Time in the Garden - A Season to Dream!

By: Don Corbiell, MM, MFS and PSA Area 15 Rep

Thomas Amon

February 1, 2013

   In The Loop Extended Articles

I arrived home from Sectionals and wanted to share with you some amazing moments that happened at this year’s Pacific Coast Sectional competition.   I think the future of our sport is in good shape and we have many great ‘ambassadors’ in our sport right now!  I had a hard time deciding how to approach this article, but, ultimately I thought that the best way was just to relate to you my journey to Provo, Utah with my Juvenile skater, Dinh Tran.

Our journey began with our flight to Salt Lake City.  Delayed….yes, of course, we’re flying from San Francisco!  We did, however, arrive in time to get our rental car and begin our trek to Provo.  With the snow falling softly down as we drove down the highway, Dinh exclaimed….”Wow, it’s a blizzard!”  Having grown up in Canada myself, I know blizzards…this was no blizzard, but I thought, “Hey, if this seems like a blizzard to you, then…it’s a blizzard!”  Who am I to squash that idea!!!  I realized that I was becoming thrilled at how thrilled he was with the whole experience!

Snow.JPGArriving extremely late at the hotel, we received a very warm welcome from the front desk staff.  (Side note…every single person we met and dealt with in Utah {Provo in particular} was amazing!)  We had a great night’s sleep in the hotel and awoke refreshed and ready to take on the day!

The following morning, we took a trip back up to the Olympic Oval to find additional practice ice.  For those who’ve not yet had the joy of skating in this facility, there are two full sized rinks encompassed by the speed skating track oval.  This is covered by an immense roof that seems to defy gravity and also encloses other sports and off-ice training venues. With snow cascading down, we made our way to the Oval and had a great session skating at this marvelous venue.  There were also junior and senior level male skaters practicing there, and so then grew the skating dreams of a young Juvenile boy! 

The next day we had practice ice at the official rink in Provo.  What a great facility!  Two ice surfaces, and two artificial soccer practice arenas at our disposal for warm-up areas.  Best of all………everything indoors, so we didn’t endure any more of the cold than necessary!   But, as we were leaving for the rink, Dinh and his Mom had more fun in the snow…unintentionally!  As I was brushing the night’s snowfall from our vehicle and warming the SUV up, they came outside.  They were looking at all of the snow caked on the trees. Having grown up in Canada, I knew what was coming next, but did I say anything or warn them……NO!  They walked up to the trees and grabbed the branches and pulled.  To their delighted screams, they were instantly covered in an avalanche of snow!
Over the next few days, Dinh had the chance to skate a couple of times with Andrew Gonzales and was really intrigued with his style and jumping ability. How fun for a juvenile boy to skate with a senior man! The next day, Dinh said to me “Is it okay if I meet him or say hi?”  I replied, “Of course, the next time we see him I’ll introduce you.”  The following day, we saw Andrew at another practice session.  I took Dinh over to Andrew and his coach and introduced them.  I explained how Dinh had watched Andrew on the ice over the last few days and was so impressed with his jumps and style.  Andrew was a real gentleman and took the time to say ‘hello’ and help foster a little guy’s dreams.
The following day, we were leaving the rink and ran into Jonathan Cassar.  I had met Jonathan a few years prior at a PSA conference while he was working with David Wilson (a good friend) on a choreography presentation.  After refreshing his memory, Jonathan immediately said, “Oh Yeah!  The PSA conference…now I remember!”  He promptly reached out his hand to Dinh and introduced himself.  We chatted for a couple of minutes and then went on our way. 

That evening, Dinh was put on practice ice for junior, senior, and juvenile men/boys.  There was one lady on the session of otherwise all high level male skaters.  How often does that happen for a juvenile boy!  It just so happened that on that session, Dinh was again skating with Jonathan Cassar, Andrew Gonzales, and Keegan Messing!  At one point, Dinh came back to the wall to receive instruction from me, and with his sparkling eyes wide as saucers, he said to me…”Wow, this is so cool!”  There was the slightest flutter of his eyes as though he was recording a mental picture of what he was feeling in that moment.  Five words have never been spoken so clearly or heard so loudly. He was having the time of his life! It was both thrilling and beautiful to watch, and I felt privileged to have witnessed the amazing transformation of a young boy finding his voice and confidence and becoming one of the sport’s new young men.

