In Her Own Words

wester-barantsev08The 2007-2008 skating season was a roller coaster ride for on- and off-ice partners Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev. The duo, who will celebrate their second wedding anniversary next month, open up to ice-dance.com in a very candid, personal way.

 

On this past skating season:

We are at the end of a season where we have seen very exciting results in our first experiences as a couple [competing] internationally for the U.S. At the same time, however, in this past season we have experienced some of our lowest lows.

At the end of last season (2006-2007), I was faced with a knee injury that was initially misdiagnosed and mistreated. As a result of the misdiagnosis, I continued to attempt to skate and do shows on my injured leg, even while it caused me extreme pain. By the time the correct diagnosis was made, I discovered that the “severe bone bruise” was actually a fractured patella. My only remaining option for treatment at that point: undergo surgery to repair the broken patella that was straining my quad tendon and causing the atrophy of my VMO (inner thigh).

Actually, the doctor said I did have a secondary option: cast my entire leg and wait to see IF it would heal on its own if not moved for six weeks or more. But in fact it was likely NOT to heal on its own, so [most likely] I would need surgery anyway. With a goal for entering the 2007-2008 season in August of 2007–and my corrected diagnosis only being [learned] in April 2007–letting my leg atrophy any longer (trying the cast solution) and then needing surgery anyway didn’t seam like a smart plan. So [immediate] surgery it was.

Most people who have fractured a kneecap have had their kneecap either wired or screwed back together. In my case, my doctor did not want to face taking me through two surgeries (one to screw the kneecap together and another to remove the sizable screw that would be needed for the task) and taking me off the ice for any longer than absolutely necessary. After analyzing the injury, he decided my best avenue was to fully remove the portion of my kneecap that had already separated from the main bone and carefully recover my quad tendon to insure I didn’t snap it during rehab. It was a risky enough decision that we actually had to postpone the surgery for a week while second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth opinions came in from top surgeons in the US with whom he had consulted.

The day we were supposed to have started training together in Michigan turned out to be the day I went into surgery.

Having undergone surgeries in the past to repair shoulder injuries, Daniil and I expected this repair to be difficult, but there was no way of knowing just how difficult and stressful the recovery really was. The toll that dealing with a knee injury would take on our personal and training lives as we changed the entire world around us was much bigger than we ever expected. It really brought us to the point of breaking. Coming out of it, I hold even closer the statement “What ever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

Although, Daniil and I remained optimistic during the first few weeks of recovery while my left leg was immobilized, he was distracted packing up boxes from our Connecticut residence to drive out to Michigan. The tone soon turned much more severe.

When I was able to start mobilization of my knee, my inner thigh had completely disappeared–along with the rest of the muscles in my left leg. I could literally feel my femur when I pressed on my thigh. My doctor and physical therapists had to strictly supervise my initial recovery and slow initial rehab, so Daniil and I had decided on a plan where he could start “our” new life in Michigan while I stayed at home in Texas with my parents to rehabilitate until the point I could get back on the ice.

That frustrating separation lasted almost a month and was in itself difficult, as Daniil and I had spent only about four weeks in total away from each other since our relationship began. When the doctors finally told me I could get back on the ice — even though the restrictions were tight on what I could practice — I literally broke into tears of happiness to return to Daniil and to skating.

Those tears, however, soon turned from happy tears to distressed tears as getting back on the ice proved incredibly hard. I started back on the ice in mid/late June but quickly found that I could barely even stroke around the ice. Just balancing on my left leg over a blade was a challenge. The amount of compensation I had learned on my right side was also causing problems as I tried to “re-learn” how to skate. The daily routine was excruciating. I would literally be in tears everyday. I couldn’t even push myself backward while sitting on a rolling chair much less skate backward on the ice. Daniil, Angelika and Pasquale were very careful to stay positive with me, but as we started to prepare for the Lake Placid competition in August, I could tell that my restrictions were frustrating for all.

