The Olympics are being watched around the world right now and the athletes who are there have dedicated their lives to their sport. For every athlete who has made it to the games, there are hundreds of athletes who spent years fighting to get there but simply never made it. Whether it was injury, lack of money or other multiple reasons that life could throw at them their journey to that ultimate podium came to an end. Watching the Olympics is both something they look forward to and something that breaks their hearts. I know because I am one of them.
When I was 17 years old, I stepped on the Olympic ice in Lake Placid to spend two months training in figure skating during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I skated six hours a day, six days a week and loved every minute of it. I wanted to finish my senior year of high school up there and continue to train but my father wouldn’t allow it. I was devastated. It was the first roadblock of many that I would encounter during my skating career. The photo above is the 1980 Rink where the “Miracle on Ice” happened when the United States Hockey Team beat the USSR in the 1980 Olympics. It was a blessing to skate on such hallowed ground.
This was the USA Rink that was a training/warm up rink which was located right next to the 1980 Rink. We spent a lot of our time in this rink as there was often a hockey game going on in the larger 1980 Rink. These two rinks were not built when the 1932 Olympics were held in Lake Placid but they were added on when the 1980 Olympics were hosted there. The building also had another level for the 1932 Rink and a square rink called the Lussi Rink that we used to trace “figures” which is no longer done in competition. When I was training there that summer, we were still tracing figure eights at 5:30 in the morning because “figures” were still a part of Olympic competition.
When my summer of training was over, driving out of town to go back home was heartbreaking. I finished my senior year of high school and despite getting a full scholarship to the State University where I lived, I decided to go to college in upstate NY only one hour away from Lake Placid so I could continue my training. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way that I had planned. I didn’t have the financial support that I needed to continue. It can cost a figure skater up to $25,000 a year to skate at that level and I had classes to think about, plus I was required to hold a part-time job. Not to mention, the simple issue of not having a car to drive the hour to Lake Placid was a big problem. More roadblocks to my dream.
Welcome back! After a rocky two years in my life, I made my way back to Lake Placid still intent on making a future that involved skating. I worked two jobs, lived in a small basement apartment and spent whatever I could afford on lessons and ice time. I still managed to take two classes at the local community college and looking back, I can say these were the happiest days of my life.
Life in Lake Placid was wonderful. The town was quaint but you could get anything that you needed. There was always something going on, mostly sports related and tourists were always passing through town to reminisce about the Olympics. I met the “locals” and really started to feel like I was one of them. I even managed to hang out with some pretty famous skaters when they were in town for six weeks as they put together the Stars on Ice Tour. My skating was improving and life was great.
As the end of the year approached, things were getting more difficult. The tourists weren’t coming as often due to the weather. Tourism was how I was making my living. I was working in restaurants and bars so I needed people if I was going to pay my bills. No tourists meant no money. The temperatures outside were below zero every night and we had to plug in our cars or else they wouldn’t start the next day. I had an unreliable car that was giving me trouble so getting to school and work was always a gamble. No money also meant no skating. I was alone up there and running out of ideas.
As the holidays approached, I had to make a decision. The lady renting me the cute little apartment needed it for her parents so I had to get out soon, the car was dying, I was making no money, my classes were over and I didn’t have the money to survive so I certainly couldn’t skate… it was time to go home. Roadblock AGAIN. I knew that I had to leave my “heaven on earth” once again. This time, I didn’t really know if I would ever be back and I was getting too old to compete at an Olympic level anymore. The clock was ticking. Loudly.
I packed up my stuff, walked through my rinks one more time and drove out of town with tears in my eyes. I made two more attempts to return to Lake Placid to live but they were unsuccessful. The first time, I was ready to pack up and head to NY when my father got sick and I had to move in with him for a year to take care of him. He ended up with heart issues that lasted for years which kept me in my home state until he died at the age of 57. The second time I tried to return to Lake Placid, I was a medical professional and I was offered a job at the emergency room in the local hospital. By the time I found housing for us, they had given my job away. It turns out that fate had a hand in the decision because two years later I was bedridden with Chronic Lyme Disease.
As far as my skating career was concerned. When I got “home” from Lake Placid, I tried to continue skating locally but the training was never at the level I had received in NY. I did some ice dancing in Acton, Massachusetts which was on my way home from work but I could never find a partner. I even went to Delaware for a tryout with two world famous coaches but things just never worked out. It would have cost me a fortune to train with them and I didn’t know how I would have put the roof over my head plus pay for their services. I was willing to move wherever I had to go in order to keep skating in my life but I needed financial help. Like I said before, nothing but roadblock after roadblock after roadblock.
So, these are the stories that you never hear about when you watch the Olympics. The hundreds of former athletes who spent 10-20 years of their lives trying to compete in a sport that they cared passionately about but their success just never came to fruition, despite all the effort they put into it. I still grieve for the loss of my Olympic dream and I’m sure that I always will. Although the Olympics will never be in my future, I hope to someday recover from my severe Chronic Lyme Disease so that I can lace up my skates once again and glide across the ice for enjoyment. That within itself would be worth a gold medal.