If I had to use one word to describe our season, that would be it. To give you all an understanding of it, let me give you a little backstory. This season threw a lot at us, but we fought back time and time again. I think every team (and athlete in general) experiences setbacks throughout a duration of a season and we were no different this year. Last season (2015-16) was tough because we had just gotten together and we were experiencing success at a level far beyond what either of us had ever seen. I (Josh) was 2nd to last the year before with my previous partner at the US Championships and Jessica was 3rd to last the year before that with her old partner. Needless to say, we certainly weren’t expecting to be assigned to a grand prix event within our first year.
When we first got together we knew we had something special; we definitely expected to try to get into the mix for Senior B assignments, but a Grand Prix event? That’s crazy talk! Still, we managed to get one and we did pretty well too. In fact, at our two international events we put out great skates onto the ice, which was just how we practiced. Last year we would skate clean in practice so often that we could be unhappy with a clean program because we missed one level. That’s an insane amount of consistency that I hope to get back to one day. One thing that always loomed over us last season though, was the twist. As a new team, it is tough to learn each other’s timing in order to master the triple twist. For us, it was even tougher due to an injury in Jessica’s tapping foot that only allowed us to practice twist about twice a week. This made it difficult to even do a decent double, let alone work on getting three rotations. A MRI in August of 2015 showed that Jessica had two torn ligaments in that foot, we made the decision to keep going anyways because we had pushed through it and skated well to that point.
By the time Nationals rolled around in January, our twist wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been in the summer months, but it also wasn’t worthy of the quality that the top senior teams were doing (all triples, by the way). To say the US Championships in St. Paul was an utter disaster would be minimizing it too much. First of all, I want to start by saying that we skated a short program just about as well as we could and we were in a great position (fifth) for the free skate. The long, however, was a nightmare. And when I say nightmare, I mean the type of thing that comes back to haunt you over and over again. I mean that performing that program was like living out the worst of your thoughts and nightmares all in one. I recently re-watched our performance and I honestly felt like crying all over again, because it is such an emotional pain to see what we did on the ice that day. Like I said, we had practiced clean programs OVER and OVER again, but when the lights came on in St. Paul we were a mess.
After our skate, many people questioned us, asking if we were injured. Probably everyone at Nationals is dealing with an injury, I had a scapula problem that made it difficult to turn my head and Jessica had her foot injury of course, but I only brought/ bring that up because people asked me so many times. The reality of the matter is that those injuries did not affect our performance in St. Paul and we could have performed just like we did in Milwaukee at Skate America and put ourselves in position to fight for a podium spot. But, we didn’t! Although a little bit of time with the sports psychologist may have helped, the root of the problem was actually easily identifiable and in the coming months we would work on fixing that.
Following the completion of our season, Jessica excitedly underwent surgery to repair the torn ligaments in her foot; a long recovery was on the way. As an athlete with a competitive drive, it is difficult to make yourself hold back in what you do and restrain the fire inside of you that keeps you going. However, coming back from an injury, one must be careful. Jessica took the doctor’s orders and went even a little bit slower than he had planned it out for her, so we could be sure she wasn’t coming back into it too quickly and risking re-injury/ improper healing. We basically did nothing for the majority of the spring (although I did get to spend the time to get back my triple loop, flip, and lutz) because coming back was a “feeling it out” kind of thing and her foot was still getting sore. We took this as a sign of just a slow recovery and would push it just a little bit at a time.
It seemed like life was trying to get us down; besides the injury, Jessica also got sick four times during the Summer, making training even more difficult. Skate Detroit came and passed in July and the pain was back at the same level that it had been before the surgery, so we scheduled another MRI. In the week preceding our assignment to Lombardia Trophy in Milan, we learned that the ligaments that Jessica had surgery on were still torn. The doctor said that if she made one wrong landing on the foot or one bad tap that it could, potentially, be career-threatening. This was devastating news and my immediate thoughts were, “Ok, let’s do the competition in Italy because we’ve come this far and worked through it already, and when we get back, let’s get another surgery done and call it quits for the season so we can focus on the long term.” Jessica, however, wouldn’t have any of that. She’s tough and she certainly didn’t want this injury holding her back for yet another season, so she went for a second opinion. The second opinion showed a mistake in the reading of the MRI. She didn’t have any torn ligaments, but she did have a pretty bad case of tendonitis that wasn’t healing itself (since it didn’t heal when she rested post-surgery) along with some deteriorative bone bruising that could be serious if it went untreated (the doctor said it may develop into osteoporosis, even at her young age, if we didn’t do something about it).
Although it was a relief to know that her ligaments were not torn, it still left us wondering how we could treat the problem since rest had not solved the issue. Following the competition in Milan, the doctor tried an experimental procedure involving the injection of liquid calcium that is usually done on knees to solve the problem in Jessica’s bone and poked holes into her tendons to promote healing along with an insertion of amniotic fluid that would further that process. Luckily for us, the recovery time on this procedure was short enough that we could still receive another international competition, and we did; we were assigned to Cup of China! Although the recovery time was short, we still did not really have much time to train for the competition in Beijing; our first week doing full elements was the week before we left. We know we could have been more prepared, but we still felt like it was worthwhile to go out and get world rankings points for participating in the grand prix.
