“Get Up” with a wonderful series of books about all kinds of figure skaters – an interview with Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz

Joanne and her husband Greg with Olympic Champion Scott Hamilton, on ice, at his Skate to Eliminate Cancer event at the 2017 US Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City.

I continue my monthly blog series based on US Figure Skating’s popular “Get Up” campaign which shares the message that life, like the ice, is hard, and we can certainly fall on it. But the more times we get up and persevere, the stronger we become.

For October, I interview Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz, an adult figure skater and fan who has published a wonderful series of books featuring dozens of skater and coaches, famous and not-so-famous, who have each gotten up from trials and hardships to grow their love for figure skating. And I am thrilled that my story as an adult skater starting at the age of 59 is included in her newest book just out, “Skating Forward – Olympic Memories, Olympic Spirit.”

Stan: Joanne, first can you share about how you got interested in figure skating as a fan and participant?

Joanne: I began ice skating during the summer of 1988. I was 29 years old. I was home, sick in bed with the flu, during the 1988 Olympics. So I watched a lot of skating! I remembered loving skating as a child and thought, why not take lessons? Adult skating was just coming to our skating programs across the country so I joined our local club The Clinton Figure Skating Club that fall. I started learning the basics then graduated to testing some of the ice dances. As a fan, my husband Greg and I attended our first marquee event in the fall of 2009 when we went to Skate America in Lake Placid. We also attended our first Friends of Figure Skating Breakfast at that event as well. From there we went to our first Nationals in Spokane (it was also the year Skating Forward book one debuted). What can I say? We were now true skating fans and every year we put Skate America and the U.S. Championships on our travel schedule.

Stan: What then inspired you to write your first book, “Skating Forward?”

Joanne enjoys meeting her favorite skaters, like 2015 Men’s champion Jason Brown, who she met at the 2013 Detroit Skate America Friends of Figure Skating breakfast.

Joanne: I am journalism major. I loved to write, even as a little girl, I would spend hours writing stories. But the inspiration really began in 1991. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, just when I was getting my skating legs under me. It was a long year of surgery, chemo, radiation and recovery-but what got me through was my skating. My coach at the time Jason Dilworth would come in before the morning skaters, at around 6 AM, just so I could stroke around and move on my good days. It’s why I think I did so well and recovered so well. It was being on the ice. Not long after I did a little trial judging and I wrote about the experience and sent it to Skating Magazine. It was published! That did it. I began focusing on the two things I loved most, Skating and writing. I still contribute to the magazine today.

The Skating Forward books began in 2009. I was recovering from an accident (broken hip). I wrote some features for the US Figure Skating web page, and they all coincidentally were about some amazing young skaters who faced some pretty tough circumstances in their lives but kept on skating. I thought what a GREAT idea for a book. So I reached out to coaching friends for names of some inspiring skaters to profile (and received more stories then I could possibly have room to publish). Still do to this day. I think I could write skating Forward books for the next 20 years. We have so many incredible skaters out there and their personal stories are AMAZING, and very few people know about them. So it’s my honor and joy to feature them.

Stan: Do you feature a “get up” theme through the stories you share in the books?

Joanne: All of the stories do indeed have a Get Up theme. Not everyone survived a tough illness (although I have profiled cancer survivors, Tourette’s Syndrome, Lyme Disease, Juvenile Diabetes, hearing disorders, epilepsy) and on and on. But I’ve also profiled a coach who devotes her life to autism awareness because she has a young son with autism spectrum disorder. Another adult skater began a fundraiser in honor of her two sisters who passed away at very young age, and she raises money for the hospital that helped them both. I’ve also profiled current competitive skaters who overcame injuries and came back the following year to compete, and one young skater who went through a lot of finding herself on the ice before returning this year as one of our top senior ladies.

Stan: Do you have a “get up” story of your own you would like to share.

Joanne: It’s funny but I often tell people my hip break was in a funny way my “lucky break.” Had I not been home sitting, bored to tears I probably would not have written the Skating Forward books. I believe my cancer journey planted the seed, and then in 2009 it came to be.

Joanne’s latest book just came out this Fall leading up to this next Olympic season.

Stan: What is special about your most recent book that just came out, “Skating Forward, Olympic Memories, Olympic Spirit?”

Joanne: The readers will meet three incredible Olympians. Jim Millns and Colleen O’Connor were our first U.S. Ice Dancing medalists, receiving the bronze at Innsbruck in 1976. They share their wonderful Olympic journey and what it was like to be on the 1976 team with Dorothy Hamill and Linda Fratianne, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and others. Our other Olympian is Jeremy Abbott and he shares that special Olympics in Sochi when he truly had a Get Up Moment. After a horrific fall in the short program he got up and finished his program creating probably one of the best Get Up moments on ice ever. Of course we have wonderful Olympic Spirit stories too. National Coach Darin Hosier is a stage 4 colon cancer survivor. Cara Zanella is a gold test adult skater living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Staci Montagna-Vail is a silver test judge and a stage 4 breast cancer survivor, and two of our current competitors, Ernie Utah Sevens and Jordan Moeller talk about getting up after serious injuries that kept them from competing for an entire year!

