Tarry Tale: Catching Dreams at 50

Feb 6, 2023 | People, Tarry Tales, The Tarry Life

It was a morning much like every other morning. As a single mom of three, it all falls on me. Wake up, pack the lunches, take my son breakfast in bed (my daughters declined this luxury of starting the day with a nice egg sandwich), someone yelling over who gets the bathroom first, yelling over someone taking too long in the bathroom, someone unable to find their shirt, shoes, whatever it is they need for the day. The sun had barely raised its head and chaos was already fully permeating the air in my house.

But, then, a moment of peace. A deep breath. Ahhh, it’s going to be okay. And it was. Until I announced that it was time to depart for school. Suddenly the floodgates of chaos burst open as my three kids thought they were running with the bulls through the living room and out the door, all racing for the front seat. More yelling and screaming. And tears. Tears from us all. This may just be the day that I crack.

The air in the car was light as everyone got settled into their seat, even if not the seat they wanted. We listened to the radio and actually all sang along. The ride went remarkably smoothly and the kids were dropped off with smiles and lots of love and well-wishes for a great day.

Yet, I felt heavy; I felt lost, I felt at the end of my rope. I remember the moment so clearly. I was driving south on the 170 Freeway in Los Angeles when I heard it. I heard my sweet momma’s voice. She said “Christi, go skate.” I burst out in tears. I was crying so heavily that I had to pull over to the shoulder. I collapsed in tears over the steering wheel, and I heard her again, repeating, “Christi, go skate. You are happy there.”

I looked up to see the most fantastic clouds in the sky, but my momma wasn’t there.

A few months earlier, I was snuggled in with my momma on her deathbed. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. And I thought, “What?” I was knee deep in it. I wanted to {{deep breath}} make sure each of my kids woke up each morning and had the tools and opportunities to make their dreams come true while growing into adults who lived a life of compassionate kindness. My life? As a single mom of three, my life was to be chef, counselor, hugger, chauffeur, back massager, joke teller, peacemaker, teacher, and the list goes on. My life? I hadn’t thought about that in quite some time. However, no sooner had the question rolled off her lips, I heard myself tell her that I just wanted to skate, write, and act. To which she replied, “You have to do it. You only get one shot at this life.”

And there I was on the side of the freeway gushing tears, barely making it through each day. And I knew my momma was right. Shocking, huh?

I grew up with Olympic dreams. All I wanted to do was ice skate. I grew up in a small town in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. Ice skating wasn’t really a thing there. I spent countless hours ”skating” in my living room, using the couch as my pair partner. Finally, at the old age of nine, my dream came to life. I got to skate…and skate I did. I worked hard, trained, ate, drank, and dreamed skating nonstop. I worked my way up the ranks and became a United States Figure Skating Double Gold Medalist in Figures and Free Skating. I competed in Senior Ladies, the highest competition level, for two seasons with my competitive career abruptly ending with a broken ankle. The ice was my happy place, my haven, my place where I felt alive; the place where anything was possible. And it was over. My coach encouraged me to quit due to my old age and my enormous size. I was 18 years old and weighed 118 pounds. I was fat, old, and my ankle was broken…right along with my dreams.

After hearing my dead momma’s voice on the freeway, I decided to return to the sport that pulsed through my veins. It had been 30 years since I’d last competed and 20 years since I retired from professional skating. With my rusty blades and body twice the size it had been, i.e. I was actually fat at this point, I took myself to the rink the next morning. As I entered the building, the scent of home stopped me in my tracks. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get on that ice. Only my skates were too small. I couldn’t get them on my feet that grew a little with each pregnancy. I took the insoles out and stuffed my feet in. There, that worked. They fit, kind of.

I hobbled to the entrance of the ice, stepped on, and glided off like I’d never missed a day. Okay, it wasn’t that easy. It was rusty and cricket-y, but it was amazing. I was home. I decided that I would compete as an adult and this time around, I would make it to Nationals. And my story changed.

I picked my kids up from school that day and they were all extraordinarily excited to hear about my first day back on the ice. I was greeted with questions like: did you land an axel? When is your competition? What are you going to wear? When can we come watch you?

And there it was, my little fan club and circle of support.

I returned to the rink the next day, and the next, and the next. My fire was ignited and the flames grew each day. Even on the days I could barely move due to the sore muscles and blistered feet. I skated. I felt alive for the first time in a long time. I felt like I had a purpose.

A few weeks after I returned to skating, I went all in and began coaching. No sense hiding my credentials and keeping all of my knowledge to myself anymore. I quickly acquired a group of adult skaters that I got to share my passion with. As my adult roster grew, so did my roster of littles. My skaters ran the full spectrum of skating, ranging in age from two to 72, all proving the cliché correct that age is simply a number.

As I continued to train, the adult competition season was rapidly approaching. The day came that a fellow coach and adult competitor asked if I’d registered for Sectionals, the competition that leads to Nationals…and I had to face my first defeat. No, I did not register. I was not ready. While to the untrained eye, my skating looked pretty decent. In reality, I was nowhere close to ready. Some say it’s like riding a bike; I disagree. My mind knew how to skate and so did my body, but something got lost in translation. I had so much to relearn. I had to figure out where my center was with my newfound pounds. I had to adjust to new skates and blades. Everything felt different than it did back in my competition and show days. I had to learn to have patience with myself as I basically had to start from scratch.

