Jeremy Abbott has long been one of my favorite skaters. Jeremy is a four-time United States Champion, a Grand Prix Final Champion, and a two-time Olympian. His first visit to the Olympics, in 2010, was a great disappointment, as he went in a medal favorite but finished a disappointing ninth. In just a few days, Jeremy will skate in his second Olympics, and my entire family will gather round to cheer him on. Jeremy’s skating is one of the major reasons my husband, who knew next-to-nothing about skating before we married two years ago, has become an ardent skating fan. Jeremy’s short program at the recent US National Figure Skating Championships demonstrated staggering technical ability, maturity, subtlety, musicality, and Jeremy set a new US record for a short program. Jeremy’s long program, in my mind one of the most mesmerizing, intelligent, and transcendent skating programs ever, made my fourteen year old son, Benj, exclaim “That was so beautiful and spiritual!” through tears as it drew to a close.
Jeremy’s family is known to be especially supportive, generous, and devoted, a model skating family who inspires others. Allison Scott is Jeremy’s extraordinary mother. I became aware of Allison via her blog, which provides a fascinating window onto the world of figure skating and is also a fount of wisdom for skating parents and for all parents. Allison is witty, smart, candid, and gracious. She is a wonderful ambassador for the sport of figure skating, a mentor to other skating families, a great writer, and a Mom who inspires me.
A few months ago, I wrote to Allison on Facebook and sent her two copies of THE ANTI-ROMANTIC CHILD, one for her to auction off as a part of a charity event Jeremy was performing in and the other for herself, in solidarity, Mom to Mom. On the eve of Jeremy’s first appearance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, here is my interview with his amazing mother, Allison Scott.
1) Why figure skating? Why should we watch it, invest in it, root for it, and champion it?
If you talk about skating to people who are casual observers, many feel it is all about the sequins and the spandex. But skating is one of the most physically demanding and difficult sports because the athletes are trained to make it look easy. The realities: Eight times your body weight every time you land a jump. Three to four on ice sessions a day, six days a week with anywhere between 20-30 jumps per session. Top elite skaters are traveling 18 miles an hour going into a jump. They take off and land on 1/8″ of inch of steel, and as Michael Weiss pointed out, “AND you have to do it to the music!” Easy? No.
I’m not sure that proselytizing for skating in print would truly convert anyone. With our sport, as with most, seeing is believing. I have been witness to some pretty tough characters from a motorcycle group who came to watch a very early morning practice at a mall rink in Portland. Parents and coaches were concerned until we overheard them saying, “Man, that’s TOUGH!”
2) When did you know that Jeremy had a special gift and how did you support and encourage him in developing it?
Jeremy began skating at the age of two and competing in USFS Basic Skills competitions at age 4 1/2. At age 7, we made a coaching change to a woman who was new to the club. Peggy Behr had been a competitive skater who trained with iconic coach Lorraine Borman along side Rosalynn Sumners, her best friend. Peggy was the first to recognize Jeremy’s talent. She was the one in 1998 who suggested Jeremy relocate to a training center if he wanted to keep improving because Peggy felt she had taken him as far as she could. Jeremy did compete ice dance and pairs, but his heart was really with singles. When he finished middle school in Aspen, we relocated Jeremy to Colorado Springs where he lived a year with Andrew Speroff’s family. When a position opened up at The Broadmoor in public relations, we sold our house in the Roaring Fork Valley and moved. It has not been easy, but Jeremy never wavered in his love for skating; we never wavered in our support. When we had a parting of the ways with the coach in Colorado Springs and Jeremy decided to move to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan to train with Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, we were the first to applaud the change and assist in the move. For Jeremy, each move has been a move forward. He has never looked back; neither have we.
3) What were some of the hardest aspects of parenting a gifted child? What was your toughest moment as a skating parent? What were some of the positives and blessings of parenting a gifted child? What was your most joyful moment as a skating parent?
There were a number of watershed moments that might be categorized as “the hardest aspect.” Many turned around into true positives.
