By Elizabeth Klemm
Nationals. I was going to Nationals.
I had talked about it for years and now it was finally here – almost. Just one more week and I would be driving nine hours across cornfields from suburban New Jersey to middle of nowhere Michigan for my first national championships, the 2018 US Collegiate Figure Skating Championships. Even though I hadn’t even taken a class at Northeastern yet, I was thrilled to be representing the university I would call home in less than a month. Problem was, I was freaking out.
I had been training incredibly well all summer, but not that day, nor the day before for that matter. Now was not the time for things to go downhill. My coach who would be traveling with me to Michigan, Lisa Musmanno-Blue, wanted to see both of my programs in our thirty minute lesson today. I wanted to protest– six and a half minutes of programs during any thirty minute period was taxing, let alone on the beginning of a two hour morning session after I was out just a little too late the night before – but ended up keeping my mouth shut. It was the last time she would see my programs prior to the competition.
Doubting my ability to get through both programs successfully, I started to warm up my double jumps. They were a little shakier than I would have liked, but nonetheless landed after a few minor corrections.
When the beginning beats of the Beauty and the Beast prologue started blaring through the sound system, signaling the beginning of my long program, all of my anxieties about the next week came out. What if all of this good training doesn’t matter? What if I miss every jump? What if we drive all the way to Michigan for me to skate like crap? What if the other girls are just better than me? All of the “what if” statements I’ve been instructed to just acknowledge, but not treat as true statements, beat down on me like the truest statements in the world. Needless to say, they wrecked that program and the rest of the lesson was spent trying to convince me that I was more than prepared.
After nearly 45 minutes of looking like an overly emotional nut and being sent off the ice to recompose myself, I returned to the ice with the simple goal of completing a short program before the session ended. I told myself if I was able to skate a clean short program after that meltdown, I was prepared. And I did.
The next day, it was like nothing had never happened. Training was smooth for the remainder of the week, and if anything the meltdown, and subsequent recovery from it, made me more confident in my preparations. It didn’t hurt that my coaches reminded me that I often skate incredibly well at competitions following a meltdown.
When I left my home rink for the last time before driving to Michigan, I felt confident and prepared with a healthy amount of nerves. The kind of nerves that just meant I cared. The drive was brutally long and boring, but my mom and I made it just in time for my first practice. Considering I had been in the car for ten hours, my programs were solid (I just did them facing the wrong direction) and I could tell the atmosphere was going to be very different than any other competition I had been to.
I always heard that the Collegiate Championships was far more fun than most competitions. There were no young skaters being forced to compete against their will or homeschooled kids who hardly knew a world outside of the rink. Every skater there was a student-athlete, committing an equal amount of time to school as they were to figure skating. Everybody was thrilled to be there, to represent their school and meet other collegiate figure skaters. It was refreshing, but also strange.
Two days later, it was time to take the ice for my short program. I was more nervous than usual, but I could tell they were good nerves. I knew that if I skated well, I had a good chance of medaling. This added pressure, but for one of the first times in my career, I felt completely capable of handling it.
“Representing Northeastern University, please welcome to the ice Elizabeth Klemm.”
That was my cue. Lisa and I exchanged our good luck high fives, I skated to my starting pose and a few seconds later my music, “Rise Up” by Andra Day, started.
It’s rare that a skater ends a program and feels there was absolutely nothing they could have done better. That happened. There was nothing I was capable of doing better. Whatever my score might be, or wherever I might have placed, I would’ve been elated with that program.
And then the scores were announced and my jaw dropped. I beat my previous high score by nearly seven points. I was currently in first place. There were four skaters left to take the ice and as each one’s score was announced I was still in first. I could not believe it.
Now I just needed to stay focused, but relaxed and skate my long the next day just how I had been at home. I was halfway to a national medal, and everybody would be chasing me. But I couldn’t think of that. I just needed to do my job.
After my name was announced for the long program, I took a final sip from my obnoxiously bright banana yellow Hydroflask that perfectly matched my dress. I was portraying Belle, after all.
This program was far lighter and happier than my short program and I tried to show that joy throughout the program. As I landed each jump, I checked it off on my imaginary checklist, became just a little more excited and then forced myself to focus for the next elements. I don’t think I have ever been more focused during a program. And it paid off.
There was only one slight mistake in the entire long program. My music ended and I could not wipe the smile off my face. I knew I had done it. I had won a collegiate national medal.
My scores were announced, and while the score for the long program was slightly lower than I had expected, my total score was over 10 points higher than my previous personal best. I was in first place with two skaters remaining– the skaters who were in second and third after the short program.
They ended up coming in first and second, leaving me third, but I had accomplished my goal. No matter the color, I had won a national medal, for myself and for Northeastern, and had the skates of my life.
Hopefully, it’s the first of many.
Elizabeth Klemm, club figure skating