I will never forget the embarrassment I felt when a little girl asked me one day if Daniil and I were “trying out” together. All that I could focus on was how ridiculous I must have looked out on the ice trying to skate with this champion skater–while I completely relearn how to even balance on my leg! Predictably, that overwhelming sense of inadequacy soon turned into a depression that kept me completely introverted for well over two months. Eventually, I began both acupuncture and communications with a sports psychologist–on top of my physical therapy–to control the depression and pain.

Honestly, by the time Daniil and I left for Obertsdorf (Nebelhorn Trophy) in late September, I was terrified that I wasn’t even going to be able to get through my programs. I was completely thrilled when we won the competition, even though I have to admit the entire week was spent focusing on just getting through each practice, each warm-up, and each performance. My knee was realistically at about 65% during that competition.

Once we returned from Germany, my knee slowly continued to improve, and two months later at Midwestern [Sectionals] Daniil and I both expected to show the judges much-improved programs. Unfortunately, Daniil and I surprisingly received our lowest scores ever as a team.

This was about the same time that we were also starting to fully feel the effects on our bank account of having abandoned our coaching businesses in Connecticut and spending our entire savings on surviving in Michigan. The holidays were next and, as I’m sure many in this receding economy can relate to, were very tight for us. By the beginning of the New Year, Daniil and I were forced to revert back from being an independent, self-sufficient couple to asking our parents for financial support to keep us out of trouble. Without a doubt, that added a lot of personal pressure to produce a real result at Nationals in late January and show that we could fight for a top spot and bounce back from our Mids scores.

Luckily my knee felt surprisingly good during National’s week. Not so lucky: we were unable to show our cleanest performance in the compulsory dance. Although we turned in strong performances in the other portions of the competition, we were left down fighting for fifth position by the end of the week, and we were seriously doubting the possibility of being assigned to any further competitions this season.

Daniil and I just completely broke down after Nationals at the disappointment in our ability to really progress this season. We sat in a restaurant for hours and just reviewed all that we have been through and all that we still want to do together and the reality of it all.

The next morning we were announced as the third couple to represent the U.S. at Four Continents, and the joy returned. This could now be labeled as the second season “high” for us in this season of highs and lows.

Finally, following some of our most exciting initial season results and our most dismal midseason results, the Four Continents Championships completed our season on a very positive note that we desperately needed. We skated well, we felt good, we had fun, and we have terrific memories to take into next season. There were plenty of things that we could pick apart in our performances, but all in all, just getting through this season–and getting through it still together and healthy–was a huge step for us.

On the move to Detroit:

I’m pretty sure that [what I wrote above] says all we need to about how very difficult the move has been. However, we definitely want to impress upon everyone how very happy we are that we chose Angelika and Pasquale. They are possibly the most caring and strong coaching pair I’ve ever seen. They combine logic and strength of personalities to achieve an excellent working environment. The confidence, experience, and commitment of the Russian-born Angelika Krylova and the Italian-born Pasquale Camerlengo are absolutely great. They both bring a unique passion to their work. Hopefully we will be able to do their work more justice in the upcoming season where I will be healthy and completely able to experience the important pre-season training time we missed last season.

Training with Massimo Scali and Federica Faiella is terrific. We have all known each other for a very long time. Daniil competed against both Massimo and Federica with previous partners back in juniors, and I lived with Fede and skated with Massimo back in 2000. They are very hard workers and having another team on the ice at this level is great when you can cheer and challenge each other. It’s also nice to be able to support each other through the daily grid. Possibly most important, actually.

On earning money:

I’ve started doing quite a bit of costume design and construction lately. I keep telling people that it just shows how old skills can come back to you when you’re really pressed to get on your feet again.