Jeremy was bullied unmercifully growing up as a figure skater in a ski and hockey town. While he never even considered quitting because of it, we had many tearful moments and a few conversations with schools, as well. We always told him that success would be his best revenge. This came full circle in December when he returned to Aspen to do a “Thank You” show a week before the US Nationals in Boston. The show was a sell-out. When Jeremy was sitting in the lobby tying his skates before a practice, two young hockey players – about the age of the ones who picked on him years ago – came into the area. “DUDE! That’s Jeremy Abbott!” I could see Jeremy, head down, just smile. Later, they were clamoring for photos with him on the ice after the show.
Easily, the most difficult moment for me is one I have not discussed. It was in Vancouver. We were seated with heads of our federation during the short program. Jeremy was extremely nervous going into Vancouver; his comments about the overall experience are well documented in interviews. When he popped his triple axel – something he hadn’t done in more than a year – and then doubled the combination, he was devastated. We were seated near the Kiss and Cry and as he skated over he caught my eye and mouthed, “I’m sorry..” That was far and away the single most difficult time in our years of skating. It broke my heart that he felt that way. He earned his spot. He was an Olympian. My feeling is that you should never be ashamed or feel sorry for reaching the height of your sport and making it to that coveted place. As it ended up, Jeremy resolved to keep going for another four years, and now we are headed to a second Olympics with a favorite program he choreographed himself by the British rock group Muse. It is the third part of their piece called “Exogenesis.” It is called, “Redemption.” Enough said.
4) Jeremy is known as an especially musical, lyrical skater. I also think he could have a stellar second career as a top choreographer. Can you tell us what role music and dance played in his growing up and in your family?
Jeremy comes from a family of performers. My father was a television pioneer and the producer of the Perry Como Show. My mother was on NBC. Her father was an internationally recognized theater actor. My husband (Jeremy’s step dad, aka Mr “Go Alexander!”) was the emcee of Jazz Aspen, had a jazz show on radio in the Roaring Fork Valley and continues to do a jazz show on public radio as a volunteer in Denver. The kids constantly had music in their lives. Jeremy used to watch Gene Kelly movies with me. Gene Kelly was my favorite dancer. I met him when I was about 11 and I had an autograph book with his signature. I lost it in a house fire when Jeremy was about 2. Of all the things I lost, which was pretty much everything, the two things that affected me the most were losing my stuffed tiger and my Gene Kelly’s autograph. I still have dreams about finding that book, and I have a framed postcard of Gene Kelly on the street lamp from “Singing in the Rain” hanging in my bathroom.
I taught Jeremy basic ballroom dancing in our kitchen in Basalt by having him stand on my feet, however I take no credit. Jeremy was always interested in music and dance. I don’t know where that comes from; it is nature more than nurture, I believe. While Jeremy doesn’t play a musical instrument, he has edited his own music, as well as music for other skaters. In high school, he earned pocket money by cutting music, something he was taught by my husband. Much to my husband’s dismay, Jeremy became way better at it to the point of taking over his small business.
5) What do you hope Jeremy is remembered for? What do you think his most important contributions to figure skating are?
First and foremost, I hope he is remembered as being a good, kind and caring person. I hope he is remembered for helping change men’s skating under the IJS system, bringing back to this morass of math an “Old School” style that blends the art and sport of skating. It would be tremendous if that is his lasting legacy as he transitions out of competitive skating and on to performing and creating – for himself and for many future generations of skaters.
6) What is the most important advice you’d give to the parents of an aspiring figure skater?
Finish what you start. Not every skater can achieve what our son has achieved, but achievement in this sport can come in many different forms that don’t necessarily lead you to Olympics. Listen to your skater. If they are wavering; if they are ready to be done, let them be done. But like school, finish what you start. Test out. There is great satisfaction in getting that USFS gold test medal. If you skater keeps in the competitive side of the sport and truly loves it but isn’t on the podium, that’s okay. There is something deep-rooted that is making them skate. Help them find the people who can guide them into coaching, performing, judging, creating and choreographing, if that is what they want to do. I can’t tell you how many of Jeremy’s friends – ones we have known since they were little – are still in the sport, still loving it and now making a living at it. What more could you ask than to have something you love and to figure out how to make a living at it. That’s a blessing.
7) Although figure skating is an individual sport, the success of a figure skater depends in large part on the strength and cohesiveness of that skater’s team. The team can include parents, coaches, choreographers, costume designers, trainers, siblings, and more. What advice would you give skaters, parents, and coaches about how best to work collaboratively? What qualities and attitudes are important in building a successful team?
