No Place I'd Rather Be
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."
Growing up, I always dreamed of being a professional figure skater. After years of hard work, support from my family and good coaching, I am living proof that dreams can come true.
When I was born, my parents immediately noticed something wrong. My feet were deformed, pointing inward and curling under. I wore casts and foot braces my first two years to correct the problem. My casts were changed every two weeks. I teetered at first, yet I learned to balance and walk in casts. Soon after the last set of casts came off, Mom enrolled me in dance classes as therapy for my feet. I, however, quickly decided to try something else. Not far from my house was an ice rink in the mall. There, local skaters would perform ice shows. I remember seeing the glittery costumes, the dazzling spotlight, and their graceful movements. I wanted to try skating.
I started taking group skating lessons, but I'd cry before class because going into a group scared me. Performing on ice came naturally, but I have always been shy and afraid to speak in group settings.
One thing I've never been afraid of is competition. I get nervous, like everyone else, but never fearful. For me, skating has never been about beating others. It's been about being my personal best. I progressed through various levels rapidly and gave my first ice performance at age seven. Soon I started winning local and regional competitions. That's because being on the ice has always been the one place I can truly express my emotions. The ice is like home.
I began seriously training when I was nine years old. Mom and I would wake up at four o'clock in the morning, six days a week. I'd skate for five hours. Then I'd go to school. Since education has always been important in my family, I had to find creative ways to fit in school studies throughout my amateur career.
Twenty-four hours after graduating from high school, I moved to Canada. Saying good-bye to my family and friends made me homesick before I even left, but I knew deep down that I had to leave and train full-time to give my dreams a chance at reality.
I went to compete in the Olympic Games in 1992. No one, not my coach or even my family, ever talked to me about winning a gold medal. In fact, I wouldn't even allow myself to think about it. I thought that would jinx me. So, I went with the attitude that I wanted to enjoy the Olympic spirit.
My practice sessions felt great leading up to the competition. Finally, the day arrived. I remember stepping onto the ice and thinking, I can't do this. How am I going to keep myself from freaking out? I took a deep breath and eased into a solid performance that placed me first going into the finals.
Two days later, I was the first of the final six skaters on the ice. My long performance started well, but I slipped while landing one of my easiest triple jumps, and my hand touched the ice. I didn't want to make two mistakes in a row, so next I did a jump with just two spins to play it safe. As I neared the end, I had one more jump, the triple Lutz. Okay, this is it. You have to do this, I told myself. I landed it perfectly.
When medals were awarded, I found myself on the top step, the gold hanging around my neck and America's national anthem playing. Words can't describe the overwhelming mixture of emotions I felt.
Little did I know how much that one night would change my life. Interviews. TV shows. Magazine covers. Dignitaries. Celebrities. Parades. Fans. Endorsements. My big dream came true when I signed a contract to skate professionally with the Stars on Ice tour. I thought life as a pro would be easy. It's not. It takes as much training now as before.
Throughout the tour, special children visit us at practice. Their courage in the face of incredible challenges teaches so much to all who meet them. It has helped me see that we all have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. That's why I started the Always Dream Foundation. Our goal is to make a positive difference in the lives of children.
How can anyone love ice? Frozen water can be so painfully hard and oh so cold—just as life can be. Ice doesn't care who skates across its surface. It doesn't care who loses balance and falls on its slippery back. Still, when the lights go on and the crowd roars its welcome, there's no place I'd rather be.
For me, the ice is a warm world of beauty and grace.
©2004. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul 2 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.