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#1 out of 20: #USCHAMPS2020: The 2020 US Figure Skating Championships
For Christmas 2019, I splurged on the purchase of a full-access pass to the 2020 US Figure Skating Championships, which was being held about 40 minutes from where I live. I had never spent that much money on something so “frivolous,” but it wasn’t frivolous to me. It was a grueling almost-full-week of being away from my family for 12 hours at a time on top of driving back and forth to the arena, but it was worth every minute and every penny!
Watching skating live is thrilling and exhilarating. It becomes a community event, as those who are there are true fans who know not just the technical aspects of the sport, but also the ups and downs of the athletes. There’s a collective holding of the breath when an athlete or a pair of athletes sets up for that troublesome jump, throw, lift, or twizzle…then the cheering or deep grief when the element is executed flawlessly, or not so much.
There’s the moments that become MOMENTS. There’s the understanding of why a second place performance moves an half-crying, half-screaming audience to their feet before the program is even over. You know who went out there and delivered something unforgettable.
Then there’s the beauty of randomly bumping into people you watch skate on TV all the time. A figure skating championship is unlike other concerts or sporting events, which are singular in nature with little interaction between fans and celebrities that is not highly rushed and staged. The championships involved 16 total competition events, as well as a final gala / exhibition, as well as in-arena practices and practices at a secondary arena. I had a full access pass to all events, even practices. As do all of the skaters, who could move around at will for the most part.
Some of the senior teams came to cheer on their junior teammates as they competed, so I bumped into a senior team who were attending a junior event just as fans. Like, I was running to grab food or hit the restroom between sessions and BAM, they were just there!
It was so cool. You KNOW they are real people, but getting to have an actual conversation with REAL LIVE SKATING CELEBRITIES (some you have looked up to since you were a little girl) is just incredible! Some of these athletes or teams I’ve been watching…every single competition…since January of 2017!
I especially loved meeting Karen Chen, whose short program during the 2019-2020 season to Lauren Daigle’s You Say was an all-time favorite!
She skated the program cleanly, delivering all of her jumps well. I was so glad to have met her a few evenings before and told her how much her programs (this one especially) meant to me.
I also got to briefly speak to skating legend Scott Hamilton:
And finally, I got to meet Tara Lipinski. While I’m not a fan of hers as a commentator, it was still her performance at the 1998 Olympics on my 11th birthday that inspired my love of figure skating!
Another highlight of the week was getting to view one of the ice dance practices. I didn’t have much time for lunch, but I ran out to find a taco to stuff into my mouth in my car so I could rush back to see it, and I was SO glad I did.
During practices, there are multiple teams on the ice who are given bits of times to run through their programs. Some chose to do all the elements of their programs, others choose to just focus on the difficult elements. There is an ebb and flow of the different teams sharing the ice which is very interesting to watch.
The best part about the practice was the empty arena, so I scooted myself down and grabbed a front row seat for the whole thing. The skater were close enough I could have reached out and touched them. I could feel the breeze as they skated by!
I also used this time to TRY to take some pictures.
Anyone who has ever seen figure skating live will tell you that the biggest difference is seeing just how fast the skaters really go. These senior teams, in particular, are known for speed and power. So getting good shots as an amateur photographer who knows practically nothing is HARD. None of these pictures are very crisp or clear, but I’m still glad I have them.
Going into the week, I was torn about whether or not to bring my good camera. I didn’t want to lug it around all week. I also didn’t want to watch the championships through my camera lens. But, I really wanted pictures! So this ended up working out perfectly. I took pictures during this practice and a few others (this was the only one for which I had a front row seat), as well as during the competition warm-ups. Then, I put the camera away for the actual competition moments.
Eva Pate and Logan Bye, US Senior Ice Dance Team – I was unfamiliar with this team before nationals. They are known for some innovative “stumble and fall” choreography in their beautiful free dance, which is one of my favorites. I really love their emotive energy and small touches of creativity.
They are a newer, less-technically-advanced team, but I think they are going places! This lift is spectacular, and I was so glad I captured it!
Carolyn Green and Michael Parsons are a new pairing of dances who had previously been paired with other partners. They have already “gelled” in their partnerships and are very fun to watch.
One fun thing about practice is seeing the teams practice their rhythm dance programs (which, this season, was a finnstep with mostly Broadway themes) while wearing their free dance costumes. This was one of those moments:
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who won the gold at this championships, wowed the crowds with a unique “snake charmer” free dance. I admit, it wasn’t really my favorite; but it was definitely fascinating to watch! The snake-ish choreography was intricate.
I thought it was neat that they had a practice costumes that were different from the costumes they actually wore for performances:
#2 out of 20: Meeting my favorite celebrity skater’s mom
Yup. So I’m probably the only skating fan in the history of skating fans who has ever fangirled over a skater by basically saying, “Yeah, you’re great and all. But you know who I’d really love to meet? Your mom!”
Zachary Donohue is an US ice dancer, two-time US Champion, and Olympian. He also has ADHD and was featured several years ago in Highlights Magazine. It’s a memory that starts out like all great memories…checking on my son who was sitting in the bathroom reading a magazine. I did a double take, because I was like, “Hey, I know him!” Then, when I read the snippet, I was an even bigger fan.
From that moment on, every time I watched Zach skate, I saw him in a new light: I saw an overcomer.
I saw strength, passion, and wild energy under control and precision. And every time I watched Zach skate, it gave me hope for my son.
The 2019-2020 season’s free dance set to music from A Star is Born also gave me a lot of encouragement in my oft-difficult marriage.
Zach’s skating has come to mean so much to me personally, and I knew a great mom played a role in that.
So, when Zach pointed behind me and said, “She’s right there!” I whipped around and reached out to her immediately. I confided in her some of my mom struggles and she told me stories of what Zach was like as an ADHD kiddo. We exchanged contact information, and have been corresponding on Facebook ever since!
She is a veteran Christian homeschooling mother and has MUCH wisdom to share, not just about ADHD, but about homeschooling in general. She reaches out and reminds me what’s really important for my kids. She’s one who has told me that cooking and baking with my son is just as valuable as the math lessons, and that singing the math facts set to music can go a long way. She’s practical and encouraging, and I’m so thrilled that 2020 has brought a mentor like her into my life.
By Friday evening (the championships started on Tuesday), I was exhausted with two more sessions and two more days to go. It was too much stadium food and adrenaline for my system to take. My family was exhausted. My boys needed their wife and mama. I had reached my limit and run of steam. If I ever get the chance to attend the US Championships again, I’ll just buy a senior session pass and forego the junior events. It was just too much!
The last evening, I turned to a woman seated near me and offered her my tickets to the men’s free program and the gala. While my biggest regret is not getting to see Jason Brown skate to Schindler’s List in person, men’s skating is my least-favorite discipline, and I needed to be home. I watched from my couch and was very happy with my decision.
Being able to attend the championships meant even more to me to have had this amazing experience when the skating season was inevitably cut short due to COVID. In some ways, it’s surreal to think about a time when we could have live sports and thousands of people in an arena at once!
It was everything I had dreamed of and more. Here’s counting down the years until US Championships comes back to Greensboro again!