Skating | Presidents Day Invitational Recap

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Mes Amies! Happy Tuesday! If you follow me on Instagram, you're probably more intimately acquainted with my return to skating after 18 years off. This weekend was my first competition since the year 2000 after only being back on my skates for 6 months. 

This recap is the fluffy stuff and a synopsis of what got me to this point and how this last weekend went. It was actually a very complicated and tough decision for me, and I get into intimate detail on all of this with a special podcast series #SecondSkate that will premiere tomorrow. I wanted to spill all of the gory details so to speak to share my story that begins at the age of six, ends traumatically at the age of 21, and then starts again after a series of events at 38 because while my story centers around skating, because that was my family's entire life, if you're a trauma survivor, I think the topics I explore in my story are universal. This podcast has been carefully written and produced, completely free of monetization, because I don't want it to seem self-serving because I don't think enough survivors tell their stories because we carry so much shame with them. Honestly, I wasn't even sure I wanted to share this podcast series until I experienced what I did this past weekend. I will warn you, I am very frank, blunt, and hold nothing back, so it might be triggering for some, and please don't listen to it in the car with your kids. It will be available on all podcasting networks and here on this site. This weekend has healed me of decades long wounds and I am ready to share. 

Anyway! If you prefer a lighter take on things, here's the unicorn and rainbows recap. 

After six months of intense training in an outdoor hockey pavilion outside Atlanta, dodging hockey players and debris, my only coaches Louis, a video camera, and correspondence with various coaches and choreographers, I loaded up the car and headed to Port Richey, FL. 

And I wanted to go alone. This wasn't so much a quest to win a bunch of hardware, or claim some kind of athletic prowess, this was a journey of overcoming every demon from my childhood and early adulthood I left behind in Pershing Auditorium, in Lincoln, Nebraska that summer night in 2000. 

This wasn't about skating. Skating is frivolous and minor. This six months was a journey into figuring out who I truly was, letting go of the power and lies of my abuser, and putting a damn good epilogue on this volume of my story. 

And I had to do it 100% alone. 

I had to overcome my roadtrip anxiety for the 8 hours there and back. I had to manage my athlete check in, costumes, schedule, skates, competition anxiety... alone. 

Why alone? Because I had been a puppet for 15 years the first time around. I had a lot of maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms I used during those years to survive. I had a person who controlled everything, even when I was an adult. I had to face this alone and be in complete control in order to overcome it. 

So I went it alone. I made the drive to Florida, and while I had my white knuckle anxious moments, I worked on the breathing techniques my therapist and I have been working on, and made it there in one piece. 

At first glance, the town of Port Richey was a nightmare. There was nowhere decent to eat, my expensive hotel was an absolute dump, and being angry about it was a good distraction before official practice. I couldn't be nervous because I was so pissed so much time and money was being wasted on a shithole 8 hours from home. (I'll amend this paragraph later, my opinion changed.)

Official Practice is your first look at the competition, your first feel of the rink, and a way to basically get your feet wet. Up first was compulsory figures where you trace a line on one foot completing a set sequence of turns and edges. Now at the hockey rink, we don't have figure circles painted, because it's a hockey rink, so I had been using a scribe Gio made me out of a dowel rod and a dry erase marker. I also didn't have the right skates. Typically you need special skates for figures and loops, but since I was only doing figures at this competition, I didn't invest the $1000 into new skates... I just wore the skates I originally bought at the beginning of this comeback. Mostly because I was cocky, AF. I took for granted that figures and loops were like riding a bike, and I could just show up and win because I had most of my success in figures. I was automatic. 

Lol, I forgot that I used to practice figures for 10 hours a week alone. I hardly practiced at all before this meet... maybe 10 times total? 

Cut to official practice and the women in my event (all barely out of childhood) were INSANELY good and I looked like hot garbage. I had to laugh at myself because of my utter hubris in thinking I could just step out there and win when I hadn't won shit in figures since the Clinton administration. 

I'll take a slice of that humble pie. Thanks. 

