January 20, 2021

I love traveling. I love exploring new places and finding the best hidden-gem-type places to eat and getting lost in different cities. I rarely want to come home. But on Day 11 in the Las Vegas Nationals Bubble, I really wanted to go home!

I had been away from my daughter only once before, for about four days during 2019 Skate America, also in Las Vegas. But this was a much longer event and a very different experience. I missed my baby girl and my husband, I missed my comfortable bed and the perfect pillow which took me years to find, and I missed human contact and affection. I am very big on hugging, so greeting old friends with just a wave had been a bit awkward at the beginning of the event, but by the end, I was really craving a hug.

More than anything, I missed cooking (and eating!) my own food, which is something that I had never thought before in my life. One of the biggest changes that occurred in my life during 2020 was conquering the task of daily meal planning and cooking. I’d slowly been coming around to enjoying cooking over the past few years, but it wasn’t until 2020 and mastering some recipes that I would have previously overpaid for in a nice restaurant that I truly started to enjoy cooking. The food in the Nationals bubble wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t good either, and it was repetitive. There were always a lot of choices, but they were variations on a theme, and everything was always overcooked, which, I suppose, is better than undercooked. It was like being trapped at a high school sports banquet. The staff members serving the food, though, were very friendly and thoughtful. They always offered an extra takeout box for salads, and were happy to accommodate any requests that they could. I had a hard time with the waste—so many single-use containers and plastics—but I suppose this was all done in the interest of public health. I had the hardest time with the tiny water bottles and admit that I turned into a full-on hoarder after running out of bottle water on my first night in quarantine and discovering that the tap water tasted awful. So I’m very happy to be back home now, where the filtered water is nearly limitless and where I can cook any flavor that I want.

While my thoughts definitely turned homeward between events on the final day of junior competition, and I might have been a little more irritable than usual, everything felt great while the competition was actually happening. I thought the junior events would have more energy, since many of the skaters were younger and had a chaperone, but I’d say that the “crowd” level was about the same as for the seniors. During the senior events, which were more spread out, it felt like more of the skaters stayed at the rink to watch the competition from the club level. Since the junior events were crammed into two days instead of four, the athletes were busier, and fewer of the skaters were available to cheer from the upper level.

The junior skaters all did a great job, though, especially considering that they all faced limited opportunities to compete this year and some even had to navigate rink shutdowns and reduced training in the weeks leading up to Nationals. Some traveled alone to a competition for the first time at this event. I don’t think the challenges of the past year can be overstated, and I’m grateful to everyone for bringing their best.

My family and I agonized over my decision to attend this event. It has been a difficult year for people whose livelihoods are “non-essential.” Was my attendance at the event essential? In most ways, probably not. But after a year of being unable to work, it felt essential in some ways to me and to my family. We decided together that I should go and that we would do our absolute best to minimize any risk. For the athletes who have been training outside of their homes and in groups for months now, I don’t believe attending the event greatly increased their risks of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, as long as they took strict precautions while traveling. But for someone who has mainly stayed home and cut off almost all contact from friends and family, our risks certainly increased, and I have spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not I did the right thing. My husband and I are wearing masks when we are in the same room, and I’m wearing a mask when I’m with our daughter, which is most of the day. I’m eating about 8 feet away from them, and I’m sleeping in the spare bedroom. We are still getting groceries delivered and doing curbside pickups only, as we have been doing since the beginning of January when we began self-isolation in advance of my trip. I’m doing the best that I can. Honestly, it’s been a lot for our family (two-year-olds don’t social distance too well), and I’m very grateful for my husband’s support, but I hope that vaccinations can change our world this year, and that we won’t have to do this too many more times.

Even though this has been a strange and stressful January, I came home from the event feeling exhausted but energized, physically sore but mentally and emotionally refreshed. I was worried about being rusty in my photography skills, but I shook the rust off quickly and am really proud of the images that I produced. I have most of the dance photos published, with a couple of senior practice galleries still to come over the next few days.

I can honestly say that despite feeling quite tired of the bubble experience by the end of 12 days, I felt very safe in the environment that U.S. Figure Skating and the Orleans venue created. Most of my worry comes from being in contact with the general public at airports and on flights. I wore two masks at once and avoided eating or drinking near other people, but in general, I just wish that my fellow Americans would consider what we owe to each other. (Yes, I’ve been rewatching The Good Place when I can’t sleep.)

I’ve read a lot of Internet bickering about whether the World Championships should happen in March (Internet bickering most certainly is an essential sport). I see several different perspectives for that issue, as I did for the U.S. Championships. Whether or not they happen though, I know I will not attempt to be a part of it. Attending a major event is always an investment for any of us associated with Ice-Dance.com, as we are all volunteers, and it will take some time for my finances to recover. So with that, the 2020-21 season ends for me, and I look forward to busier and happier days in the next one, I hope! Thanks to everyone who followed along and looked at my photos.

– Melanie