BY MERYL DAVIS, 2014 OLYMPIC ICE DANCE CHAMPION | MAY 08, 2015, 10:37 A.M. (ET)
It's no surprise that not every kid is going to "make it" when it comes to his or her future in sport. Of the multitude of children participating in various sports from figure skating to soccer and beyond, how many go on to be the "success" they once dreamed of? While Stanley Cups may not be in every miniature Red Wing’s future, I believe that a different perspective should play a much larger role in what we see as "success" on the ice or any other field of play.
Stepping away from our own "field" for a time, Charlie and I have spent a large portion of our days on the road for various tours and events. Amid our travels, down time and many discussions, we often find ourselves talking to people about the beauty of sport and the ways our own involvement has enhanced our lives. For that, the word gratitude doesn't seem comprehensive enough.
What's more, however, is that our advocacy of the values and lessons we've learned through our years on the ice has only increased in the time since the Sochi Games. This is due in no small part to our participation in various organizations that have allowed us to see the application of these lessons in unique ways.
For the last three years, Charlie and I have been fortunate to be a part of a program called Classroom Champions. Founded by 2010 Olympic bobsled champion Steve Mesler, the program allows Olympians and Paralympians to share the lessons they've learned through sport with students around the country. These lessons, as the program intends, most certainly apply to the classroom as well. From discussing goal setting to perseverance, the responses we've received from our classrooms have been tremendous.
Another stellar example of the value of lessons learned through sport is the Figure Skating in Harlem program. I recently attended the organization's annual Skating with the Stars Gala in New York where the growth and empowerment of the program's participants were on full display. The program uses skating as a tool to teach and promote well-being and success among young girls in underserved New York City communities. There, we announced the initiation of Detroit's own version of the program. Charlie and I are proud to be even a small part of bringing this program to the Detroit area as we've come to understand and appreciate the depth of its impact.
One of the many beautiful things, I've found, about sharing one's own story is that it provides opportunity for reflection and for fresh perspective. I recently had the opportunity to do just that as I spoke at The Windward School for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities. In putting my speech together, I found a greater appreciation for the way skating has helped me through my own challenges with dyslexia over the years. I hadn't realized before how fortunate I've am to have had an outlet outside of the classroom to challenge me and, ultimately, empower me.
To put it more eloquently, I turn to the ever-quotable Henry David Thoreau: "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." Since achieving some of my own goals in Sochi, I've only become more appreciative of the role sport has played in my life. As Olympians, I believe it's our duty to highlight what sport is really about. Is it about success? Absolutely…but not the kind of "success" that wins medals. Rather, sport is about the kind of success that brings you one step closer to being the best version of yourself. That, I believe, is why we should encourage our youth to participate in sport.
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*
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.
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.