Living in Colorado Springs gave me an option growing up — become an ice-skater or join the Air Force.
They both had their advantages; becoming an ice-skater meant getting up early, find a place to practice and still go to school — joining the Air Force meant getting up early, be told what to do every day for the rest of my natural days and get my college paid for when I got out.
Mom didn't push me but made the point that all good skaters start at six or seven years old. I was 10 years old. I watched the Winter Olympics and loved the ice-skating. I wish I could find someone to skate with, and maybe Pair Skate or Ice Dance.
While I was waiting for someone across a crowded ice surface to skate into my life, I became good. Not just kind-of good, but good enough to try out, as a single, for the 2004 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
I was now 12. It was early in my routine, and I was going really well, when landing a double axle, my ankle crumpled under me, putting me in pain and out of single skating. It was while I was in the hospital that a contingent from the Colorado Springs Training center came by. It included a young girl named Sasha Cohen and ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. They all were very good and very nice as they all gave me a "Get Better Soon" balloon.
One stunning brunette named Julie stayed behind and walked up to my hospital bed.
"Hi! My name is Julie Satawa; I was there when you fell. It looks like you over-rotated in the air. I'm really sorry for you. Do you get many visitors?"
"Hi Julie, my name is Ken Richards. Yeah, I realized before coming down what I did wrong. I just didn't straighten my ankle to be ready for the landing. Thanks for coming to see me. My Mom doesn't get here as much as she would like. I'm going home with a cast in a week. I don't get many pretty girls in here. Thanks for coming!"
She blushed as she said, "I'm not quite good enough as a single. When you get better, do you want to try pairs skating ... with me?"
I put my hand on hers and said, "That sounds like a great idea. I was wondering about the same thing. I just didn't know an 'Angel of Mercy' would visit me in my hospital room. How old are you, Julie?"
"Twelve — and so are you, correct?" she said.
"How did you know that?" I asked.
"I asked some skaters. If you were over 15, I figured I was too young for you ... to skate with, I mean."
"Julie. I get out in a week. Another week later my cast comes off, and I start to rehab my ankle. Anytime during all of that you are welcome to come over, and we can start to pair skate together. There is an Olympics in 2006, in Italy. If we work hard enough, who knows how good we can be. How tall are you?"
"Five foot two. My step-mom doesn't think I will grow much taller. How tall are you?" she asked.
"Five feet exactly, but I'm likely to be at least five foot eight, according to my Mom. She said that all the men on my dad's side are five eight or taller," I said.
I motioned for her to come closer - she did. I took her hand and asked, "Do you only want to skate together, or do you want to fall in love?"
She leaned over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "I'll see you again before you leave the hospital. I wouldn't mind falling in love with you?"
"Oh, hi Mom, this is Julie — after I get out, we're going to become a pairs skating couple," I said.
"You mean this stint in the hospital hasn't brought you to your senses? Of course, I'll support you in anything you do. You're my baby boy," she said.
"With Julie, I can become an Olympic Gold Medalist. Just like I've always promised you. In 2006, it's in Italy, in 2010, its back in North America, in Vancouver Canada. They haven't given out yet, but right now I have Julie to motivate me, when you can't."
"You kids and your goals. I hope you get everything you want in life Ken - you've worked hard enough," she said.
Julie came around to the other side of the bed and said, "I'll see you again before you go home. Nice to have met you, Mrs. Richards, good-bye Kenny!" and she left.
"Ken, have you been picking up young ladies while I've been gone?" she said with a smile and a chuckle.
"Only her Mom, she's cute, isn't she? She reminds me of the pictures of you, I've seen when you were 12 years old."
"That was too long ago, Ken. You're right — she is cute, but if you skate together, you need to be focused on skating ... not anything else."
A week later, Julie was there, helping alongside Mom as I got out and tried walking for the first time that day. I had been walk-approved two days prior, and a nurse helped me restart my leg muscles. I actually fell the first time I tried to walk, but there were people there who got me up and motivated me to keep going.
They made me sit in a wheelchair to leave the hospital. Some sort of hospital regulations, I suppose.
Julie helped me move from the chair to the car. Mom and her were getting along wonderfully. Julie gave me a kiss on the cheek and asked Mom for our address, which they exchanged, including phone numbers. She waved good-bye as we left the hospital.
I wondered when I would see her again!
There was a phone call about a week later. It was Julie's mother setting up when Julie could come over and we could talk more about becoming ice-skating partners. Our mothers worked out a schedule that suited everyone ... hopefully.
