Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In FantasyLand, I'm a World Champion Figure Skater

You ever read a romance where the drop-dead gorgeous heiress heroine is something like a PhD at the age of 22, and a ballerina, who cures cancer in her spare time? 

When I read something like that, part of me says, "Oh, I so wish I was her!" and part of me says, "Oh, yeah, bullshit hogwash.  Nobody could be that talented."

Actually, I didn't want to be a ballerina.  But I did think from time to time, I might possibly, be a tennis player.  Or a figure skater.

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I'm tall, sturdily built, not without athletic stamina (if totally lacking in balance and grace), and growing up, of course I had my own ice skates.  Local skating rink, too, that I spent a lot of time at.  Well, not really a rink.  In the wintertime, the neighborhood kids took turns; somebody would ask their parents' permission and they'd turn on the garden hose to flood the back yard.  Ta-da!  "Rink" a few yards wide and long created overnight, when the water froze. 

It made a decent enough surface to skate on, if kind of ripply.  You also had to mind the grass clumps poking through the ice.  Sometimes, when an irate parent who hadn't been asked, after all, discovered the neighborhood congregating on the rink in their backyard, somebody would get into trou-ble.

Another lesson from skating... You fall down, a lot.  You learn to haul your tired behind up when you fall, every single time, a habit that pays off in other areas, like, writing.

So anyway, ice skating.  I thought I was all that.

Then on TV I saw real figure skaters.  Dorothy Hamill, Janet Lynn,and one of my personal heroines, Debi Thomas.  Who proved that those over-the-top talented heroines really did exist.

Debi won the US Nationals Women's Singles Figure Skating Championships, on this very day (Feb 8) in 1986While she was a pre-med student at friggin' Stanford University.

I did not "get" at the time, that this was not actually possible.  A pre-med student has time for his/her studies, plus an occasional nap.  A figure skater, likewise.

Debi took her calculus final in Sarajevo while she was competing for the World Championships.

I mean, come on.  If you know anything about figure skating, you know it is full of incredible pressure and cut-throat competition.  Though Debi was before Tonya Harding's lead-pipe-to-the-knee time, it wasn't a time of tea, crumpets, and bonhomie.  Sadly, much racism and/or nationalism existed in the judging. 

No way could Debi manage the requirements of competitive skating: the athletic jumps, the soft pretty artistic movements that woo the crowd and judges alike, the intricate footwork...  Except, as you see in the clip below, she did, somehow.

She was (almost) nineteen years old.

Later, at the ripe old age of 21, she "failed" in the Calgary Olympics, after coping with Achilles tendonitis in both ankles, "only" bringing home the Bronze Medal.  (Because we all know that a Bronze Medal at the Olympics is akin to failing, right?)  One of the things I admired most about Debi, was afterwards, when she was interviewed and people were almost begging her to whine and make excuses for not bringing home the gold she'd been favored to win, she neither made excuses for herself, nor ran down Katarina Witt, her main competitor.

Debi Thomas "failed" right into a degree in engineering from Stanford (because everyone know they hand those things out like Pez candies), and a medical specialization as an orthopedic surgeon.  Married and a mother; in 2010 she started her own private practice in Virginia.  She's even laced up a pair of skates to perform in recent years.

So, okay, I can't compete with Debi, at either figure skating or medicine, but I have learned:
  • Incredibly talented heroines may not be common, but they do exist
  • It is possible to pursue more than one dream at a time
  • It is possible to succeed against the odds
  • The key is not giving up, not making excuses
  • You can let "failure" get you down, or you can keep going, perhaps achieve something even more wonderful.  Thomas says of her son, "Luc is by far my greatest accomplishment."

Who's your FantasyLand  icon?
What have you learned from him/her?