When I was just starting to skate, I actually had a huge interest in pursuing an education and career in theatrical costume design. That interest just slowly got put on the back burner as I moved around and trained in different countries and started exploring other avenues of my life and interests. This year, when I was not able to coach on the ice much, I started thinking of what I could do while I was sitting at home. That’s really how I started sewing again. After a girl here asked if I had any consignment dresses she might be able to purchase, I just turned and said, “No, I don’t have any old dresses, but I can make you a new one if you’ll give me the chance.”

That was that. The dress took me about a week and a half to finish. She looked absolutely beautiful in it, and from there I started making more and more costumes. The quickest costume I made was that for Federica’s exhibition number that she wore at many competition galas this season. It took me six days to complete, even though many of those nights stretched into early morning. That was to complete the first version. The time crunch was so that she could use it at the Italian national championships. When she returned, we re-styled the skirt to make it more appropriate for using on compulsory practices as well as gala performances.

Currently I’m working on about seven costumes. It’s busy, but I’m having a lot of fun. I have an exotic Latin ballroom dress soon to be completed that I’ve really enjoyed working on. One day I hope to expand the business with a possible venture into costume rentals as well as consignment.

[Editor’s note: Jenn also designed and created her and Daniil’s costumes this season, including the intricate cowboy boots for their country & western original dance.]

We really appreciate any support we are lucky enough to receive, because every dollar really does count. We’ve opened many options for people to help us without necessarily affecting their own bank account.

For instance, we have a Link Share index on our website that lets visitors browse an alphabetical list of shops which (when accessed from our site) will donate a portion of the sale to our training fund. There are a lot of really useful and common stores up there.

Additionally, we’ve worked out a deal with the Cherrypharm juice company that lets their customers (new or on subscription) utilize the code “SKATES” not only to provide themselves with a 5% discount on their purchase but also to provide us with a percentage of the sale.

Cherrypharm is an all-natural tart cherry juice that has been scientifically proven to aid bodies in the ability to recover from muscle fatigue plus many other health benefits.

I came in contact with Cherrypharm through a student in Connecticut, and although I was extremely skeptical at first, the truth is IT WORKS! After a few personal tests, the sealer for me was really when I was post-op from the knee surgery and was able to do without aspirin/Advil medications and still reduce my swelling significantly. In fact, the doctor didn’t know I wasn’t taking anti-inflammatory medications until after his evaluations! After suggesting this product to many people, a few of whom are doctors themselves, everyone has called me, happy with their similarly amazing results.

Daniil was not surprised with my results, however. Apparently, it’s very common in Russia to give athletes liters of natural tart cherry juice after hard workouts. When I returned to the company with this information, they replied to me that Bulgaria and Russia are actually some of the world’s biggest producers of cherries, and it would only make sense that they would know the power the fruit has to aid in health.

More information can be found at Cherrypharm.com. There are loads of facts including a new study that is showing this product helps with sleeping disorders as well as inflammatory diseases.

[Regarding other fundraising,] the Dallas Figure Skating Club is a non-profit organization and donations can be made to the skaters in the club, which then provides the donor with a tax-deduction for the donated amount. Similarly, donations directed toward us can be made through U.S. Figure Skating, and 10% of those donations automatically go to the USFS Memorial Fund while still providing the donor with a tax deduction for the donated amount. Finally, and most directly, contributions can be sent through Paypal. For anyone who wants that information, emails can be made to us through our website at [email protected]

On the future:

We are reinventing ourselves right now. We’re trying out new lifts, new spins, new music, and new looks. Everything is in experiment zone for us right now. We will be performing in the Ice Theatre of New York’s mini-tour in France at the beginning of June, and other than that, our schedule is open for training purposes.

The [international competition] assignments come out at the beginning of the summer as do the new rules for setting next season’s programs, so we’re planning on just being very creative for now. We definitely will be staying in the Angelika Krylova/ Pasquale Camerlengo camp. We love them.

And one very important thing is for sure: our relationship. It has just strengthened in so many ways over the past season after coming through so much, and we are more prepared than ever to face the future together.

That’s all we can ask for, really! 🙂