Lessons in Character from a Young Teen

2016 US Figure Skating Nationals Novice Champion and subject of this blog Eric Sjoberg (left) and Junior Champion Tomoki Hiwatashi (right) at the Friends of Figure Skating breakfast following the competition.

2016 US Figure Skating Nationals Novice Champion and subject of this blog Eric Sjoberg (left) and Junior Champion Tomoki Hiwatashi (right) at the Friends of Figure Skating breakfast following the competition.

How would you handle dropping from second place to second from the bottom?

OK, many of my blog readers and followers know that I like to add some items now and then about my favorite pastime, figure skating. When I retired and started my own business, I had the time and flexibility to start attending the US Figure Skating Nationals, which I have done the past seven years. And then at age 59, I decided to take up the sport myself and am training to compete with older adults. (See my blog “Finding a New Passion at Age 59.”)

And not only do I attend the “senior” events (these are the people we see on television and who go to the Olympics), but I stay the entire week to see the young up and coming skaters who will be our Olympians in 2018 or 2022.
Below the senior level are the junior and novice divisions.

The novice skaters are most often between 12 – 15 years old and are the top 12 who finish the top four of their sectionals in the east, central and west United States.

One of my favorites is a young skater named Eric Sjoberg, who I first saw in 2014 when he was one of the youngest competitors in novice at age 12. This small 5 foot tall guy had wonderful choreography and beautiful hand movements and won the silver medal. It was also fun sitting in the stands next to his excited and nervous parents.

I looked forward to seeing Eric the next year as he competed again in novice. He grew 8 inches in one year and was having a hard time adjusting to his new body. He struggled in his programs and instead of finishing one from the top like the previous year, he finished one from the bottom – yes – 11th out of 12.

Most of us would probably quit right then. It is very disappointing to go from the top to the bottom. I spoke to him and his mother Sandra afterwards and encouraged Eric to keep up his training and not to give up because he had such a natural talent.

And Eric did not. He showed great character and fortitude as a young teen and worked harder than ever the next year. I came to US Nationals in St. Paul, MN in January of this year, anticipating what Eric would show us this year. His long program was far superior to all competitors and he won the gold medal in Novice. He adjusted to his growth spurt and completed seven triple jumps in his program with a new maturity and power. Link here to watch his program on youtube. (I am the fan that threw the dog he is holding in kiss and cry as he awaits his score.)

So we can we learn from Eric? First, to not give up when we go from the top of the heap to the bottom. Instead work even harder with renewed determination. And second, as things change, adjust and build on our new assets. Eric was able to use his new height and weight to add strong athletic jumps to his earlier artistic flare to deliver an excellent competitive program.

As Eric continues to work hard, I look forward to seeing this young athlete representing the US on the world stage and Olympics in future years.

Finding and Pursuing a New Passion at Age 59!

In my blog of two weeks ago about the value of outstanding coaches, I wrote that my December blogs would be a little more personal, and in writing about my figure skating coach Paula McKinley, I promised to follow up with this blog “Finding and Pursuing a New Passion.”

As I approach my 60th birthday I could not fathom that I would start something totally new. I already have plenty of hobbies and activities including my new consulting practice. But indeed I took the chance to try something new and frankly outside my comfort zone, and discovered something that is giving me unbelievable joy.

A real highlight of my skating journey has been skating with American icon Olympic Champion Dorothy Hamill at her skating camp

A real highlight of my skating journey has been skating with American icon Olympic Champion Dorothy Hamill at her skating camp

With retiring from full time work to being a part-time entrepreneur, I had the time to start attending the entire week of the US Figure Skating Nationals every year and I even traveled to Finland to watch an international competition. Earlier this year, I thought I might want to get off the couch (or out of the stands) as a spectator and try figure skating myself. I am in good health, do a lot of hiking and have a slender and somewhat flexible body conducive to skating.

In May I was fitted for custom skates and secured a private coach at the Central Carolina Skating Club in Hillsborough, NC. I also signed up for the week long Dorothy Hamill Adult Fantasy Figure Skating Camp in October, which provided me extra incentive to get serious about starting lessons so the camp experience would be more worthwhile.

The figure skating journey started in May with getting fitted for the boots.

The figure skating journey started in May with getting fitted for the boots.

From those first extremely tentative steps on the slippery ice as a beginner skater, I have made fast progress and am now very comfortable on the ice. My coach Paula McKinley taught me the correct basics and prepared me for the week long camp where we would spend five hours each day on the ice. I was a little nervous about the length of days and the advanced skills of the other skaters, but by the second day I was discovering the sheer joy of skating and after 5 hours did not want to leave the ice at the end of the day! Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill and the other world-class coaches were very encouraging and told me I had a real talent for skating and was learning very quickly.

Now I am very comfortable on the ice, and hate to leave once I start!

Now I am very comfortable on the ice, and hate to leave once I start!

The week culminated in performing for the local people where the camp was held, and I discovered that skating while hamming it for an audience was great fun. I was in tears by the end of the week, realizing that 6 months short of my 60th birthday, I have found a new love, a new passion! I cannot wait to get on the ice for practice and lessons, and I look forward to jumping and spinning, and even competing in the adult ranks in the future as well as participating in more ice shows.

NOTE: This week my coach and I are skating a duet number at the Central Carolina Skating Club’s annual production of Nutcracker on Ice Dec 19 and 20th after which I will start training for my first competition in May.