So then it was time for compulsory dance, where I had to do the Willow Waltz, and the GODDAMNED PASO DOBLE. I haaaaaaaaaate compulsory dance, and I suck at it because I hate it. Imagine doing the same steps over and over again to shitty ballroom organ music and not wanting to slit your damn wrists. Especially the Paso Doble, a dance you've been doing the woman's steps to since you were a teenager and then the requirements changed to LOL/JK you have to do the men's steps now, and your muscle memory is all, "BUT WE CAN ONLY DO THE GIRLS STEPS." 

That part didn't bother me. I knew compulsory dane was a total throwaway, and I just didn't want to fall on that bananas cut/off mohawk on the Paso. I skated the compulsory events for experience because I have a history of total performance nervous meltdown, and in the past, the more I get out there, the better I am. 

The rest of the practice went fine, and I left the rink feeling pretty good about things. There was nowhere to eat, so I went to Chili's and ate disgusting food. 

Then I went to bed. 

Saturday

4:45am the alarm goes off and I have five... yes FIVE events to skate today. Starting with Compulsory Figures. 

Now here's some of the bad things about skating I fucking hate with the heat of a thousand suns. It pissed me off so badly that NOTHING has changed where this is concerned over the last 20 years. 

So my figure outfit is backless. I have a large back tattoo of arrows. Arrows have special meaning to me, this tattoo is for a special person with special coordinates to a place and time that changed my life forever. I love ALL of my tattoos. 

I took off my warmup jacket to have my number pinned on the back of my dress, and this dusty old queen I knew when he was a kid and is now a coach, gasped so hard I'm surprised he didn't lose consciousness. QUELLE HORROR SHE HAS A LARGE TATTOO YOU CAN SEEEEEEEE. 

I'm not going to criticize what he was wearing which was much more offensive than my arrow tattoo, but I almost fell over rolling my eyes. I was later told by someone else that maybe my scores would be better if I covered it up next time. First impressions and all that. 

Yeah, no. Kindly fuck off. All of the Italian girls who won world championships this year had visible tattoos. American puritanism isn't winning championships, so again, kindly fuck off. 

The other thing that got my hackles up was this coach making jokes to a young lady, "Well if your butt hadn't gotten SO BIG. Ugh!" Then he whispered to her mother, "you're going to have to make that skirt a little longer." JESUS CHRIST WE ARE STILL DOING THIS TO GIRLS IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2018. And this guy is in his early 30s. He knows better. I will also not comment on his own physique because I am a lady, but his mom is going to need to make that skirt a bit longer.

Here's a thought. Maybe don't body shame the kid and suggest a different costume. But thanks for adding that 'joking' misogynistic mindfuck. Guaranteed no BOYS ever got that 'joke' lobbed their way. 

So after my scandalous tattoo reveal, it's time for figures. Once I got out there with this fuh-real fuh-real field I was like, "Nope. Not happening for me today. Goodnight and thank you." I had one complete shit down my leg moment at the start of the first figure, but it went away. I made a couple of errors, but I was in the thick of it which is impressive since I don't practice, and my ego had this thing won in my head the second I signed up. 

The worst thing is at this competition they don't post the scores before awards. You have to freak out, dress for awards anyway, and then be happy or crushed in the moment. I, for one, think that's inhumane and dumb as shit. Everyone in my event was like, "Girl get dressed! You never know!" 

Um... I know. I blew a takeoff and a change of edge. 5th place would be Christmas. 

I got 4th. Merry Christmas AND Happy New Year, Jenn! 

Up next was Creative Solo Dance, and my LaLa Land routine, which is my strongest. Creative Dance is a 'show' event where there are the requirements of a jump, spin, and a straight-line footwork sequence. Other than that, you can do whatever you want for 3 minutes. 

I skated last in this event, and for the first time in my life, I didn't have a pre-event panic attack. Back in the day I was nicknamed, "The Fritz" because I would completely fall apart in the time between the warm-up and the performance. I skated last in this event, so I had plenty of time to lose my shit. 

Only I didn't? I had normal baby-jitters, but there was no HOLY SHIT OMG I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS OR BREATHE, I used to have, and that caused a whole new set of problems. Halfway through the routine I went... wait... I can feel my legs, breathe, and I am aware of what is happening around me, so it kind of made me lose my focus. I had never skated under pressure before and not been in a complete state of dire panic where survival was my biggest priority. It was weird and I missed some choreography because of it, leaving points on the table. I was also sticking my spins in a terrible way and flubbed the only one I had in the program... most skaters do two. I also only do 2 jumps in my routine when you can perform up to 3 with only one being required. Most skaters do 3. I intentionally played it safe because I wasn't sure what level spaz I was going to be operating at that day, so I knew my technical score wasn't coming in very strong; I had to rely on my speed and strength compensating for it. 

