For U.S. World Team member Sharon Carz, the fall that Russia’s Totmianina & Marinin took at Skate America 2004 brought back some scary memories of a similar incident from her own past.
“I was practicing my Long Program with (partner) Doug (Williams),” she recalls, “And apparently a girl who wasn't paying attention jumped right into him while I was over his head in a lift. I woke up a few hours later in my skating outfit in a hospital-bed with a broken collarbone. To this day, I have no memory whatsoever of the accident ever happening. Doug said that I removed my skates and got in the car with him to drive to the hospital. But I remember nothing until I woke up seeing his concerned face in front of me in the hospital - what a weird experience. To actually see this same thing happen to someone else was just horrific. I almost didn't want to watch it for fear that it may trigger something in my own memory. Doug and I are glad that both of us can look back (at the accident) now as great friends who have gone through this horrible event together. It is really just a part of committing to being a pair team. Pair skating is very dangerous - that is the reality of it and when you commit to it, you have to know what you are getting into.”
Though Carz got back on the ice after her accident, she did eventually retire from skating – twice! “First in 1994, then I competed last year in the National Synchronized Championships – so I guess I just took a break for a few years!”
She retired (the first time) to take advantage of a performing opportunity headlining in Reno and Las Vegas. But her most challenging professional job came when she worked as a skating double for actress Moira Kelly in the movie, “The Cutting Edge.”
She remembers the experience as, “Months of seventeen-hour shooting days while living in various hotels in Canada and interacting very closely every day with the same people who wake you up, drive you to locations, dress you, feed you, direct you, try monster make-up prosthetics and wigs on you, fix your hair and make-up constantly, change their minds constantly, ask you to be a trampolinist, a dancer, and to try the most dangerous elements at the end of a seventeen hour day on unresurfaced ice the opposite way that you skate and then jump over a camera……it all made competing seem like a vacation. But it was a totally amazing experience and I am really honored to have had the opportunity to participate in that journey.”
Currently, Carz works in commercial real estate and “I have gone back to school to finish my degree in Kinesiology. In the skating world, I have joined the Collegiate Skating Institute program and after judging skating for the past 20 years, I have begun coaching pairs part-time. It has been extremely rewarding for me and it keeps me on the ice, skating as well - sometimes I even demonstrate for the girl of the pair, forgetting my age, of course. The discipline and assertiveness I have embraced from my years of training have been an invaluable asset to the other challenges I choose to pursue in my life. I have also learned that the level of trust that a pair team has in each other at so many levels, doesn't always translate to the rest of society. Thank you to all of those who were and are a part of my success in skating and all the other facets of my life. My advice to all pair girls regarding throws - Get you landing gear out on time! My own personal mantra is "Go For It!" and never forget where you came from, where you are, and know where you’re going.”
For Carz, the “know where you came from” recently became much easier. Adopted at birth, she grew up never knowing anything about her personal history. However, in 2003, she met her birth parents, and happily relates, “It has been an amazing experience getting to know everyone and see where I came from. (My birth mother) is an interior designer and (my birth father) was a double-weight golden gloves champion - so I guess that's explains a few things!”
Scott Williams knows exactly – down to the day – when he retired from eligible skating.
“July 4, 1988,” he states with authority. “There were many factors leading to my retirement from eligible skating. I had not qualified for the 1988 Olympic team, after three years on the podium at the U.S. Championships. At the time I retired from amateur (that's what we called it then) competition, remember, we made NO MONEY. And skating even at a high level was extremely difficult as one aged into their twenties. I had no idea at the time that a professional career would be so rewarding. I’ve had a great professional career, and performed thousands of times with over twenty-five different routines. Not many people get that opportunity.”
One of those performances earned Scott the 1990 World Professional Champion title.
He recalls, “That meant a lot to me as a skating title, because I think professionalism is the highest commendation we can receive as artists. It means you're not only technically proficient, but in addition to mastering the skills of skating, you transcend the actual movement itself, making the performance into a work of art. Whether you're the choreographer or doing someone else's work, bringing it to life requires more than just going through the motions. This was my greatest pleasure as a skater and performer, and I'll always appreciate the opportunity to receive such an award for it.”
Williams went on to produce the American Open competition for pro skaters, taking it from an arena show to a televised event
”My skating background contributes to all aspects of my life,” reflects Williams, “As it was very involved. However, I don't now, and never did, identify myself as an ice skater. It's something I love to do, but not something intrinsic to me. All my experiences contribute to my perspective of the world, both philosophically and in my work life and habits. The attention (I receive) from others is a gift, the value of which I now truly appreciate.”
Coming Thursday, October 28: World Team Member and "Cutting Edge" body-double Sharon Carz!
1993 U.S. National Bronze Medallist and 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival Champion Michael Chack chose to retire from eligible skating after the 1999 season.
