-ice discussions about the team, dues and practice times, it was time to hit the ice. If I had to guess, I would say that I lasted about 10 minutes on the ice. I was dizzy, in pain, nauseous and entirely drugged. I apologized to the coaches and got off the ice. As I was taking my skates off, I thought to myself, “well, I’m never coming back as I just made a total ass out of myself. Hopefully, they forget about me, so I don’t need to recount this nightmare embarrassment.”
Official tryouts were the following week. There was no way in hell was I going to show my face. My ego was still bruised and it was going to take some time to forget my epic failure. For the record, I should state that in retrospect, my skating wasn’t a total catastrophe. For the 10 minutes on the ice, I skated just fine; however, because I’m a Type-A, anal-retentive perfectionist, I didn’t skate to my high standard. Nevertheless, the coach sent me a very sweet email encouraging me to still try out. Unsurprisingly, I wrote her a short essay (one of what became many) explaining my current physical and mental state, how I was too embarrassed to show my face again and my inexperience with synchro would probably result in me not coming back, but I would see how I felt at the end of the week. The truth was I still was interested, but I still felt like crap and I was embarrassed for my poor showing. Like much of my life, I decided to leave my synchro-fate up to fate. If I felt good, I would suck up my pride and go tryout. If not, then I would curl into a ball and hide, and pretend this never happened.
No, really, I made a t-chart to help me make a decision
Fate spoke. Tryouts came and went and I was nowhere to be seen. Like clockwork, I ended up getting a bunch of migraines through that weekend and was totally useless. The timing of tryouts also happened to correspond with a big work conference that I was managing, so I was under a fair amount of stress (and anger!), which is probably why I continued to be a hot-migraine-mess. I sent another essay of an email to the coach apologizing for not coming, explaining my predisposition for migraines, thanked her for the vote of confidence. I concluded with the fact that I was not meant to be a synchro skater, but perhaps next year. The coach emailed me back and said that they saw enough of my skating, that they still needed a couple skaters and that they would love to have me, if I was interested. I was shocked, honored and totally speechless. I had a huge decision in front of me. I knew it was going to be time intensive and expensive, but it would be fun and different. The ladies seemed really nice and the coaches were obviously cool, especially if they were going to let a fool like me grace the ice with them. So, like all good indecisive people do, I turned to a t-chart of pros and cons of joining the team. Each day, I came up with a new point, or counterpoint, to joining the team. It was exhausting. I couldn’t reach a decision to save my life. I changed my mind on what seemed to be an hourly basis. My wonderful spousal equivalent was incredibly supportive and he told me to not worry about the finances, and that he would chip in more towards our mortgage and joint bills, so that I could live out my sparkly, synchronized dream. After several rounds of email-essays and debates with the coach, I made my decision: I was going to be a part of the 2013-2014 Master’s team. I was certainly in for a fun, new and different experience.
To be continued…Part 2: More social awkwardness, false eyelashes and the joy of competing