This is a complicated question and one that truly depends on the age of the skater, the level, and the disposition of the skater. One size does not fit all in this category. Success is a moving target and you have to be ready, as you do in any business, to assess and make changes if something needs to be changed. Change for the sake of change is not always the answer. It is very personal. As a skater becomes an adult, they really need to take on the responsibility of those decisions. No one knows better than they do what they need. It is sometimes difficult to step aside, but it is necessary.
8) Tell us about your blog. Why did you start writing a blog and what has the reaction to it been like?
I began my blog “Life on the Edge of Skating” as a personal diary, of sorts. I started it in the late summer of 2009 not knowing what was going to come, but I felt I wanted to chronicle the “Olympic Experience,” whether we made it or not. At that point, we were nearly 20 years into the sport, and I also wanted to record my personal thoughts, observations about skating parents, coaches, experiences and lots of other things. I don’t monetize my blog; I had no idea where it would lead me – or how many people would catch on and drag themselves along on my journey, which I thought may not extend past the 2010 season. Of course, I’m now 4+ years into Life on the Edge of Skating and the journey continues. While I have only have about 100 direct followers, I do track who is seeing my blog and it now goes literally around the world. The first ones to pick it up are usually Jeremy’s fans from Japan, but I have had views from countries that don’t even have skating. I’m always amazed at the power of social media. Once I tweet or post it, things start moving.
I will be blogging from Sochi, too. Our local paper, the Colorado Springs Gazette, has asked me to blog for them about the Games from a parent/spectator perspective. I already told them it might be a bit erratic, but I’m happy and honored to be asked.
9) One of your most beloved blog posts was about coping with disappointment after Jeremy’s 9th place finish at the 2010 Olympic Games. Why do you think that post resonated so powerfully with others? How does it epitomize your general approach to parenting and to life?
I assume you are talking about the “Lemonade” blog. I try to have many of my blogs be “universal truths” that apply to life, not just skating. Life gives us lemons at many points throughout our journeys. It is what you choose to do with them that makes a difference.
10) Describe some of Jeremy’s programs and/or performances that particularly moved you.
Oh my, “Exogenesis” 2012 – the program we never really saw. Most people who follow skating know by now that 30 seconds into that program in San Jose, my husband passed out with what ended up being an afib attack but mimicked a stroke at the time. It was one of the scariest moments in my life. We still can’t watch the video on YouTube without tearing up at the drama that was playing out in the stands as Jeremy skated a nearly flawless program for his third title, totally oblivious of what was happening just feet away from him.
I have other favorites: Day in the Life, BEI MIR BIST DU SCHON (the “suspender” program choreographed by Benji Schwimmer, who also did “Spy”) La Vita es Bella was one that was an all-time favorite that never was fully realized because of persistent boot problems in 2011 that resulted in a switch to Jacksons. In thinking about it, I have loved all the programs since 2007 without reservation. My favorite show programs: Rhythm of Love, Hometown Glory, Bring Him Home (show version). Jeremy choreographed all those programs himself.
11) How do you, your husband, and Jeremy’s sister cope with nerves when Jeremy is performing? Any rituals or superstitions?
LOTS of superstitions! Jeremy’s sister Gwen always wears the pig hat she and Jeremy bought in 2007 in Spokane. She never comes to competition without it, which can seem a bit silly since she’s 34, but it is tradition. One woman who started out as a fan but is now a good family friend and sits with us at most competitions, started bringing a bag of Twizzlers with her. Most of the family takes one and eats it before Jeremy skates. I hold mine until after he’s finished. Don’t ask me why; I can’t explain it. Of course, there is my husbands booming, “GO ALEXANDER!” that has literally been heard around the world. It is an inside family joke that started in 2000, but the reason behind it will not be revealed until after this season is concluded and Jeremy moves on to a pro career. I have a pair of skating earrings Jeremy “bought” me (which means he picked them out and I paid for them) when he was seven. We in Vail for a competition. I’ve worn them ever since. At this rate, they may “retire” to the figure skating hall of fame once Jeremy’s season is finished, or I’ll have them made into charms for my new obsession, my Pandora bracelet.
12) Why do you think figure skating has declined in popularity and what do you think can be done to revive interest in the sport and art of figure skating?
