Charlie White: You’ve Got Questions, I’ve Got Answers

Charlie White: You’ve Got Questions, I’ve Got Answers
BY CHARLIE WHITE, 2014 OLYMPIC ICE DANCE CHAMPION | APRIL 13, 2015, 12:30 P.M. (ET)


Susan Bradley ‏(@catcrazysue)
Q: You and Meryl started skating so young. Do you come from skating families? Do your parents or siblings skate?
That’s a good question, Susan, and it makes me wonder if there is a higher probability of putting your child into skating lessons at a young age if the parent is a former skater. Probably depends on so many other factors! Anyway, while both Meryl and I started skating at age 5, neither of us comes from a “skating family,” nor did either of our families have any expectations of our skating career beyond just learning how to fall down and get back up. But once they recognized how much we loved it, they simply couldn’t keep us from the rink!

I would say that skating is best started at a young age when possible.Not because it guarantees a successful figure skating career (although it does help), but because that’s when kids are starting to crave an outlet for both their physical and creative energy, and figure skating is the perfect answer. Both Meryl and I fell in love with skating at a young age because the act of skating gives you such a radically different sensation than anything else a kid can do. From that point we would continue to find more and more reasons to fall in love with the sport.

Kyle Brown ‏(@KyleBrown2015)
Q: What's it like training every day, and what makes it so fun?
It’s hard even at this point in my life to put just how much training I’ve had in the sport into perspective. From the time we started competing in the senior level in 2005 until we competed in the Olympics in 2014, I would have averaged close to 25 hours a week on the ice, with about 7 off the ice. Then take into account two weeks of vacation a year, plus the occasional holiday and missed training time for competition, and that would have been about 44 weeks of full training This all adds up to 1,100 hours of on-ice training and 308 hours off the ice a year. That means from 2005 (after we graduated high school) through when we won at the Olympics, we had approximately 8,800 hours of practice on the ice and 2,664 hours of off-ice training. That’s the first time I’ve actually done the math, and to keep from losing any more readers I will give you a grand total of my entire skating life without breaking it down anymore.
Total lifetime (incredibly rough) approximation of on-ice training: 15,500*
*honestly
P.P.S. I’m not doing the math for off-ice, but you get the idea.

Anyway, that’s legit crazy. As in, I knew I was crazy before, but now I’m concerned that I’ve spent more time in a rink skating than I have doing anything else. The very clear message here is that if I didn’t enjoy the act of training and improving in figure skating, I would have quit a long time ago. I’ve always had the gift of not taking things too seriously, and I think that was one personality trait that helped make training every day fun and easier to get through (especially when things weren’t going well). With the hours we put in you have to ask yourself, “What’s the point??” (many, many, many times) and it’s almost always a different answer. But so often the answer for me was, “I love the challenge and the physical act of putting in hard work and then seeing improvement.” Not everyone can say that, but I know Meryl can, too. That is why without a doubt when we took the ice at the last Olympics, we were able to fall back on and gain strength from the fact that not only had we worked harder and longer than everyone else we were competing against, but we had also been able to do so with more enjoyment. And that makes a huge difference.

***
Carol ‏(@CarolOdaybabe)
Q: In the future, in what capacity do you foresee yourselves continuing to contribute to your beloved sport?
Yo, Carol, good question!
If anyone reading this (please, I hope someone is reading this) has ever had the chance to talk to me about figure skating you’ll know I have a lot to say. Talking about my life in figure skating and how and why it is awesome is truly one of my greatest strengths. Simply put, this is the starting point for how I hope to contribute to the world of figure skating while not wearing skates. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons on almost every subject that allows one to be a success, while also enjoying their life, simply because I was a figure skater. And I think being able to introduce these lessons and philosophies directly into the reason that skating exists* can help take the sport and those that participate in it (at any level) to another level. But I think that’s a story for another blog!
*in the U.S.! Sorry rest of the world, y’all crazy.
***
Franziska Moser ‏(@feuerente)
Q: Hi from Switzerland! I'm so looking forward to reading your blog. How does one get over an experience of falling three times in one program? How did you?
To answer this question I think it’s only fair I give a little background information to those readers who weren’t following our competitive career all the way back in 2008.
Performing our free dance to Samson and Delilah later in the 2008-09 season at U.S. championships.
The 2007-08 season had started as a bit of a sophomore slump, but we had rallied and made the most of it with a sixth-place finish at the world championships. The next offseason, while preparing for our first competitions of the 2008-09 season, we recognized that we had created a free dance that was leaps and bounds better than any we’d had before in Samson and Delilah. This was incredibly inspiring! And so we pushed ourselves as we never had before, recognizing that this was the year we’d have a very real chance to break through into the top rankings in the world.
Now Meryl and I have never been the kind of competitors that would focus on results. We have always judged ourselves on our ability to compete like we practiced. This allowed us to keep from being distracted by so many external factors, including but not limited to: whom we were competing against and what they were capable of, if our lives (for better or worse) would change based on a result, and thinking that we needed to do more in competition than we did in practice.

