I’ve always been into Olympic Figure Skating. I know, it’s the stereotypical girly thing, and I’m supposed to prove something by being really into slalom instead. But fuck it, in many ways, I’m pretty stereotypically girly, and I claim that shit. Sure, I like ice-skating because it’s sparkly and pretty. But I also love it because it’s strong—it’s a stylistically super femme embrace of going fast and jumping high.
Watching the Olympics this year, I was reminded that there is something else that keeps me coming back to that ice. I don’t just love the jumps and the artistry, I love the pure fire and determination—the unabashed drive of those women to win. To be number one. To destroy everyone and everything standing in their way. For all that the New York Times (not inaccurately) commented that ice skating costumes look like “a streetwalker’s notion of a fairy princess,” the glitter and sequins don’t mask the ambition. It’s not exactly the most socially condoned trait for women in our culture, but once every four years we celebrate it, ruffles and all.
Pure drive has been one of my defining traits for as long as I can remember. (Maybe she’s born with it… maybe she’s born with it.) There is a family story of me learning to roller skate. I was an (medically) uncoordinated kid, and the basics of things like skating and riding a bike did not come easily to me. But around five, I decided that if the other kids could learn to skate, I could too. So I strapped on those plastic Fisher Price skates that go over your shoes, and started going back and forth on our patio, where I had a ledge to hold on to. My mom says she watched out the window while I went back and forth, back and forth. In the beginning I had to hold on to the ledge, and then I graduated to unassisted wobbly straight lines, and I kept going till it got easy. That all sounds normal enough, until you get to the part of the story where it took me three full days to master it. For three days, I’d wake up, strap on my skates, and go back and forth. My mom said she had no idea why I wanted to do it, since I never displayed a particular love of skating after the fact, but I can tell you why I did it: I just wanted to fucking skate. If the other kids could do it, I was going to do it, and I was not going to let it beat me, whatever it took. On the third day, when I got it, and put away the skates, my parents wondered what on earth this personality trait would mean as an adult.
It’s meant a lot of things. It’s meant a lot of heartache, a lot of failure, and an ocean of tears. Thankfully, it’s also meant the ability to pick myself up, dust off my skates, and keep going. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s meant my ability to harness my seething fury when people underestimated me to just keep going back and forth. I knew I had it, and if they couldn’t see it, they weren’t worth my time.
When those tiny Russian teenagers took the ice at the Olympics, like recognized like. Adelina Sotnikova was supposed to be the Russian ice skating star of the games, and the two-years-younger Yulia Lipnitskaya had eclipsed her by taking first in both of the team events. A commentator describing Sotnikova’s gold-medaling performance said, “When she took the ice, it was clear that Adelina Sotnikova just wasn’t having it.” And I could see that part of her performance came from a well of pure rage. It was a well I could identify, because it’s in me too. That rage and drive can be crushing; it can be heartbreaking. It can be hard to sleep because your mind can’t stop going back and forth, back and forth. But in the end, it’s your fuel.
You’re hungry for it. You need it. You may not get it, but you’re determined to keep trying. And all the sparkly dresses in the world aren’t going to mask it.
Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images