I think many fans never recovered from the end of 6.0. They don’t like the “math” involved with IJS and they long for the days of Michelle, Peggy, Brian, John Curry and others who were true artistic/athletic representatives of the sport. It’s funny that the Asians get it, though. They sell out every competion and every show. They start fan clubs for skaters who are not from their countries. Jeremy has a huge fan base in Japan. He has fan clubs in South Korea, China and even Russia. It seems to be a “Western” problem with fans that they don’t understand and appreciate both sides of the sport. It’s sad.
13) Who are some of your favorite skaters (both throughout history and those who are currently amateur)?
There are so many from the past. I am fortunate to know and call friend those who are still with us. That is another blessing of this sport. Growing up I watched Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss Jenkins, Janet Lynn and Peggy Fleming. My greatest skating crush was on Richard Dwyer (Mr. Debonaire) who I saw in a show when I was a kid and who is now a great friend. I adored John Curry, Gary Beacomb, Charlie Tickner, Toller Cranston, Brian Boitano, Scott, Kurt, Jeff Buttle, Stephane Lambiel, Shawn Sawyer and the list goes on (and on…ad nauseum, but I’m old and there isn’t enough band width to keep adding).
Of course, there is Robin Cousins. First, last and always there is Robin Cousins – the person I alternately blame and adore for being the inspirational spark to Jeremy’s skating career.
For those guys currently skating, I have many but ask me in April. For the ladies, Alissa Czisny defines grace, class and style. I love Courtney Hicks for her enthusiasm and athleticism. I’m a big fan of Akiko Suzuki, not only for her talent, but for not giving up through all her personal trials. She embodies Olympic spirit. Again, there are so many. I absolutely love ice dance and I am in awe of pairs. There are so many teams I enjoy and applaud that would be the subject of an entirely new blog.
A current favorite and Team USA member is Jason Brown. I absolutely love, love, love him! He and Jeremy are going to be a great team in Sochi and we have become close to Jason’s family.
14) What are some of your favorite skating programs of all time?
Janet Lynn’s Afternoon of a Fawn; Paul Wylie’s Henry V; Kurt Browning’s Singing in the Rain (show program all-time fav!) and his Brick House. Scott Hamilton’s “Walk this Way” and the number he did as a salute to skaters like Dick Button (I think it was to William Tell Overture, or at least part of it was). Brian Boitano did a TV number outside on a mountain lake that was magical but you can’t find it on YouTube any more, which is sad.
15) What is your favorite figure skating move and why?
I don’t think it would be a surprise if I said a well-executed triple axel for obvious reasons.
16) How has the rise of social media affected the skating world, for good and ill?
Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is wonderful to cut away a layer of communication and talks directly to what, in my industry are called the stakeholders. But social media affords a level of anonymity that can be dangerous and emotionally destructive. When you are on the receiving end of vicious attacks by unseen sources, it makes one take a step back and wonder if all this “transparency” is just that. I can tell you, as a professional PR person, as a mom and as a blogger, it is anything but transparent. There is perceived power in the shadows and the Trolls are willing to hide in the murky underpinnings of the social media bridge that connects all of us inhabiting this part of the internet world. My grandfather used to say he never read his reviews, though when a show he was in opened on Broadway, he would eagerly await the reviews while sitting at Sardy’s. Today, those reactions by the shadow people are instantaneous; their vitriol so venomous, their lies and disinformation so seemingly real, it is difficult to discern fiction from fact.
17) What Olympic events other than figure skating are you most excited for?
The team event in skating is new and I’m very excited for that. We have so many wonderful Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley friends and family in the X-Games inspired snow sports that would be my next choice. Finally, we watched the women’s Olympic qualifier in curling on NBCSN and I was so impressed with Erika Brown that I began following her on Twitter. I congratulated her and she replied. That’s class. I’d love to see a match live though I know next to nothing about the sport. It’s on ice; that’s good enough for me.
18) If you had to pick one quotation to summarize your philosophy of life, what would it be?
Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Jeremy Abbott’s Official Website:
Allison Scott’s Blog, Life on the Edge of Skating:
Great Photos of Jeremy for Team USA, a Model Olympian:
Watch Jeremy’s 2014 US Nationals Short Program Here: