Photo by David Carmichael
A month after Lake Placid, I was on my way to Croatia for my second Junior Grand Prix in Zagreb, where Alex and I roomed together again. This time Shibs did a video blog of the event – catch it on Ice Network, it's a riot! Stephen Evans (my teammate) and I really enjoyed the practice rink there, with all natural lighting and interesting architecture. Once again, we lucked out with superb weather. The country was very pretty and the Old Town was beautiful and charming. We saw the impressive cathedral (St. Marks?) with the red and white tiled roof and the cross – the national symbol for Croatia.
The Croatian fans were so nice – one of them even made a special Balkan salad my mother mentioned that she liked, and brought it to the rink for us, along with a box of chocolates. They also cheered for all the Americans, so it was great to feel welcome. We tried to be as accommodating as possible and signed a lot of skates, etc.
The competition went pretty well in Croatia, and I was a lot happier with both of my skates than in Lake Placid, even though I ended up in second. The biggest thrill of all was that it qualified me for the Junior Grand Prix final in Tokyo, the first week of December. And it also got me off the hook for both regionals and sectionals, so I was doubly grateful.
Since Croatia, I travelled to Vermont to watch New Englands to cheer on my skating mates from the Skating Club of Boston. It was fun to see everyone from Vermont, where I lived until 7th grade, before moving to Boston.
Photo by David Carmichael
On to my first experience on the Junior Grand Prix circuit at Lake Placid in September. Growing up in Vermont, I had trained across the lake (Champlain) at Lake Placid every summer, so I felt super-comfortable. From the welcoming rink manager to the zamboni drivers I still recognized, it was like coming home. I had two roommates from Team USA at the OTC (Alex Shibutani and Brett Dunie-Neustatt), which was a lot of fun. Between us, we had so many electrical appliances we had to buy a power strip!
Although I wasn’t thrilled with either one of my skates in Lake Placid, I did have good results, earning the gold medal. Everyone kidded me about my "Ross" move stepping on to the podium – my signature trip. Luckily, I avoided a face plant and made it to the top step. It was a thrill to hear our national anthem played. As the gold medalist, I had my first experience with drug testing (I didn't get what all the fuss was about! It only took me like fifteen minutes from start to finish.)
I also made new friends from the other countries – Kento Nakamura from Japan and Mark Shakmatov from Russia. Kento qualified for the final and I am looking forward to seeing him at the JGP Final in Tokyo next month. It has been one of the things I have enjoyed the most about the JGP series – the chance to get to know skaters from other countries as well as my own.
Another special part of this experience for me was to have a chance to interact with fans. One very special fan, Ronie Reiley from California, and her daughter found out I would be at this event and actually came just to cheer for me. “Aunt” Ronie has been a fan of mine since my early days at the Cranberry Open, and it meant a lot to me that she would come to watch me.