“I felt that I had given the sport all I possibly could and I just wasn't happy anymore with the training and most of all, with my results in competition,” he explains five years later. “The desire was there -- boy was it ever! -- but injury and self-doubt kept creeping in there. Plus, I was getting older and our new champions were considerably younger. The sort of professional career that I looked forward to was competing as a pro and combining my technical ability with artistry, without the eight triple jumps and quads. I wanted to perform in shows and travel for a while. What I got was better than I expected. (Yes, sure I wish there were pro events, but there really are none and that has to change in our professional sport). But I've joined a great company of "Holiday On Ice" and was fortunate enough to be traveling throughout Europe, South America, and Central America for the past five years. I'm lucky because it really is a figure skaters' show. (1980 Olympic Champion) Robin Cousins is the main choreographer, and he was one of my choreographers when I was competing. It's fun to work with him and many others on the professional side, and build friendships. I have enjoyed this side of my skating career so much and just love what I do. I have become a better all around skater from it.”
Michael tours with “Holiday on Ice” anywhere from four to eight months out of the year, and the rest of the time, he considers New York City home.
“When off the ice,” Michael exhales, “I just want to breathe and feel part of my community. I try to choreograph when I’m home, and to keep building my mind artistically. When I am on a break from tour, it's only for about four to five weeks where I just try to keep in shape and visit family and friends.”
As for those who wonder if, because they no longer see him on television, he is “still in skating,” Michael replies, “Yes, I'm still in the skating world. It just happens to be the European skating world. I'm just loving the sport again after a few tough years of thinking of giving up. I feel that I have found the complete skater in myself that all artists strive to find. I'm very happy and content. I plan to perform as long as I love it and the body can do it.”
Although, to be fair, if anyone is used to not being seen on television, it is Michael Chack. In fact, after his 1993 Bronze medal winning performance at Nationals wasn’t shown during the ABC telecast, the word “Chack” has come to mean: “being cut from a broadcast!”
“It makes me feel good,” Michael swears, “That I personally contributed something to the sport. It may have been an unfair thing, but still I created it! At least it means I skated a good performance!”
Coming Tuesday, October 26: American Open Champion Scott Williams!
1988 Canadian Pair Champion (with Christine Hough), Doug Ladret recalls that: “Being National Champion in an Olympic year was extremely special. What made it even more special was that we were champions during the pinnacle of Canadian pair skating. Almost every year from 1983 through 1990, our country had three teams in the top 10 in the world, including World Champions and several World medallists.”
Doug and Christine (“Tuffy”) decided together that 1992 would be their last year of competitive skating. He explains, “We felt that our performance in the Short Program at the Albertville Olympics was the turning point. The audience gave us a standing ovation, the judges proceeded to dump us down out of the top 10. The audience started to whistle and boo the judges so loudly that you had to cover your ears. We knew at that point that the audience was the most important thing to us and that the judges did not want to give us what we deserved, so it was time to move on.”
For Doug, his professional career was both “great and disappointing, all at the same time. Tuffy and I were chosen to skate with “Stars on Ice.” We were in amongst a crowd of World and Olympic Champion, so we knew we had something special to be included in that group. This was at the height of skating's popularity. 17,000 people at Madison Square Garden, standing ovations every night. It was a magical time. Unfortunately, due to my partner’s health issues, we had to cut our performing career short. (It was) only four years of pro skating before the brakes were put on. However, I guess I had shown that I was an integral part of the “Stars on Ice” family, and was asked to come back as the first Performance Director in SOI history. This was bittersweet. I was now directing and coaching Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning, Torvill & Dean, Katarina Witt, etc…. A stellar group of champions who all looked to me for guidance. But, at the same time, it was hard to know that I would never take the ice again to perform in SOI. (My professional career) was more than I expected it to be, but shorter than I came to hope for."
These days, Doug and his wife, Lara, are coaching together in Scottsdale, Arizona. He says, “It was an odd start here, as barely anyone in Arizona knew who I was. I had come from Canada, where I was in figure skating's elite and had a level of celebrity where I was recognized in airports, shops etc... I had also been coaching International and World competitors at Doug Leigh's training center north of Toronto. The lack of recognition by the local skating crowd made me work even harder to set up what I thought could be set up. We have gotten part-way there, and are still pushing for higher heights. We have taken skating here from an infantile state of low-level ability, to now having a pair team on the Jr Grand Prix circuit, and our first International Champion at the Triglav Trophy in Slovenia last April. This summer marked the first time Tuffy and I worked together since she retired in 1996. (World and co-Olympic Champions) Jamie Sale & David Pelletier asked us to choreograph a program for them in a similar style to how we used to skate. It’s a nice way for Tuffy and I to rekindle our old friendship. Life is crazy for me, but it is also very rewarding to know that I have been a major part of the progression of figure skating in the desert."
Coming Thursday, October 21, 2004: 1993 US Bronze Medallist Michael Chack
Danielle Hartsell and her brother, Steve, were the first skaters ever to win a U.S. Intermediate Pair Title at the 1991 inaugural Championship, then went on to win the U.S. and World Junior titles in 1995, and the U.S. Senior title in 1999.
Danielle describes the latter as her most meaningful title, because, “It was such an exciting accomplishment for us. So many people said we couldn't do it and we proved them wrong.”
