Guo: The first goodbye

by Clara Guo | 4/5/17 1:45am

Retire (verb): to withdraw from one’s position or occupation; conclude one’s working or professional career.

According to Merriam-Webster, I haven’t technically “retired” from figure skating. Skating was never my “occupation” or my “position” or my “career.” It was, conversely, the bane of my existence for quite a number of years.

I dislocated my sacroiliac joint in sixth grade on an axel — a jump I had been consistently landing for years. I fractured my ankle on a double loop the year after and spent the next three months recovering off the ice, hobbling around on crutches. I spent the next five years in physical therapy for repeated sprains, tendinosis and nerve impingement. The day after my first (mild) concussion in freshman year of high school, I competed a junior long program. The hour after my second concussion in senior year, I drove 45 minutes to school, only to return home two hours later for the next week. But that was what I had signed up for; injuries are inherent in every sport.

When I joined Dartmouth Figure Skating Club freshman fall, I wasn’t sure if my ankles could support four more years of jumping.

They have — kind of.

“Why didn’t you stop skating sooner if your ankles hurt so much?” I’ve been repeatedly asked.

The answer was simple — because of my teammates.

Last year was my first time traveling to Nationals. This year was my last.

It’s been less than 24 hours since we’ve been back on campus, and I haven’t had enough time to fully process what the past four years of DFSC have meant to me. Skaters have seen my tears, fed my delirium and spurred my laughter.

“How do you feel now that you’re done?”

Relieved, I suppose. Relieved to move past a sport that does not allow me to physically heal.

But, mostly, I feel a quiet sadness mixed with pride, as if I have retired a part of my identity and handed it off to the next generation.

So here’s to the ’17s — a thank you:

Last (transitive verb): to continue in existence or action as long as or longer than.

I met Torri during organic chemistry at Harvard University the summer after freshman year. I convinced her to join the team sophomore year, and she’s been with us ever since.

She was one of the first events of the competition early Saturday morning. She had been up since 5 a.m., trying to trick her body into believing that 9:30 a.m. was actually noon.

“I compete better when it’s not super early,” she explained. “And I’m done right after!”

Torri’s movements were long, arms extending from her body after her first lutz in time with Etta James’ voice bellowing “At Last.”

This year, Torri is one of our programming chairs. Without her, our team could not have bonded as quickly as it did.

Grace (noun): a pleasing appearance or effect; ease and suppleness of movement or bearing.

Before college, Christiana skated with Disney on Ice, performing, literally, all over the world. She had never missed a jump in her show programs during her gap year, landing doubles in wigs and long gowns.

For Dartmouth, she competes in ice dance.

It’s often noticeable when a freestyle skater who jumps and spins competes in ice dance. The extension is slightly bent, the upper body tips forward and backward, the foot that is brought into the other stretches too far and the back isn’t perfectly straight. But that isn’t the case with Christiana. She makes dancing look easy; her outside Mohawk on the Foxtrot was effortless, smoothly transitioning into the slow kick upward before the inside step forward.

Christiana and I are going to be coworkers next year, working alongside a DFSC alumna, Esther. I’m hoping we’ll all skate together sometime in the winter, perhaps in Boston Common.

Rise (intransitive verb): to become heartened or elated; to increase in fervor or intensity; to come into being.

When Justine first choreographed her program to “Rise Up,” she sought to embody Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

“But I look nothing like her,” she said early winter term.

She was right. She looked better. Years of synchronized skating before college and years of dancing with Sheba at Dartmouth had prepared her for the intensity of Andra Day.

In less than a week, she had seamlessly increased the difficulty of her footwork leading into her back camel combination spin. Within a minute, she had mastered the A frame.

How? We’re still not sure.

Entertainer (noun): one who provides entertainment | entertainment (noun): something diverting or engaging, such as a public performance.

When I hear, “NSYNC,” I think, “Justin Timberlake,” and not “figure skating program.” But John noticed the dearth of boy-band music in intercollegiate figure skating and took advantage of our love for (1) 90’s music and (2) boy bands.

At one point last year, we wanted John to rock frosted tips.

Instead, John wore a satin-like white shirt with bedazzling around a medium-sized V (a relatively conservative costume for men’s figure skating).

The East Coast had anticipated his program all weekend. The other six schools had no idea what was coming when John took his starting position in the middle of the ice.

The first chords of “Bye Bye Bye” resonated through the speakers, and the crowd erupted. John hit music cues he had never hit before, including a spread eagle that featured both hands adventurously roaming along his body.

He embodied “passion face.”

Skaters from Boston University and Dartmouth stood when he finished. His program will be sorely missed.

Sassy (adjective): vigorous, lively; distinctively smart and stylish.

Maddy was our only skater who competed in five distinct events — the maximum number any competitor could enroll in. On Saturday, she was at the rink from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. competing her two dances, one short program and one team maneuver.

On Sunday, she stepped on ice at 11:30 a.m. for her Novice long program, wearing a sparkly red, purple, yellow and orange dress with a sheer back. Her hair was styled in her signature low side ponytail.

“Our next skater represents Dartmouth College. Please welcome Madellena Thornton!”

The entirety of DFSC yelled “Lone Pine” as we brought our hands up above our head.

Maddy did the same — minus the yelling.

Her Santana medley began, and her sass shined bright. She smiled throughout the whole three minutes, landing double after double jump, whipping her ponytail on Ina Bauers and moving her hips to crescendos.

Standing ovation.

Afterward, Maddy and I cried together in the locker room. Happy, emotional, cathartic, contagious crying punctuated with laughter and congratulations.

It’s much too soon for goodbyes.