Last week I had the privilege of being a spectator at the US National Championships, the first time I was able to just sit and watch the full event without having to be a coach or a vendor. All I can say is, I can't wait to retire, because it will become my yearly vacation! Too bad that's not for another thirty years or so.
I was lucky enough to see Jason Brown bring down the house, with a crowd reaction that I have never witnessed before. I have never seen so many people so elated with a skater's performance, and just about every element in it.
Programs of several retiring skaters brought tears to my eyes, as they realized that one chapter of their life was ending, and a new one was to begin. I heard many negative comments regarding Rachael Flatt's performances and her inability to compete at her prior level, some asking 'Why is she here?'. Some people don't realize that placement isn't everything to every skater, and maybe she just wanted to prove that she could come back from several injuries and end her skating career on her own terms. Congratulations Rachael, for showing us your love of skating and for being a good role model for those who skate for the joy of performing. Jeremy Abbott also showed his emotions on his sleeve and shared them with the crowd as he relished in his final Nationals performance. The embrace between Jeremy and his mother represented every skater's relationship with a parent who sacrificed so much for their child's career, and the culmination of years of ups and down of the sport.
It was fun to watch the last place Senior men's competitor Robbie Przepioski, who was competing in his first Senior nationals, completely elated following his free program. He didn't care about his scores; he just wanted to take in the moment and savor every minute of his experience. I'm sure there were dozens of skaters, especially at the juvenile and intermediate levels, who shared the same feeling.
Skating teaches us life lessons. It teaches skaters how to gracefully accept defeat and face challenges that will shape them into their adulthood. It brings joy and it brings sorrow, and for many skaters that sorrow will diminish over time and make them more determined to succeed the next time. You fall, and you pick yourself up. It makes you mentally stronger. The joy of a clean performance or personal best will stay in your memory forever, and you can never take that moment away. Skating teaches you sportsmanship, and how to treat your competitors with grace, fairness, and compassion.
If you have never been to Nationals, make it a goal to go someday, as it is an experience you will never forget. I will be counting down the days to my next one.....