Even though we didn’t do our best in the international events this year, we showed improvements in other areas such as our presentation and lifts. The biggest problem that contributed to the “meltdown in Minnesota” (is that too catchy of a title?) was my refusal to use proper technique on my lifts. Rather, I relied on brute strength and willpower to put up lifts where I didn’t use my legs and counted on these bad boys upstairs I call guns. Following the “setback in St. Paul” (I’m way too good at making these titles), our coach Lyndon and I spent months doing basic lifts, making sure that I was using proper technique and that only the correct way was ingrained into my head. Executing the lifts well in China was just the beginning for us, however.
After we got back from Beijing we wanted to make a run at the triple twist because Jessica’s foot finally felt better and we had about a month and a half before nationals. Suddenly, instead of doing two attempts a week we were doing ten attempts a day, that’s 35 times as many tries! However, yet another thing was trying to get in the way of our success. The sudden, dramatic increase in repetitions led to a rotator cuff injury that I am currently in the process of continuing to rehab, which meant that we had to cut down our attempts yet again. Also, we had to train for the US Championships in Kansas City, we couldn’t just focus on the twist. Still, even injuries weren’t the only thing holding back. On December 2nd I got sick; on January 29th I finally stopped taking medication for this sickness. I was sick for over eight weeks, including during the US Championships. In fact, during our programs at Nationals I was on seven… seven different medications.
It was extremely difficult to train while being sick for seven weeks leading up to the event (being sick one week after made it eight weeks total), and combined with the rotator cuff injury and our short amount of training for the season, it seemed like we were put in a spot where quitting on the season would have been very easy. To recap, last year we trained, but didn’t do twist for the most part of the season. This year we didn’t skate much from Feb-May, skated lightly over the summer and held back for the most part due to her injury recovery and sicknesses, didn’t skate much during the fall because of the recovery from her second surgery, and FINALLY trained from the time we returned from Cup of China (late November/early December) till Nationals with my rotator cuff injury and sickness disrupting us the whole time. For those wondering, I have had a sinus infection that my body overreacted to and kept the symptoms going despite the virus being gone for quite some time, needless to say, breathing during a long program was a challenge.
It might seem like I’m writing a book of excuses, but what I’m trying to get it is that from the beginning of the partnership we have dealt with hardships in training. Despite the rotator cuff injury that was caused from the twist repetitions as of late, I think we are both happy with how far the twist has come this season in our short amount of time on it and that it is on the right track to finally become the triple that will put us on par with the other teams we compete against. When we took the ice at the US Championships we had two choices; we could either let our troubled season and “mishap in Minneapolis” affect our performance, or we could follow US Figure Skating’s campaign strategy and #GetUp. You can guess which one we chose. Our performance in Kansas City was 35 points higher than it was in St. Paul. While we had our mistakes, we also conquered the lifts, securing level 4’s and positive GOE’s on all of our lifts, including the highest scoring group 3 or group 4 lift in the event (yes, I am petty enough to have figured that out). We made improvements on our side by side spin, we increased our component mark, did strong throws in the free skate, and most importantly we got the monkey off of our back that has been riding us since the “mistakes in the Midwest” last season.
Life tore us down, injuries tore us down, sickness tore us down, but we made a choice on the ice in Kansas City, Missouri. We made a choice to be persistent. We made a choice to get up. We made a choice to show the fans and the judges that we are a force to be reckoned with and that our time will come where we will be competitive, not just for the domestic podium, but for the international podium as well. The US Championships was just a baby step for us, we plan on going so much further, we know we have a lot of improvements to make and that no singular element like the triple twist is going to make us sudden world championship contenders. When we had our “ill luck on the ice” Jessica was eager to call it a learning experience; I was eager to say it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. All that hard work, all season long; all that pushing through the injury all year long… for THAT? But, after this season passed I can honestly say that Jessica was right (and I promise she’s not forcing me to write that)! Jessica was more correct than I could have ever imagined because if it hadn’t been for all the “tragedy in the tundra” we may have never taken the time to re-learn what we thought we had already known. We learned so much because of the letdown that we experienced and more importantly than learning something from a technical standpoint, we have learned the power of persistence because of the setbacks that we have gone through. We have learned to get up and we will continue to get up throughout our career because it is so ingrained into our DNA that we only know how to keep pushing back up every time life kicks us down.
If you read all that, I applaud you and thank you very much. This is the 2371st word of this blog and it turned into more of an essay, but I am glad to have shared that with you. If you skimmed through the details, I oblige you to please read it thoroughly because I spilled my heart out for you.
Thank you so much,