Stan: How can someone order this and your other books?

Joanne: Books will be available at the US Figure Skating merchandise booth in Lake Placid at the 2017 Skate America. We will also be at Adult Nationals in 2018.

Also available at (Direct links right to ordering the book)
> Amazon.com (Paperback and Kindle – direct link right to the book)
> Barnes and Noble. (direct link to the book)
> Books123

Stan: Is there anything else you would like to tell us in closing?

Joanne: I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do. To work with these incredible skaters, parents, coaches and fellow fans. My husband Greg and I have made so many skating friends over the years. We call them our Skating Family, and they are a HUGE reason why we enjoy going to the marquee events each year. It’s our Family Reunion. That I can get up each morning and write about this incredible sport is a blessing beyond belief. I am so truly grateful.

Stan: Thanks you, Joanne! I won’t be able to make it to Skate America in Lake Placid this year, but I look forward to seeing you at US Nationals in San Jose!

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My previous monthly “Get Up” blogs can be found on my skating video and blogs page.

A Rant: Figure Skating, The 2014 Olympics, Stereotyping and Prejudice

My mother meets 6-time US ice dance champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who have an excellent chance to win an Olympic gold medal

My mother meets 6-time US ice dance champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who have an excellent chance to win an Olympic gold medal

I have included a slew of hot links for you to check out in this blog! Do use them!

Sometimes I need to write a personal blog and rant a little.

One of my favorite past times is attending national and international figure skating competitions as a fan. I love both athletics and art / music, and the sport of figure skating uniquely combines both. The top skaters train for hours per day both off and on the ice, and they need to be in top physical shape to perform the difficult routines that includes jumps, spins and intricate footwork sequences. And the skaters need to perform these physically demanding tricks on ice while skating to music and looking nice.

The 2014 US Figure Skating Nationals in Boston were particularly exciting since this was the key competition to help name our 2014 Olympic team going to Sochi, Russia. The men’s competition was a thrilling showdown between 3 time (now 4-time) national champion Jeremy Abbott, last year’s champion Max Aaron and a brilliant young skater Jason Brown. Associated Press published a great article about the competition which I read on line. But very disheartening were the online comments that people posted. I was disgusted that nearly half the comments were speculating about the sexual orientation of the skaters with derogatory hateful comments about gay people, and about how figure skating is really not a sport… comments like “what is so difficult about dressing in pretty clothes and prancing around on the ice.”

I got to meet a leading woman skater and Harvard student Christina Gao, and the new 2014 US mens silver medalist Jason Brown at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs last summer.

I got to meet a leading woman skater and Harvard student Christina Gao, and the new 2014 US men’s silver medalist Jason Brown at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs last summer.

And now my two key points:

1. If I were a hiring manager and looking at candidates’ social media postings, I would never hire any of these people who posted these derogatory comments. First, anyone who is this outspoken about their irrational prejudice and stereotyping of any group would be unable to function in a diverse workplace team and would instead hinder teamwork. Second, people who make statements (like figure skating is easy and not a sport) about which they know nothing, could wreck major damage to work projects by providing faulty information and jumping to conclusions before studying data and facts, or providing customers invalid information. Those macho dudes (yeah – I know I am now myself stereotyping – see my blog on stereotyping) would probably collapse on the ice and die after 15 seconds of doing what elite figure skaters do in complex 4 minute programs.

2. The 2014 Olympics have been overshadowed by some Russian leaders’ draconian positions on gay and lesbian people and their human rights. (See my blog from last fall on this, “The Psychology of Bullying.”) I commend some very positive developments from the US in addressing this Russian issue. First, President Obama’s move (link) to include a number of very respected out gay and lesbian former athletes and Olympians to the American delegation to Sochi demonstrates to the Russians (and the world) that truly enlightened leaders value all contributions from all groups within society. And second, I commend one of our top women skaters, Ashley Wagner, for her vocal support of the LGBT community (link to article) in a most articulate and mature manner.

To close this blog, here is a special treat – a link to the phenomenal long program delivered by one of my personal favorites Jason Brown. Not only is he an outstanding skater, but a fine young man and a role model for treating all fans with respect and kindness. Congratulations to Jason, Ashley and all the other fine men and women figure skaters who will be representing the USA in the 2014 Olympics!