At nine years old a passion ignited inside me. It was a yearning to ice skate. But pursuing my passion was not without a price. By my fifteenth birthday, I had experienced ridicule from my peers and endured two major injuries which tore me away from my sport for two years.
In the early 1970s, hockey was the ice sport of choice in my home town of Skaneateles, New York. But I was a figure skater. Even though hockey jocks at school never missed an opportunity to challenge my choices, I stayed true to my calling. Hard decisions faced me during every step and every glide of my journey.
At fifteen years old, and again at seventeen, my kneecap split in half; had I heeded doctors’ warnings, my career would have been over. But after my recovery I experienced an undeniable yearning to satisfy my passion.
I continued my journey, shifting from singles skating to partner ice dancing (a little less demanding). Within six months, I earned a junior national champion title and once again ignited my dreams with even more passion and tenacity.
This was an era when ice dancing was a newly accepted Olympic sport. As a two-time U.S. National Champion, I was one of the sport’s rising stars. Barely two months before my second bid for an Olympic medal, my whole world crashed around me. Two ruptured disks in my lower back took me out of circulation. With no feeling and strength in my left leg, competing was out of the picture—or so my doctors thought.
I refused to accept this. Despite perpetual numbness in my left leg, I was barely back in business by the skin of my teeth, to qualify for the Olympics.
Narrowly missing my dream of an Olympic medal, I earned the respect of judges and fans. But most importantly, I discovered that nothing is impossible when you are committed to persevere.
In Champion Mindset, my story begins just after my back injury. It segues into the early days of my Olympic journey which starts in Skaneateles, New York, at the lakeside home where my love affair with the ice was birthed. Town officials built an open-air ice skating rink and formed the Skaneateles Figure Skating Club in 1970; it was then, I embraced the discipline of figure skating.
Firmly in support of developing my talent, my parents made the sacrifices necessary to not only fund my training and development, but they also instilled in me a strong sense of responsibility. So when the opportunity arose to continue my training in Philadelphia, away from family, friends, and all things familiar, they agreed.
When at fifteen, my kneecap split into two pieces at an international competition, surgery, re-injury and a second surgery kept me away from my sport for nearly two years. My doctor advised against returning to the ice, but passion and persistence overrode the common sense of the day.
Two years later, after a falling out with my coach, I found myself alone, without a partner, and a sense of destiny that needed to be fulfilled.
An exhaustive search led me to Elisa Spitz (now Iuliano), who seemed as eager as me to advance her figure skating career. My call to Ron Ludington, a world renowned coach and former Olympic medalist, gained Lisa and myself an invitation to join the Skating Club of Wilmington (Delaware); here, we experienced a true coming of age in the world of ice dancing.
Personality quirks aside, we lived the dream and made it to the Olympics in 1984. Ranking in a respectable tenth place, I was eager to return in four years to improve my scores. Lisa was not. She yearned for a normal life.
Another crossroads, another decision, another partner―despite my misgivings, I found a new and strong partner in Susan Semanick (now Schurman). Our work together was delayed a month while I had minor knee surgery to remove the screw from my kneecap. But we easily picked up where Lisa and I left off. By the end of our third year together, we were U.S. National Champions and ranked fifth in the World Figure Skating Championships.
Barring any major catastrophe, I was again, Olympics bound. A medal was within my reach. But catastrophe struck three months before the Olympics. While at an international competition in Germany, my back succumbed to the pressure of an excessively large herniated disk between L4 and L5. Refusing surgery recommended by the German doctors, I opted to pursue the impossible.
Reading Champion Mindset, you’ll learn how once again I drew upon my inner strength and passion to continue. Since I had no feeling in my left leg, I had to relearn to skate. Using my eyes to judge my movements, I slowly learned to compensate for my handicap and somehow with the help of a miracle, performed well enough to earn another U.S. Championship and qualified for the 1988 Olympics.
We captured the attention of judges and fans with almost flawless performances. Our rankings were good until an unexpected fall knocked us into sixth place; still better than my previous bid. This was my last Olympics. Though I missed the medal, my commitment to persevere took me further than I dared to dream.
I now coach skating and hope to inspire young skaters to be the best they can. I also travel to teach seminars for ice skaters and instructors, and have added business motivational presentations. At the end of each seminar I give a short victory speech about acquiring a “Champion Mindset”.
1988 Calgary, Canada - 6th Place
1984 Sarajevo, Yugoslavia - 10th Place
1987 Cincinnati, USA - 5th Place
1986 Geneva, Switzerland - 5th Place
1985 Tokyo, Japan –12th Place
1984 Ottawa, Canada - 10th Place
1983 Helsinki, Finland - 7th Place
1982 Copenhagen, Denmark - 8th Place
1988 - 1st place
1987 - 1st Place
1986 - 2nd Place
1985 - 3rd Place
1985 – National Sports Festival: 1st Place
1984 - 3rd Place
1983 - 2nd Place
1983 – Skate America: 1st Place
1983 – Skate Canada: 1st Place
1982 – 3rd Place
1982 – National Sports Festival: 1st Place
1981 – National Sports Festival: 1st Place