By Camille Gasser
Shivering, I peered up into the audience from my position in the center of the ice rink. The spotlight gleamed and shimmered in my eyes—so bright it made tiny black spots swirl at the edges of my vision. Beneath me, the sheet of ice resembled a mirror, temporarily free from the dents and marks of skaters’ blades.
Posed like a picturesque statue in the middle of the ice, I was alone.
It’s often said that there is no such thing as an individual sport: even when competitions dictate that each athlete is responsible for his or her own positions or scores, there are still the peers, coaches and parents that help along the way.
Still, whenever it was my turn to perform during an ice skating competition, I found it difficult to remember the encouraging words of my parents, the detailed advice of my coach, and the cheerful support of the girls I trained with.
No matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, when I was skating, everything came down to me: whether I executed the trick, whether I remembered the choreography, whether I paused to smile at the judges. Others could shower me with pep talks and instructions, but in the end, I was by myself.
The independence was, in retrospect, both good and bad. On one hand, when I finished a certain routine perfectly, I was ecstatic. I felt accomplished and proud, like I truly deserved to be standing atop the podium. But, when I fell on the landing of a jump, or turned the wrong way during my footwork, I was devastated. I couldn’t forgive myself for the mistakes I had trained myself not to make.
I was an ice skater for six years. While my friends gushed about soccer games and softball practices, I got up at five in the morning two days a week (and another three in the afternoon) to make the thirty minute drive to the ice for a lesson.
As I grew older, the pressure of skating began to eat away at my love for the sport. Every day I met with my coach, I was forced to face the looming urgency to master all of my double jumps, to learn and perfect a three-minute routine, to prepare myself mentally and physically for an upcoming competition. My sense of loneliness grew, and before long, when I thought of ice-skating, all I could think about was the pressure and isolation.
I stopped skating in the spring of sixth grade, after a long and extremely difficult decision. The next year, I began playing lacrosse. At eleven years old, I was part of a team for the first time in my life: I was one of the Petaluma Rivercats.
Throughout that first season, I marveled at our constant teamwork. We trained together, hurt together, won together and lost together. We shared the attention of our coach and helped each other improve. During my ice skating career, I was instructed to stand out and prove I was better than my competition; in lacrosse, I was taught to blend in with my teammates, as we learned how to work as a cohesive, fluid unit.
I’ve been playing lacrosse for three years now, and even today I love being part of a group. I like knowing that I don’t have to be the best to help my team win a game, and that even though I might miss a catch or make a mistake, the team won’t lose because of it.
Some may still say that ice-skating isn’t an individual sport, and others may enjoy having to rely only on themselves. I admire all who are brave enough to glide out to the center of the ice, look the judges straight in the eye, and conquer the difficult task of succeeding under the pressure of a competition.
But I learned that I’m not meant to compete alone. I may not ever stand on an Olympic podium, waving my hands in the air and gripping a shiny gold medal that I can call my own. Instead, I’ll be one face among many, smiling and hugging my teammates as we pass around the championship trophy we’ve worked together to win. And that’s perfectly fine with me.