Well, in 2008 we had an important early season competition in Moscow, at which the two best Russian teams would also be competing. Because we had been working so hard and had such a great free dance I started thinking to myself, “Hey, we could walk into Russia, the epicenter of ice dancing power, and take the gold medal away from their top two teams!” Well, that’s a crappy way to think, and my ego paid for it with the way we started the competition. In the original dance, I had hyped myself up so much that when we took the ice I had a total out of body experience. I skated worse in those two and half minutes than I had in the last two and half years of competition and practice combined. I fell three times, and everything else in the program was just random movements. Meryl was stunned and so were our coaches! How could that happen?! Everything had been going so well.
Everyone came to me looking for me for some reasonable answer. ‘Perhaps something had gone wrong with my blades or I was sick?!’ they asked. For them and myself I had only bad news, I was just bad! Owning up to that moment and dealing with the psychological shock was difficult for many reasons; however, what seemed to be the biggest hurdle was that we still had to compete the free dance in less than 24 hours.
To be honest, getting back into the rink and competing right away was the greatest thing for my brain, my ego and the future of our skating career. This moment was the clearest of reminders of the necessity for mental strength and focusing on the correct things. What do we have control over, and how can we make sure we compete like how we practice? Of course, without Meryl there supporting me, and our coaches as well, it may have turned out differently. But we drew strength from each other, went out and skated the free dance like we knew we could, and pulled up from the bottom of the barrel to third place. From that point on we never wavered in our approach, but continued to find new ways to be mentally tough. Because of how difficult figure skating is from a physical standpoint, it’s even harder mentally.

SOI Hershey

The beautiful photos from HERE

Anaheim Ducks promo

Fox LA interview

Seattle interviews

NBC Olympic Talk: Meryl and Charlie update at Worlds

Meryl discussing dyslexia

“Dyslexia never goes away, but it is more of a positive than not…. Patience with oneself is the key to learning how to be your best self in any case. Just because things come differently to you doesn’t make you any less.”

Meryl Davis
By the time ice dancer Meryl Davis arrived at the 2014 Sochi Olympic games, only being the best in the world would do.  Along with partner Charlie White, Davis danced a dramatic, daring routine to the music of “Scheherazade,” the Arabian Nights tale of seduction.  Together they captured the heart of a worldwide audience and the first American gold medal ever for Ice Dancing.  The grace and ease Davis displays on ice are in stark contrast to her younger years in school, where her struggles with dyslexia taught her that grit and perseverance can give you the strength to shine on and off the ice.
Davis’s triumph was seventeen years in the training.  While many athletes on ice have juggled school and skating (some got by skimming through textbooks while the Zamboni resurfaced the rink), Davis believes the extra challenge of her dyslexia actually gave her advantages.  Her schoolwork took her at least twice as much time every day, but built immeasurably more character.  “From an early age I realized that if I wanted to achieve things and I wanted to be successful, I had to put in the work.  And I think that’s really translated on to the ice.”

