Faith, family score highest marks for 16-year-old Olympian skater
BEL AIR, Md. - Sixteen-year-old Olympic figure skater Kimmie Meissner may dazzle audiences and judges with her triple-axel jump, but off the ice, the high-school junior is about as grounded as they come.
U.S. FIGURE SKATER PERFORMS Kimmie Meissner performs during the women's long program at the U.S. figure skating championships in St. Louis Jan. 14. The 16-year-old skater from the Archdiocese of Baltimore is a competitor in the XX Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. (CNS photo/Reuters)
Shortly after the U.S. figure-skating championships in St. Louis in mid-January, in which she scored a second-place spot and a follow-up appearance on NBC's "Today" show, Meissner spent a Wednesday night with her parents, Judy and Paul, dining at Ruby Tuesday's in the Baltimore suburb of Bel Air. After dinner, the young 5-foot 3-inch skater, wearing pink sweats, stood in front of a toasty fire and talked about studying for an upcoming algebra exam. While her family seemed quite ordinary as they relaxed in their Harford County home - their two dogs and a cat nearby - there were a few clues as to the hectic nature of their lives. "I still haven't taken the Christmas decorations down," joked Judy Meissner, who for 10 years has driven her only daughter one hour each way to the University of Delaware Ice Skating Science Development Center in Newark for training each weekday and on some weekends. The Meissners also have three sons - Nate, 28; Adam, 24; and Luke, 20. Like her life, Kimmie Meissner's room is split between the ordinary and her Olympic skater status, with clothes piled on a chair in one corner and competition medals hanging from another. While her rigorous practice schedule leaves no time for signature high-school moments such as the school prom, participation in clubs or even lunch with friends, the teenager still leads a relatively normal life. She goes to church on Sundays - the family belongs to St. Ignatius Parish in Hickory, Md. - and she goes running with her dogs, watches television and snuggles at night with her cat, Ozzie. "Sometimes he'll sleep on my head," the teen said with a grin. Since she first hit the ice at age 6, her love of skating has been as gripping as the toe pick on the blade of a figure skate. "Skating makes me so happy," said the young Olympian, who is coached by Pam Gregory. "I'm not just doing it for a medal." Even when she's told she should rest, Meissner said, she is anxious to get her feet onto the ice. Over the span of a decade, her passion for and dedication to the sport have remained unwavering. "I try to remind myself what my ultimate goal is," she said. "It could just be a little goal for the day like I want to skate a clean round or it could be a big goal like I want to go to nationals." At the end of the day, the teen says it's practice that's the most fun. "You're challenging yourself, and when you achieve a goal it makes you feel so good about yourself," she said, a grin lighting up her small, pixie-like face. As sharp as she is on the ice, Meissner does have one routine she always follows. "I always put my left skate on first and then my right and I always take my right skate off first and then my left," she said. Meissner glides into a discussion about her family and her faith as smoothly as she swirls around the Delaware ice rink. "God plays an important role in my life," she said. "I realize my talent was given to me by him, and I try to use it to the best of my ability." She never prays to God to help her win, but when she was suffering a cold at nationals and her energy was sapped, she did look to God and thought, "I just need to do one program, and I would love to do good." The teenager is keenly aware of her parents' sacrifices. "My mom gives up a lot of social time," Meissner said. "And the boots and blades can be expensive. Everything piles up. I wouldn't be where I am today without their sacrifices." "We're just so proud of her, because as good as she is on the ice, we know she's even better off the ice," said Judy Meissner. Watching their daughter compete is stressful, said Paul Meissner, who himself plays ice hockey. A podiatrist, he makes time in his schedule each Friday to take his daughter to the rink. "She's a very determined young lady," he added. Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops