EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – TRAVEL DAY
by Michelle Wojdyla
In all my years covering figure skating, I have never attended a Regional or Sectional Championship. This week marks my first, as I am in Raleigh for the Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships, a.k.a. “Easterns.”
With no fall invitational event (Campbell’s) and my Skate America plans shot, I was antsy for a cold rink and the smell of Zamboni fumes. OK, not the fumes, exactly. That doesn’t sound right. More like the smell that floats around after the ice is freshly flooded. I love that smell. I looked to see where Easterns was being held, and was pleasantly surprised to read it was in Wake Forest. My sister, Monica, lives in Raleigh, so I had a place to stay. It works out very well for her, too, because she needed a cat sitter for Sunday and Monday while she goes to The Police concert in Atlanta. Perfect!
Through e-mail conversations, it became clear that four of us who photographed the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships would be at the three Sectionals. Howard Mager is out at Pacific Coasts, and his son Travis volunteered to be an athlete blogger. Katie Weigel and Melanie Hoyt were tag-teaming Mids in Michigan. Daphne is home, coordinating everything. Of course she’s already sent multiple spreadsheets with scheduling information and work flow matrices. In my next life, I want to come back with Daphne’s organizational skills (and Julianne Hough’s body, but that’s another story).
Since my accident, I have become extremely night blind. This poses a huge challenge, especially now that we are off Daylight Saving Time. It’s a 500-mile door-to-door trip from New Jersey to my sister’s, so I’m racing the clock to make it before sundown. The route is pretty easy: straight down I-95 into I-85 then a couple of smaller roads to get to her apartment.
Rain was on and off through New Jersey and into Maryland, but nothing too bad. I never needed my windshield wipers on the fastest speed. The short stretch of Delaware is one of my least favorite highways. After the toll booth, it feels like 8 lanes—8 narrow lanes—of non-stop speeding and weaving traffic all trying to get to one of the million exits both left and right. I guess people who drive it all the time aren’t that flustered by it. I can’t say the same for myself.
Probably my absolutely least favorite place to drive in the U.S. is the I-495 beltway around Washington, D.C. Again, I’m sure it doesn’t faze those who drive it regularly, but I have some serious hate on for that circle of doom. I know a lot of people think New Jersey drivers are insane, but that’s second nature to me. Go figure. I tried to distract myself from the fear of Death By Diplomat SUV by playing Vietnam-era protest songs, because, yeah, my music selections will subliminally impact those I am driving past.
As I pass signs for Greenbelt, I take a moment of silence in memory of the glory days of “Landover.” <sniff>
Virginia is much bigger than it looks on the map. My mom refers to this section of the trip as “and then you drive for 10 hours through Virginia.” It didn’t seem so bad this time, though. Traffic significantly died down soon after leaving the D.C. area. I entertained myself by checking out vanity license plates. A couple days ago I read that Virginia has the highest percentage of vanity plates in the country, over 16%. It seemed a little higher than that, but I wasn’t keeping track. Can’t really play License Plate Bingo when you are driving alone.
Part of my plan to make it before dark is to avoid stops, aside from the one to refuel. I made it pretty far south before I needed to find a gas station. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere Virginia, I took an exit because I could see the station was right at the top of the exit ramp. When I pulled up to the pump, everything looked deserted. Not a human in sight. The pump worked, though, so I was able to fill up, but the complete lack of other cars or people was really creepy. I felt like a Lifetime movie waiting to happen. I could not get out of there fast enough.
Most of Virginia was in perfect fall foliage glow. The temperature was perfect to roll down the windows and just drink in this gorgeous time of year.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the drive was the change in route 85 in southern Virginia. The speed limit is now 70. I’ve never even seen signs for a speed limit over 65! (I didn’t do much driving when the nationwide 55 mph max went into effect in the early 70s.) Last time I drove to my sister’s, it was still 65. Thanks to my friend Google, I learned that the new speed went into effect July 1. And then I wound up spending too much time reading the Wikipedia entry on speed limits throughout the U.S. and boring my sister with trivia regarding my new knowledge.
Although I heard of the drought in the Atlanta area, I wasn’t aware that the Triangle Region was also having problems. Once we got my luggage into Monica’s apartment, she hit me with this request: “they” prefer it if toilets are not flushed unless necessary. Oh.
One of my sister’s cats, Seamus, needs heart medicine twice a day. Fortunately for everyone, he is the best pill-taking cat ever! He’s pretty easy going in general and spends much of his time on neighborhood watch duty from his window. Her other cat, Ringo, however, is not quite so easy to get along with. I’m his personal favorite (NOT!) just ahead of the vets who have labeled his medical file with warning labels about his biting issues. Last time I catsat, I took camera phone photos to send to my sister to let her know I was keeping them alive. Seamus was a natural in front of the camera. Ringo? Not so much. Note the warmth and affection in the photo I took of him. You’d think he was Oksana Domnina and I was a flower sweeper in the kiss and cry!
Well, that’s it for now. I will write more as I can throughout the week. My rink time will be limited because of the driving in the dark issues, so I’m at the mercy of my sister if I can stay past 4:30.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – DAY 2 – THE EVENT BEGINS
by Michelle Wojdyla
InIt’s nearly 2 a.m. and I’m ready to fall asleep, but want to get some things down in case I forget them.
Monica came with me tonight, since I only needed to shoot novice compulsories and it wouldn’t be too long. It felt weird being in long sleeve sweaters when it’s in the upper 70s, but it didn’t take long for Monica to add another layer of clothing. Spending some time in the rink can do that to a person.
My mom and I always were the skating fans in my house. My sister never got into it. Having her around for sectionals is very cool. She gets some insight into my work covering events, and I get to look at a competition through fresh eyes.
The complex the rinks are in is under major construction. Unfortunately, Monica’s GPS system did not know this. It took us a while to find out which door led to skating. Good thing we found it when we did, because we almost drove through a skateboard park in the complex. While driving around all the various buildings, I kept telling my sister to look for Zambonis and we’ll know we are close. Finally found one, so we knew we were getting warmer. Then I spot a girl with her hair in a perfect bun. She also had the bottom of some chiffon strips showing under her jacket. Finally we find a row in the parking lot that has license plates from all over the Eastern U.S. This has got to be it!
I asked a woman outside for a smoke, if this was the right place to confirm. Monica didn’t know why I thought this woman would know. Elementary, my dear sister. How many women with fur coats do you see outside in this weather?
We went over to registration to pick up our credentials. It went very smoothly. Almost immediately I spy familiar faces. It’s Pilar Bosley and her mom, Sherry. We then go on a quest to find Scott Cudmore, who is the go-to guy for critical things like photo positions. He offers me judges’ side, next to the trial judges. And they have high barstools on various raised boxes. Rink lighting is really decent for a non-televised event.
On our trek to the other side of the rink (which involves a variety of passages) it become a who’s who of skating. Chatted with Karl Kurtz for a little bit. Spotted Kristi Yamaguchi, a baby, and Mrs. Yamaguchi taking in the action. Right behind the judge’s stand is a banner honoring Brent Hedican, Other notables in and around were (in no particular order) Ron Luddington, Philip Dulebohn, Aren Nielsen Eve Chalom and Matthew Gates.
While novice men’s short program was ending, the divot patrol was slushing the ice. Monica pointed out that the girls have pink gloves and the guys green. However, both guys have an actual full pair while the girls are splitting a pair.
I keep falling asleep and I don’t know if this blog is coherent. I’ll wrap up for now with a few random thoughts:
Pilar ate my cookie. Well, the cookie that was for supposed to be for me. That’s just mean. (Just kidding, Pilar!)
I chatted with Ben Nykiel for a while. Ben designed and wrote the codes for ice-dance.com’s new partnersearch. I mistakenly called him a geek (in the affectionate tone of voice used by a person who graduated from Carnegie Mellon University). Ben would like to make it clear that he is not a geek. Prodigy, genius—those are acceptable terms.
Nap time for me and then a reread of this to see how poorly I butchered sentence structure before heading back to the rink. More later.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – DAY 2.25 – KITTEI & JACK HELP MAKE IT WORK
by Michelle Wojdyla
On Wednesday when I was photographing the novice compulsory dance, I was having a lot of trouble focusing properly. After remounting the lens, checking all my settings, and making sure the little switch was on autofocus, I still couldn’t get it working. The skaters were already on the ice, so I shot the first group on manual focus. I’m not denying that today’s photographers are spoiled by many of the advancements in technology. Doing skating photography with manual focus? That’s just mean.
Kittie Deemer (kdeemer.com), who was shooting the event for the official photographer who sells to the parents, also had a Canon camera. She tried my lens on her body and couldn’t get it to work either. Not good.
It was too late to call Canon and ask to borrow a lens. Kittie gave me the name of some photographers in Raleigh who might be able to loan me equipment. Big problem is that the hours of the competition don’t allow me to get away from the rink.
In the spirit of Ice-Dance.com’s unofficial motto, Tim Gunn’s “make it work!” I put on my 28-70/2.8 lens and hoped that I was able to get usable images. Fortunately, we weren’t running anything large on ice-dance.com, so I could crop to my heart’s content.
And then I met my hero, Jack Deere.
Jack runs Three Oaks Photography (threeoaksphotography.com), who was the event photographer Kittie was working with. Jack had finished his shooting for the day and hands me his 70-200/2.8 lens so I can finish the compulsory dance. During breaks in the action, he checks out my camera and lens, but doesn’t know what is wrong with it. Between his lens and mine, I know that my camera body is not the problem.
I was leaving right after the CD scores were posted and I was able to get my quotes. Jack asked if I would like to borrow his Tamron 18-200/3.5-6.3 lens. Of course I would rather use a 2.8 lens, but I heard Tim Gunn’s voice in my head and knew that a 200mm would be workable, especially since I wasn’t using any of the photos for print, only web. I was grateful for Jack’s offer and he really saved my butt.
Monica was pretty shocked that a man I just met gave me, a woman he just met, a lens worth hundreds of dollars. I told her it was just the wonderful karma/pay it forward attitude that so many photographers have. I’ve been the lender on occasion. Things happen, and it is wonderful when someone is willing to help.
So for the skaters and their families out there who didn’t have a chance to buy photos during the event, please check out the Three Oaks Photography website for photos from the event.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – DAY 2.5 MINI BLOG
by Michelle Wojdyla
Just finished transcribing quotes from junior dancers. Still have to do novice free dance. And then actually write the reports.
Daphne has all the competition photos from yesterday and today. I still have a bunch of random ones for some of the special galleries. Will have to look through all the files to find them.
Got an email from Mel, who’s doing Mids coverage. Fell asleep in the middle of my reply email. Not good.
Tomorrow is a frighteningly early day for me, and then I have a seven hour break. I am promising to do my best to get caught up. It’s really difficult to do all this alone. Monica’s been amazingly helpful at the arena, but she isn’t able to write up the reports and such.
I have a ton of mental and written notes for some bloggish-type stuff. I can’T wait to be able to put it all together.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – DAY 3 – SLEEP BLOGGING
by Michelle Wojdyla
Someone today told me they were amused by my mini blog from Thursday night when I said I fell asleep replying to email. Tiny problem with that.
I don’t remember writing a mini blog or sending it to Daphne to post for me.
Could I have been sleepblogging? When I was really young, I would occasionally sleepwalk. I’ve heard about people who’ve been taking sleeping aids binge eating in the middle of the night and not remembering it. But sleepblogging? Really?
I love that commercial for some new medication whose side effects can cause intense urges to gamble. Gotta say, that’s a new one to me.
It’s 2:04 a.m. and I am getting close to catching up. I have sent all my photos to Daphne, and I think she’s uploaded them all. I still need to do a few event reports (novice and intermediate free dance, junior OD) but I’d I may not be awake right now, so how can I trust myself to do the right thing? It also doesn’t help that the stack of papers I thought was the novice FD protocol is actually a judging guide to pre-prelim through senior pairs free skates. I have no idea why I have that. I’m guessing that someone who really wanted the breakdown of pairs elements and the required number of each at the various test levels may not be thrilled with the 11 pages of novice free dance GoEs now in their posession.
I still have my list of random things I wanted to write about, and my goal is to do that tomorrow and/or Sunday. Someone asked me when everything would be online. It’s not that I’m complaining, because I am truly enjoying myself at this event. It is just challenging time-wise because I am responsible for all the action, podium, and backstage photos—both taking them and editing them to ice-dance.com’s specs. I also have event reports on each of the individual dance events across five levels. And blogs. And occasionally proofreading writing coming in from the other sections. If I could clone myself, this would be so much easier! But, unless I’ve been sleepcloning, I don’t see that happening. I probably would have had to go to sleepuniversitying, too. Hmm. Well, actually, I do recall my 8:30 a.m. Music History class causing some serious head bobs. It’s not like Gregorian Chants before breakfast give the same peppy feeling as the Silver Samba.
It’s now 2:18 and I really need to sleep. Monica is heading to Atlanta in the morning for The Police concert. I swear if I asked her who were the three teams who competed juvenile dance, she would reply Sting, Andy and Stewart.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – DAY 4 – CLARE & CHASE
by Michelle Wojdyla
Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the senior events. I was able to catch up with Clare Farrell and Chase Fishpaw. Here’s the scoop from them:
Clare: Two weeks ago we were just practicing. Took a tumble, both of us. I broke my thumb. It’s an avulsion fracture on one of the thumb joints. I broke a piece of the bone off. They didn’t set it. I just have to make it as immobile as possible. I have a cast that I wear every day and then one for when I’m skating. Everybody at University of Delaware was really helpful and found a way I could still skate and wear a cast. Jeff Schneider was really helpful. We didn’t know if we’d be able to skate [at sectionals], but we knew if we just came and stood on the ice, that we would make it.
Chase: We trained last week and it was working all right. Not fully training, but doing what we could. It was feeling good on Monday.
Clare: It’s day-by-day whether we can skate or not. I’ll be healed by mid-December, so I’ll be fine for nationals.
Chase: I get hit with it occasionally. It’s really quite nice. I enjoy it a lot, especially right on my nose.
One other Farrell-Fishpaw tidbit.
Chase wears the hinge boot for his skates. Instead of lacing all the way up like regular boots, the top part uses a wire for the crisscrosses around the ankle. Chase’s wire snapped.
In the spirit of good sportsmanship, junior pairs champion Michael Chau took the wire out of his own skate and let Chase use it for competition.
EASTERNS EXPERIENCE – WRAP-UP
by Michelle Wojdyla
The fire I had going in my sister’s fireplace is on its last crackles of life. As of 11:40 p.m. Sunday night, Ringo has only drawn blood twice. I think that makes today a success. Before I call it a night and rest up before my drive home tomorrow, I wanted to write my wrap-up blog about this week.
After the heat and sunshine of Wednesday, Thursday was a shocking change. It was raining. Really, really raining. Monica and I pack on the layers and head for the rink. We opt to park in a different location because it’s closer to the door. Nevertheless, we are drenched. Monica is juggling an umbrella and a travel mug of tea. A gust of wind blows, and Monica is now wearing much of the tea all over her left…let’s just say she was wearing tea. I couldn’t help but laugh, though, when she bent over and squeezed to try to get some of it out of her sweater. It just looked so wrong.
My thin coat is water proof-ish, but not deluge-proof. When we got to our section in the rink next to the judges’ stand, I spread my coat out so that it could dry off. It never did. Definitely not the most comfortable we’ve ever been.
Since we are in serious drought mode, no one is allowed to complain about the rain. We embrace it. Everyone keeps reminding each other of this.
Although she’s not completely hooked, I can tell Monica is enjoying this skating thing. She got a decent digital camera (not an SLR, but otherwise a great point and shoot) and is trying to take action photos. I think she now has a new appreciation for what I do and how hard it can be. A few times she goes off in search of off-ice photos and various score sheets. She’s also taking notes for me so that I can write up my reviews. I get a kick out of her being able to pick out things I should write about. She’s intrigued by the costumes and declares Ilana Morse’s free dance dress her favorite.
At one point during a warm-up, we see a green crystal on the ice, and people skating too close. Worried that someone might hit it and fall, we are able to catch the attention of Ben Nykiel, who picks it up and puts it on the ledge in front of Monica. She gets a souvenir and saves someone from a potential accident. It’s win-win.
During a results run, Monica spots a credential awaiting pick up. It’s for Elaine Zayak. Monica has heard of Elaine Zayak, so she gets a kick out of that.
On our drive home, Monica mentions she needs to stop for glitter. It’s been a long day of ice dancing, so this kind of statement doesn’t faze me in the least. I asked her what color. Color? Oh. She said she needs to stop for litter. That makes more sense. The cats need to pee much more than they need bedazzling.
Because there were only two media people in attendance (Lynn Rutherford was writing for Ice Network) we didn’t have a mixed zone. It was all just casual. Most of the older ice dancers know me from years of covering them. It got to the point where instead of me tracking them down, they found me and asked if I needed quotes. Justin Morrow asked if he could say that he just wants to “have fun and skate his best” rather than the oh-so-trite “I just want to skate my best and have fun.” No, that’s not allowed, either.
Katie Wyble and I have a discussion about Pittsburgh (her home, my former home) that winds up with us chatting about hair color. My assignment now is to Photoshop a picture of her with red hair so she can see what it would look like. I also have the same assignment from Danielle Gamelin.
Speaking of Gamelins, one of my favorite parts of the week was getting to meet Donna (Danielle and Alex’s mother). We had a long conversation about brain injuries, and it was just amazing to talk to her.
The pacing of sectionals was very comfortable to me, mostly because I was just covering the ice dance events. It had many opportunities to sit down and just chat with skaters and their parents. In Lake Placid, I’m over in section 8 and am cut off from civilization. Easterns was different. Chase Fishpaw and I got into a linguistics conversation that was very cool. Chase has got to be one of the easiest people to talk to that I’ve ever met. Whatever path he takes in the medical field, I know he will be great at it.
During an interview with Una Donegan and Andrew Korda, Hilary Gibbons says her wedding to Justin is the week before St. Paul nationals. I can’t even imagine what January is going to be like for them.
Saturday afternoon while waiting for the junior free skate scores, Pilar and I try to pull Trophee Eric Bompard results via internet on my cell phone. We must find out how Meryl & Charlie did. Fortunately, Daphne calls with the news of their bronze, before I can figure out how to look the info up.
It’s almost 1 a.m. so I’m going to wrap this up even though I know I’ve forgotten a million things.
I want to thank Scott Cudmore and the amazing volunteers for making Easterns an incredible event. It was one of the smoothest I have ever been to. Southern hospitality made everyone feel welcome. I can’t think of a single complaint. The facilities were wonderful and being inside a mall-like setting with multiple food options was so convenient. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to cover this event. Even though I never set foot on the ice, I am leaving Raleigh feeling like I am the biggest winner of all.