Meryl Davis and ice dancing partner Charlie White on the medal podium at the 2014 Sochi Olympics
Before the international panel of meticulous Olympic judges, Davis’s high-wattage smile and convincing charismatic execution were the demeanor of a woman born believing in herself.  In fact, off the ice, Davis earned her self-esteem the hard way—proving herself to the toughest judge in the world: Meryl Davis.  Her first hurdle was overcoming the secret assumption of stupidity that accompanied her dyslexia.  “Self-confidence is really a big deal, as is feeling intelligent.  It took me a really long time for my parents to convince me I wasn’t unintelligent.  I feel so lucky and blessed to be born into a family who helped me.  And I am stronger today because of it.”
Little Meryl first found herself wobbling on blades on the frozen lake behind her family home at age five.  By six she was excelling at lessons and liking it.  Early school, by contrast, was a fuzzy puzzle.  Meryl didn’t understand why everything reading-related took so long.  “I was spending a lot of time getting the homework done.  My parents said, ‘You have to go to sleep.'  I’d wake up to do it in the middle of the night.  I was embarrassed not to have it done.  I never showed up without the work done.  And I always took pride in never quitting.”
Davis can’t account for her precocious drive except to say that “It was always just there—I’ve never been anyone else.”  But her determination didn’t remove the drudgery.  “It was always the reading; I just couldn’t rattle through it.  And my writing was discombobulated.  I had to focus really hard and go through things over and over to make sense of them.”
Fortunately, Meryl was born to a special-education teacher.  By third grade, Meryl’s mother had taken her to a specialist for her official dyslexia diagnosis.  With the help of her mother’s insightfulness and tutoring and with willing, supportive elementary school teachers, Meryl got through public school.  Meryl still had to put in the extra effort, every day, even as her practice time on the ice also increased.
At age ten Meryl switched to ice dancing, partnering with a little boy at the rink named Charlie White.  They were still at an age when the opposite sex “had cooties.”  Their coach wisely put smiley stickers on their foreheads so each could avoid looking into the other’s eyes.  They hit it off.  For the next seventeen years Meryl would trust Charlie not to steer her wrong.
Skating practice consumed more and more of the day as the pair moved up in competitions.  For Meryl, so did her homework with each progressive school year.  Comprehension was never the problem.  It was the sheer mechanics of getting through written material.  Meryl would doggedly complete school assignments, with her parents trading off nightly tutoring.  It never came naturally.
“I learned how I learned and how my brain worked. It helped me adjust and compensate for my differences…. It opened me up to problem solving, seeing things differently, and how I can help myself overcome things.”
Skating, on the other hand, became a labor of love—an escape from the arduous task of reading.  “With skating I could feel it more than see it,” Meryl described.  “I fell in love with it because it made sense to me, partly because I see things differently.  I learned to enjoy it, worry free, in terms of moving with the music.  It’s been a really beautiful part of my life.”
By high school Davis had made an enormous leap with her homework misery—gaining insight that would allow her to graduate with honors.  “I learned how I learned and how my brain worked.  It helped me adjust and compensate for my differences…. It opened me up to problem solving, seeing things differently, and how I can help myself overcome things.”
It was on to the prestigious University of Michigan for Meryl.  Away from her parents’ help, she saw just how much she had really progressed from her early years of struggling with the words on the page.  For the first time, she was reading books on her own.  “My roommates thought I was spending much more time on the homework than I should, but at UM, I started loving school…. I finally got a lot of joy from learning new things.” 
With her training and competition schedule, she would become one of the school’s slowest Anthropology majors—at age 28 she is a junior—but not for a lack of desire or intelligence; her training schedule did not allow enough time for a full course load.  For most of what would have been typical college years, she was on the ice.  Practice ballooned to ten hours a day.  Training was “more boot camp than ballet.”  There were many days Davis didn’t see the sun. 
After five years of those demanding workouts and travel and competition schedules, with a singular focus on their dream, Davis and White became America’s first World Ice Dancing champions.  By the Sochi Olympics, the gold was theirs to lose.  It takes one kind of determination to reach the top, and another kind of cool to stay there.  Davis proved she had both. 
In a tempestuous sport, filled with artistic temperaments, Davis stands out for not being a diva.  She has the exceptional reputation of being a “soothing partner."  Between her showmanship and nerves of steel, she stays remarkably calm, even under pressure.  For this, she thanks her dyslexia.  “It [dyslexia] never goes away, but it is more of a positive than not…. Patience with oneself is the key to learning how to be your best self in any case.  Just because things come differently to you doesn’t make you any less.  You have to rely on the people who are there for you.  I have come out the other side.”
Davis is also on the other side of winning that gold medal.  It’s been a thrilling ride.  Shortly after the Olympics, Davis won ABC’s Dancing with the Stars18th season to take home the mirror ball.  Her partner this time was the very sexy professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskly.  Davis went from wholesome Olympian to steamy stunner overnight.  Fans are still awaiting confirmation of an off-screen romance that Davis denies.
Davis and Charlie White continue to work out together on free days, but laugh through it—the pressure is off, for now.  They agreed not to decide their joint athletic future for at least a year.  It may be back to defending their gold, or going professional and really seeking fame and fortune.
In the meantime, they’ve traveled the world, accepted endless awards and honors, done countless media appearances, taped television shows, gone on tour with the “Stars on Ice” program, and been the commentators at competitions.  Davis keeps a bag nearly permanently packed, lives close to the Detroit airport, and could play the same recorded plea to each TSA agent begging them to allow her to carry on her skates.
But even road weary and exhausted, Meryl also carries with her empathy that springs from her battle with the printed page.  That empathy has led her to visit sick kids in hospitals, and help young students in classrooms across the country.  She didn’t talk about her dyslexia in depth before the Olympics—not because she was ashamed, but because she wanted the skating to stay center stage.
Post-Olympics, Davis’s view of the world has broadened.  Win or lose, gold medal or no medal, struggling with dyslexia or having reading come easy, the point, Davis tells students, is to set goals and strive.  Real success, Meryl Davis now believes, is finding happiness.  And by that definition she absolutely declares herself successful.