Each day I got to spend my time coaching and skating, I pinched myself. I couldn’t believe that this was my reality. I got to make good money sharing something I love so much and I got to let my soul shine on the ice. At the beginning of my return to skating journey, I started an Instagram account to inspire other women and moms of my age to live their passions, to let themselves feel alive again. I got countless messages from women who took inspiration from my skating and started running again, who wrote a book, who went for a hike, who enrolled in singing lessons, and a few who returned to the ice like myself. I finally felt like I was right where I was meant to be.

My kids’ enthusiasm for my skating never waned. They were constantly asking for updates. One daughter gave me off ice exercises to do, my son took me hiking, and my other daughter gathered up healthy recipes and cooked dinner. In returning to skating, I became a better mom. I allowed my children to see me in another light. I allowed my children to see me fall and get back up. I allowed my children to see me fight and work hard for something I was passionate about. I allowed my kids to see me put my ego aside and get out on that ice and be vulnerable, be fearless, be courageous and brave.

The year went by and it was once again time to sign up for US Figure Skating Adult Sectionals. The same coach/skater asked if I’d registered. This time the answer was yes! The coach who’d been helping me, guiding me, and mentoring me told me I wasn’t ready. I told her that ready or not, I was done waiting. I was competing. And I did.

I mentioned earlier my previous competition level–the highest competition level–well, thanks to my elevated status in my youth, I had to once again compete at the highest level. There is no loophole in which I could skate down a level even though I was still only doing single jumps. My fellow adult competitors at my level consisted mostly of young girls in their 20s who–had I been a teen mom–I could have been their grandma. After all, I’d just turned 50. They were all doing triple jumps and extremely difficult spins; I was lucky to make it through my program of single jumps without falling down or needing to sit down for a minute to catch my breath.

But I had to put all that aside. This was my happy place. This was my dream and plan. I wanted to make it to the United States Adult Figure Skating Nationals so bad I could taste it. It was my driving force. The only way to make it to Nationals is to qualify at Sectionals. Ready or not, I was competing.

I arrived at the competition feeling ready yet not, if that makes sense. I knew I was the best I could be at that moment but I also knew there was no chance of ending in the top three and qualifying for Nationals. Defeated before I even walked in the building.

My legs were shaking, my teeth were chattering, I was much more nervous than I anticipated. My kids were in the stands along with several friends who made the trek to cheer me on. In fact, the stands were jam packed with spectators. I didn’t realize adult competitive skating was such a thing. My event was the final event of the three-day competition and the air was filled with anticipation as to who would make it to Nationals. I somehow made it through my warm up without falling or colliding with another skater. I felt like such a fish out of water. Then I had to wait for my turn to skate. The skater before me landed a beautiful double axel and triple toe loop. I clapped. I took a deep breath and had a little pep talk with myself about how I can only do the best I can do.

Then it was time.

The announcer called my name. It was my turn to take center ice. My coach gave me a giant high five and told me to go have fun in my happy place. I skated to my starting position praying the whole time that I wouldn’t wipe out when I stopped to take my starting pose. The next thing I knew, my music was playing and I was off. I held my edges and I extended my arms and I jumped and did spins and felt like a carefree kid running on the beach. It felt amazing. I was skating very well, the program was almost over, the audience loved me and showered me with applause. Then I did my last jump, a single toe loop, and I fell. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t actually expecting to fall. I got up and was greeted with even greater applause. I felt like Oksana Baiul at her winning Olympics. I did a few more turns and a layback spin into my closing pose. The crowd went wild. It was exhilarating.

As I exited the ice, the rink-side medic, who looked to be about my age, told me that she was so inspired by me that she just might start skating. She told me I was her favorite skater of the competition. This was better than a gold medal. As I stepped off the ice, my kids and my friends were there waiting. My youngest daughter had tears streaming down her face. She was so moved by my performance. We all embraced in a giant hug as my first competition in over 30 years was complete.

I learned so much in the journey leading up to that competition. It truly doesn’t matter what size you are, what age you are, what obstacles you face, you can always get up and keep going. Returning to skating taught me to be kinder to myself, it taught me that to truly be the best mom I could be, I had to fully be me. A part of me had laid dormant for so long as I struggled to make sure my kids had all they needed and wanted, that I was missing something and didn’t even realize it. I was missing my oxygen mask. As I was better able to care for myself, I was better able to care for my kids and lead by example. I was better able to love myself and accept all of my failures and accomplishments and blend them all together to make my life a life worth fully living.

I’m currently gearing up to compete again. I have four months until my next US Figure Skating Sectionals. This time I am much more prepared physically and mentally. It is still highly doubtful that I will qualify for Nationals, but that is no longer my goal. My goal is to take the lessons I learned from the first try and continue to grow and make myself proud everyday. I’ve let go of my ego even more as I’ve made it my goal to land an axel again. I thought it would be easy. My body knows what it feels like, and my mind knows what to do, but that darn axel is trying to get the better of me. But, I won’t let it. I keep working on it and improving and falling, and getting back up and trying again. I’m ready to compete this season. I will bring my best to the ice on competition day and that is the only thing I have control over, what I can bring. The goal of winning the medal isn’t the goal. The goal is to let my soul shine and not let myself be defined by anyone else’s expectations of what defines winning. The goal is to help women redefine and understand how to truly be their best selves in order to live their best lives.

Follow Christi on IG @what_are_yall_waiting_for

Let’s Be Friends