So here's another thing about skating I hate...

Tall girls are not loved so much. One of the judges on the panel was a judge on the panel when my brother and I missed a placement by HIS SCORE, and he referred to us as 'gargantuan.' This resulted in my brother having a core meltdown in the parking lot (I think he challenged him to a fight? Idk, I only remember him yelling) and never putting his skates on again. Even though we were technically sound, he didn't like that on our skates I was over 6' tall at the time, and my brother was close to 6'6". Our height offended him. And I'll say that yes, taller skaters look clumsier, and if you have long arms and legs, you do look like a baby deer on skates. I have only known 1 skater in 30 years that is my height that had any skating success and that's across both roller and ice figure skating. I have seen half a dozen tall girls who are just as good as everyone else get dumped because their height is offensive somehow. 

Again, I say fuck off with this, skating.... time to get over it. Girls be tall. 

So naturally, the judges don't know what to do with me. The judge I just discussed was like, "MY EYES! MY POOR EYES! THE AMAZON LIVES!" and gave me fourth place. One judge was like, "Oh she's lovely, I'll give her second." And the third judge was like, "Nice, but she only did 2 jumps and that spin was bullshit, but I liked it... 3rd."

So I got a 2-3-4, which USUALLY gives you 3rd place, but this brain trust couldn't decide who they liked best so their first place ordinals were split so I missed the podium because skating math is bullshit. There. I said it. 

I literally had 10 minutes to change into my singles costume after that fiasco, then it was time for singles. 5 jumps, 2 of those jumps can be a 3 jump combination. 3 spins, 2 of those spins can be a combination. No repeat jumps or spins, and you have to do a footwork sequence. 

Again, I was cool as a cucumber, and it freaked me out. The first two jumping passes in my routine are the hardest I've done since I was ELEVEN and I was like... "Whoa... wait... why isn't this coming apart at the seams? Why can I breathe and feel my legs?" so I forgot a bunch of choreography and wound up flapping my arms like a chicken for what felt like a full minute waiting for my cue to start the footwork sequence. My spins were shit, because I've never been good at spins, but my jumps were CLUTCH. After skating on that slick hockey rink with leaves and bandaids all over it, I can stick ANYTHING in a real rink. 

I won that event. Ironically, this is probably the only event I would have a shot at a National placement in. 

Now it's time to face my foe... the Paso Doble. I have more time to change between events, and boy did I need it. Here's a fun-fact... when I quit skating I was a 32A now I'm a 34D. When you have big tits and your skin is a bit tacky from sweat because you just threw yourself into the air for 3 minutes...

Your dance costume gets stuck around your belly button. 

I literally wrestled that thing and wiggled for a full 10 minutes in a bathroom stall trying to get it over my chest. Here I am giraffe feet tall with big tits and a visible tattoo, breaking ALL OF THE RULES. 

So right before we got ready to warm up for dance, my old coach S walked up to me and was like, "Jenni?" 

Tears, hugs, catching up, oh crap I gotta Paso Doble... brb. 

S watched my warmup of the Paso and she very gently was like, "Uh... your timing on the slides needs to be 1:1:1 but you do some of the dance very nicely!"

FUCK THE PASO DOBLE I HOPE IT DIES IN A FIRE. is what I think I said. I do know I thought it. 

And again... my legs didn't die, I had air in my lungs, and this freaked me out and made me literally make up my own dance right in front of the judges. I'm pretty sure I mouthed, "motherfucker" the second I realized I did it. 

"We will give her 3rd place for smashing her tits into that dress. Brava!" 

Ok, so that was out of the way. I survived the idiotic Paso Doble and also vowed to never skate a compulsory dance as long as I lived. 

After that event I had a couple of hours until my last event, and I spent that time catching up with S, crying, hugging, it was just magical and beautiful. She took me around the rink to all of her current students, who are the same age I was when she coached me, like I was the prodigal daughter coming home. She told me she has a framed picture of me skating in a parade on her wall still and I just LOST. IT. 