By 2002, however, “My life started to be more important outside of skating. I met my husband and I wanted to finish school. I got married in September of 2003. My husband, Chris Minnis, and I just bought a house. Now, I teach skating full time. I am the skating director in Richmond, Virginia and I go to school part time, studying marketing. I also just got elected to the Athlete's Advisory Committee Chair for US Figure Skating. I would love to thank all the skating fans who supported Steve and I throughout our skating career. I would like everyone to know how happy I am in my new life.”
Coming Up Tuesday, October 19: Canadian Pair Champion Doug Ladret
Elena Valova, with partner and then husband Oleg Vassilliev, won Olympic Gold in Pair skating in 1984, and Olympic Silver in 1988. Though Elena asserts that “Olympic Champion is the most honorable title an athlete can achieve,” she is equally proud of her other titles. “Olympic silver medalist, three time World Champion, three time World silver medallist… because they show for how long we were on the top. You don't see this often in a skater's career.”
The team retired in 1988, because of “Age. It became hard to handle the intensity of practices and the pressure of the competitions.”
Exhausted from competing as an amatuer, Elena never enjoyed professional competition, though she lists touring with "Brian Boitano & Katarina Witt’s Skating" as a professional highlight. “Great skaters, a high level show and a friendly atmosphere!”
Elena moved to Pittsburgh, PA from Russia in 1997 with her second husband, German, and their son, Roman (now 8). Elena teaches skating at the Robert Morris University Island Sports Center, thrilled that, “My students, Kylie Gleason and Taylor Toth, were the 2002 US Champions in Juvenile Pairs and the 2003 US Champions in Intermediate pairs. My experience in skating really helps me in my teaching career and in my life generally. I can't believe how many people still remember me, and how many lives my skating affected in a good way. I just want to thank all of my fans for their love and support.”
Coming Thursday, October 13, 2004: US Pair Champion Danielle Hartsell!
Most skating fans got to know Dan Hollander when he won the Bronze medal at the 1996 National Championships, a feat he repeated in 1997.
Afterwards, Dan recalls, “It took all the fight out of me to leave what I thought was an abusive situation to come to Detroit Skating Club to train with Mitch Moyer at the end of 1997. I left competitive figure skating after the 1998 Nationals. My true love was performing in ice shows and making people laugh. Being "spent" and battling some injuries, I decided to make a go of the professional world and pursue my dream of making a living skating in shows. When I was five years old, I watched Scott Hamilton skate in a chicken outfit on “Champions On Ice.” I laughed so hard I cried. I knew then that I wanted to perform comedy and make people laugh. 1996 allowed me to achieve my true dream, to skate with “Champions On Ice.” I performed my comedic janitor routine, and heard a little girl cry out, "Look, Mommy, it's the funny guy." At that moment, my life and dreams came full circle.”
”My professional career is everything I dreamed of and more. I have some great friends on tour, like Mike Weiss and Elvis Stojko to hang out with. I also skate many other shows around the world, and one show in a great piece of paradise, Sun Valley, ID. I have a job skating, but never work a day in my life because I love it. I skate, train, come up with new routines, ride my Harley, and just love life. The most important thing I learned in skating is to use your love for it to push you on. Don't let anyone take control over you, or allow negative influences in your life. Be your own person, and when you take charge of your own skating, nothing can stop you.”
Two-time Swiss champion Lucinda Ruh also holds the world record for most revolutions in a spin. And it is that title which she cherishes the most.
Lucinda explains, "The Guinness record, I think, is the most influential one for me, because it is something that can't be replaced year after year. It is specialized in something that not many people can do. It is also something that I have worked for since I was a little girl, and it really keeps up the Swiss tradition of great spinners."
Ruh turned professional in 2000. She recalls, "It actually took me a long time to decide if I should turn pro, because I love to compete and I felt the best was yet to come for me. I had not peaked yet. But political situations with my federation and also my serious injuries were holding me back from being the best I could be. Turning pro could really enhance my spinning specialty, and I could inspire and further my art of skating in a way that I could not have staying amateur."
Ruh describes her professional career as "one that every skater dreams of. I have been on "Champions on Ice," "Stars on Ice," all the top NBC shows where I skated with Olympic Champions. But I also missed competing a lot, and the regular training schedule. Skating has brought me pure joy, but also huge illness. I was and still am struggling with my fracture and with dislocated discs in my spine. Over the last four years I have been going through a lot of different illnesses and am still on the road to recovery. The year of not skating due to serious health concerns made me have to go through a spiritual journey that I am still going through. I have felt lost and confused once there was no skating. I had hate towards skating due to my injuries and health, but now that I am recovering, I have learned to forgive and I want to get back to my art on the ice. I feel different on the ice now that I have grown as a person. But first, I had to realize that I am someone without the skating. It has been hard, but I feel like God wants me to know who I am before I continue with my life. I have many dreams. I want to design, be a star in the entertainment business and get back on the ice. I think everyone has tough times and I am going through that now, but I have found a wonderful team to help me recover physically health-wise, so I will be back on the ice. I want to do something with skating that has not been done before."