Volunteering (practice rink)

Volunteering (practice rink)

The photo that’s gotten the most Likes ever on my Facebook page is this one of me and my father. We are at the US Figure Skating Nationals in Greensboro, NC. (My dad thinks everyone liked it because of his fashion-forward hat.)

We have volunteered together at Nationals six times and at an international competition held in the US once. (I also went to Nationals by myself once.)

This volunteering is all my father’s doing. The story is below.

I tried to be a figure skater, but fear of falling ended my career before I ever got to wear a sequined costume. In high school, I was an ice hockey goalie. All of those pads made me feel completely safe. But I’ve always loved watching skating, especially since the 1983 World Championships, which I watched on a TV that temporarily was in my bedroom for the eight days of school I missed when sick with pneumonia.

Then, I benefitted from timing again. Remember the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding feud? The Whack Heard ‘Round the World in 1994 increased interest in figure skating. Soon skating was on TV almost every weekend of the fall! And it featured Michelle Kwan, who dominated that season and won her first senior international championships with the Salome program (check out that jump perfectly choreographed with the music at the end). I’ve been a huge Michelle Kwan fan ever since.

Why We Do It

We love seeing the skating in person. When watching figure skating live, you get a much better sense of how fast they skate, how high they jump, and how fast they spin. You also see 20+ competitors in a discipline, so you appreciate how good the top skaters are—the differences between the first and last place finishers, even at the top-level of competition, are marked.

Medalists: Rippon, Brown, Farris, Aaron

Medalists: Rippon, Brown, Farris, Aaron

We’ve also watched amazing performances. This year, the men’s competition was particularly great. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before. Men usually jump a lot, fall a lot, and don’t do a lot in between Not so this year. If you have a few minutes, watch Jason Brown (gold medal), Adam Rippon (silver medal), or Joshua Farris (bronze medal).

We enjoy being helpful. Like me, my dad has a penchant for helping people. Wonder where I got it? Getting to do so together just makes it more fun.

We like feeling part of something. We are a very, very small part, but it’s not nothing.

What’s Ahead

Our first night in Greensboro, I told my dad that I thought it would be ok if this was our last year of volunteering. I was tired from the drive and my four-hour shift, most of which is spent standing. By the end of our time there, I was plotting our trip to St. Paul next January and maybe to Boston in March for the Worlds.

How’d You Get Into That? 

People have asked for the back story, so here’s the whole, long tale. In 2001-2002, I clerked for a judge in Tallahassee, FL, where I didn’t have many friends and thus found myself with no plans most weekends. My parents lived just a few hours away in Montgomery, AL. It had been years since we were geographically close, so I took advantage of the proximity and drove to hang with them a few times. However, I didn’t have any friends in Montgomery and there isn’t a whole lot to do there, so I would bring with me videotapes (remember those?) of figure skating competitions that I had yet to watch. My dad started watching with me. There were a lot of ads for ticket packages to the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships, which were being held in Washington, DC. At one point, he turned and asked if I wanted to get tickets and go. To me, this was like being asked if I wanted tickets to the Super Bowl. Heck yeah!

Now mind you, at the time there was no hint that I’d be living in DC by March 2003. But things just work out sometimes. Everyone around us also had passes for the week, so we got to know many of them. We learned that most of them are figure skating groupies and attend many of the competitions around the country. They mentioned that US Nationals would be in Atlanta the following January. Well, Atlanta is just a short drive from Montgomery. Dad started stalking the website so he could snag good tickets as soon as they were available.

Hanging with (paper cutout) Jason Brown

Hanging with (paper cutout) Jason Brown

He noticed the “volunteer here” button, clicked on it, and filled out an application. Many months later, someone telephoned my parent’s house. The caller badly mangled our last name, as so many do, but luckily my mom didn’t hang up on him. The caller was the event coordinator. When my dad said that we were interested in volunteering but also wanted see the skating, he was told we should be ice patchers. My dad then called me and told me to submit an application ASAP since he had just told the coordinator to count of both of us.

This call was life changing. (Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration.) Ice patchers go onto the ice before the Zamboni to put slush into the big holes the skaters create when the dig into the ice for a jump. (Think of the divot stomping on the polo field from Pretty Woman.) Even though each shift was about four hours, the work was only for a few minutes at a time. When not working, we were free to stand and watch the skating. Perfect.

Ice cleats

Ice cleats

We learned a lot that first year. Icy slush is cold. Really, really cold (wear XL kitchen gloves over warm gloves). Ice can be slippery. Really, really slippery (wear ice cleats over shoes for traction).

We loved being ice patchers and did it so well we got promoted to ice monitors. Ice monitors are responsible for the flow of skaters on and off the ice. (This is a fancy way of saying we open and close the doors.) We check in the skaters for each group, tell them their skating order if they don’t know, and for the first time this year, make sure they go onto the ice in that order during competition (which messes with the mental games some play by pushing on first or waiting to be last). Monitoring is harder than patching—we have to work during the whole shift.

About to open the door

Performing my ice monitor duty

The key part of this job is that we are required to be rink side the whole time. It is a requirement we suffer through. The pain is lessened by the fact that standing right next to the coaches and TV cameras is the best view in the arena.