Here's why...

My partnership ended when I was 15 for reasons I'll get into on the podcast, but let's say there was an overbearing stage mother involved. I hadn't skated by myself since I was 9 years old. Solo dance was a new thing, and I hated it. See Doble, Paso.  From the time my partnership ended until I returned to the rink to start the new season, my mother insisted the whole time that it ended because S was greedy and wanted to push the other girl my age in the rink because her parents had tons of money. I was no longer 'worth it,' there was a new golden girl. 

Mind you, S took care of me for two years, kept me out of the house and busy in her rink, loved me as her own, and to a 15 year old, not only had I lost my partnership and my future was uncertain, I had to come back and train with the girl I considered a best friend, my surrogate mother dumped me to favor. I did one rep of the 14-step for the first time on my own, it was a disaster, I screamed, took of my skates, hurled them at the wall, and walked out of the rink. 

I never set foot in that rink or spoke to S again. 

So while we didn't talk about that, hearing that she still had a picture of me on her wall after all of those years and she showed me off like a proud mother healed a part of my soul. She really did love me, and my mother is a fucking liar. You have no idea how healing that was for me. It changed my life. 

Finally, we have International Free Dance, my hardest event. All of the same requirements you saw for Olympic Free Dance, are the requirements for this event. Again, I wasn't sure what level of psycho I would be operating at, so I went into this conservatively. And there I was nailing it and I was like, "THE FUCK IS HAPPENING I NEVER DO WELL," and left some silly points on the board. 

I also didn't get the memo that traditional ballroom was OUT and lyrical moody routines are in. Oh and I was competing with girls a year older than my daughter. Jesus. 

Second place. Ok. Fine. 

The last medal ceremony, S, as the host professional, was presenting awards, and when it came time for me to accept my medals she said, 

"Jenni, my sweet favorite." 

Dead. Nothing else mattered in that moment. That 15 year old girl who thought she was discarded for money and a better prospect by someone she loved, was stitched back together again. I'm crying typing this. It made every bit of pain I've experienced for the last six months worth it. This feeling I've always carried with me that I had to claw and fight for everything in my life to be good enough completely left my body. 

I have nothing to prove anymore. The real villain has been revealed. All this time I was loved and cherished, imperfections and all. I don't have time to get into it here, but on the podcast I'll talk about how the entire skating community rallied around me when they found out I didn't have a rink or a coach in Atlanta. SO. MUCH. LOVE. 

Nobody wants me to be an orphan. It's a very new and strange feeling. 

I slept like a rock that night. Obviously, because I was physically exhausted, because 5 events even for the most conditioned athlete is insanity, but there was such a part of me that was finally at peace, I could finally rest. I did this on my own, and it was worth it. 

I was supposed to wake up for compulsory loops the next morning, but I was so sore from the day before, and I was so satisfied with what I had accomplished, as I heard the other skate bags roll by my hotel room before dawn that morning, I was like, "Why." I had nothing to prove. I would wake up, drag my sore body to the rink, and get 4th-5th place at best... I didn't see the point. I had nothing left to prove. I didn't need the headpats of strangers going, "SIX EVENTS! OMG!" 

I was content just being me. So instead I decided to go exploring, and you're not too shabby, Port Richey and New Port Richey. We can be friends. 

As for the rest of the skating season... I honestly don't know. At Nationals, I will be a middle of the pack finisher in Creative and Free Dance, and only really have a shot of a placement in singles, and that's if I dedicate the next three months to training obsessively. I'm a huge pile of shrugs about it. Right now? My only motivation is to see how far I can get at the age of almost 39 in three months. But I also know that comes with a huge amount of pain and isolation. Like I said, I have nothing to prove. I don't want to be sore all of the time and unable to participate in life because I'm always at the rink. I'm satisfied with what I've accomplished. 

And really, getting the healing I did made me more excited for my move back to Chicago and getting super committed to my career. So I really don't know if I'll go onto regionals and nationals. It's not the priority. The priority is getting back to my kiddos, and continuing my career in Chicago. I'm taking this week off to evaluate and see where my heart is. 

No matter what happens, I'm glad I answered the question, "Well, why don't you?" 

 

Jennifer Gulbrandsen