During the session, as Dinh got warmed up, he started peeling off layers until getting down to the tank top in which he loves to skate. Jonathan, who was standing next to him, flashed him a brilliant smile and said “Whoa, little man!  You’re ripped!  Who’s your trainer?”  Dinh’s smile grew until it was nearly ear to ear and then he bolted off to bang out a perfectly clean triple toe.  Jonathan watched and applauded his effort.

After the session, Keegan Messing came up to me with his coach, Ralph Burghart.  They were all smiles as they asked “Was that your little guy out there?”  As Dinh sat there quietly taking off his skates, I said “Yes, this is Dinh Tran.”  Keegan said “He’s such a little dude on the ice.  He totally held his own out there.”  I told them about Dinh’s comment about this being so cool and they thought that was great!  Both of them are wonderful guys and very supportive of Dinh’s enthusiasm.

The next morning was Dinh’s official warm up and the competition.  Even after a couple of uncharacteristic spills, he ended up 3rd and advanced to Nationals. Keegan was at the rink watching the event and made a special point to take some time to come up to Dinh and tell him, “Dude, you did a great job out there today!”

As we left to fly home, we ended up on the same flight to San Francisco as Camden [Pulkinen], one of Dinh’s competitors who won the juvenile boys event.  The two became instant friends.  We happened to all be sitting in the same two rows, and after juggling a couple of seats, the boys sat together and played video games the entire flight to San Francisco.  In this age, of course they were using an iTouch!  First they played Kung Fu Soccer and then proceeded to build an Ice Skating Arena in Mine Craft (I have no idea what that is, but that’s what Dinh told me).  Since they never finished the arena before the flight landed, Camden offered to finish it before nationals.  After promising to see each other soon in Omaha, they said goodbye and Camden continued on his way home to Arizona.
So…other than just a recollection of one boy’s journey, what does this all mean?  To me, as an instructor and as a teacher, it’s about the ‘big and small’ moments.  It’s the big moments like a ‘small’ boy winning regionals, making it to sectionals, and then advancing to nationals. Of course that’s fun!  It’s about a small boy skating on the ice with senior level skaters and having the time of his life.  It’s about those senior skaters taking the time to encourage a young skater.  Whether you are an elite level coach, a basic skills instructor, a grassroots coach, or somewhere in the spectrum between, there is a place for all.  Being a teacher, a ratings examiner, and a PSA Area Rep…these are all ways that I give back to a sport that has given me countless hours of joy on the ice.  People, please remember, it takes a village! 

But, there are also the smaller moments like playing in the snow, skating at the Oval, or watching competitors become friends.  There are the moments when eyes start to sparkle and smiles grow wider and laughs of joy become louder.  It’s about seeing all the hard work that kids put into their sport pay off.  Who among us has not become emotional when you see the tears of joy on a pre-preliminary girl’s cheeks when she finally lands her Axel?  Or when they conquer their nerves and pass a MIF test they were a little unsure of?  Who has not felt a tug at the heart strings when they run into their parents arms with a smile on their face and a medal around their neck?  These are the reasons that I do what I do and love to teach.  These are the reasons I have high hopes for our sport.

To Jonathan, Keegan and Andrew…you are amazing ambassadors for our sport.  Ambassadors and role models are so important to our sport right now.  High level skaters who are in the public eye are one of the major influencing factors of our sport right now.  Just like the Magic Johnson’s and Kobe Bryant’s of basketball, the Tim Lincecums’s and Marco Scutaro’s of baseball, or the Mannings of football………we need you guys to stand up and take the lead for our sport!  I like to tell my students that I want them to be well…well rounded, well adjusted and well mannered.  You three gentlemen embody this philosophy.  This was truly a season where a young boy dared to dream, and you helped his dream become a reality!  Is it a coincidence that you three also were in the top 4 that made it to nationals? I think not! You are what sport is supposed to be about; don’t ever lose that part of your personalities.

Ladies, this does not exclude you!  We need each and every one of you wonderful women to support, encourage and feed the dreams of the little ones who will someday be on top of the world.  This is especially important because there are so many more ladies in the sport right now than men. 

The state of our sport requires that we all put in a concerted effort to maintain and then enhance our sport from where we are today.  If not, like a gardener who does not tend the vines, everything withers and dies.  My hope is that we produce a vibrant garden in which everyone has a chance to nurture and fulfill their dreams.  Whether you stay in the sport or move on to other endeavors is not the point…the point is that your time in the garden teaches you to be the most beautiful that you can be!
To our skating community, and we really are a community, I would like to say thank you and good luck to each of you on your journey. 

If I had to sum things up in one phrase, I think I would have to quote Dinh… “Wow, this is so cool!”