The next day a pink Cadillac dropped her off. Mom was very nice to her and brought her to where I was.
"Hi Julie," I said getting up to give her a hug.
"Hello Ken, I see you're walking better. How soon before we can skate?"
"That would be another week," my mom said. "Is your mother with Mary Kay?"
"Yeah, she's really good at it, got a Pink Cadillac because she was in the top ten of the country in sales," Julie proudly said.
"Mom, we're going in my room to discuss skating ... is that all right with you?" I asked.
"Go ahead, but keep the door ... open please?" she replied.
Julie and I walked back to my room together. I sat down in my chair in front of my desk, where my computer was.
Julie gave me a website to look at. It showed a three-turn diagram, which is one of the basic elements in pairs. She also showed me how most pair's hold each other when they skate. That was fun.
We found some videos of pair skaters, including some of Tai and Randy's routines. They were paired when she was eight, and he was ten. They had a great coach.
"Don't we need a coach?" I asked Julie.
"Eventually, but first we need to make sure you can skate without pain or discomfort. As much as I want to skate with you, you need to be healthy, Kenny."
"I never liked being called Kenny, but the way you say it — it sounds just fine to me," I said pulling her down to sit on my lap. Before she was settled, I leaned in and gave her a kiss. She slapped me and immediately said, "I'm sorry ... you surprised me - that's all. Do it again, please?"
This time, the kiss was mutual as she sat on my lap holding me as I held her. We looked at some more videos, including Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. She started skating at four years old, getting paired when she was 10 and Sergei was 14. Maybe we aren't too old after all!
A week later, she was there when my walking cast was removed. She came home with Mom and me and helped me get my skates on. There was a shallow frozen pond that was OK'd to ice skate on nearby. We had gotten there before anyone else had. She quickly put on her skates, and we did some warm up stuff ... first separately, then together.
Mom had come with us and sat on a bench nearby. Julie skated to me, and we started to move together. She was so graceful and pretty. We did some very simple things together at first. My ankle felt great, which I told her. She suggested we try a pair's spin. She showed me proper hand position first, then we took off and skated into it, and it worked — we spun as one. Mom got up and applauded us.
We skated over to her, and she gave us each a great big hug.
"I wasn't sure at first," she said. "But you two really look good together. Like you were destined to skate with one another.
We went back to skating, trying some other simple moves ... like a paired camel spin, which could be dangerous, but we pulled it off. I got tired, so I grabbed her, and we skated back over to Mom.
Out of breath, I sat for a moment. Julie got on my lap, giving me a kiss in front of my mother. Mom smiled and said, "He is almost irresistible, isn't he Julie?"
"Almost," she agreed.
We took off our skates and walked back inside, where Mom fixed us some lunch.
"When is your mother coming to get you?" she asked Julie.
"She said when you were sick of me, or four pm, whichever came first," Julie answered with her dimple's showing.
"That might never happen, as far as I'm concerned," I said. That made Julie giggle and my mom smile.
She fried some fish and some homemade hash browns for lunch. When we were done, we just sat for a while. I showed her some pictures that Mom had taken of me growing up as a skater. She kept pointing and giggling at my outfits.
We went back out and put our skates on. We warmed up a little, when we heard the theme from Schindler's List. Mom brought out a boom box and played it while we practiced.
Suddenly, our arms improved ... our edges were totally in sync, as we traveled around this frozen pond the best we could.
The other skaters moved to the edge as we tried some footwork, first experimentally, then we were unison again. Wow ... we're not ready for lifts or jumps yet, but we certainly are in tune, both lyrically and physically. Knowing this music, I said 'camel', and we ended together doing a pretty good pair's camel spin for our first time.
The other adults and kids on the ice applauded, despite our newness. We skated over to Mom, and we each gave her a hug.
"You two became a couple on the ice today. You could be ready for the 2006 Olympics!" she said to us.
We went back out, and worked some specific moves together. Julie had a lot of information about what we could and couldn't do as pair skaters. I knew a lot about edges, coverage and such, as she explained about spirals, Ina Bauer's, cantilevers, dance lifts and other assorted minutiae. We talked and practiced until it was too dark to continue. Julie looked at her watch and saw it was 4:30 — we got inside as quickly as possible, and she called her mom to come get her.
Mom followed us in at a slower gait, saying, "I can take you home if need be, Julie?"
"Thank you Mrs. Richards, but my mom is on her way. I know we aren't scheduled to practice again for three days, but could I come back tomorrow?"
I nodded OK, and we both turned to look at Mom.
"I don't see why not? I could always come get you if your mother's busy," she remarked.