As a kid, during the winter, I spent countless hours at the ice skating rink. I remember the first time my grandmother took me to Warinaco Ice Skating Center in New Jersey. I looked out onto the ice and saw all of these kids who looked as though they’ve been born with ice skates on their feet. Most of them were half my size, considering the first time I put on a pair I was already in middle school. Needless to say, I was a bit intimdated. I conquered roller skaters early on as a kid, even became a such a pretty good skateboarder that the boys on my block ‘allowed’ me to skate with them, but it was the single metal blade that had me shook, not to mention how hard & cold ice is to fall on.
I remember lacing up my skates and my heart felt as though it was palpitating. If I knew back then, what I know now, I would say I was on the verge of having a panic attack. After I laced up, I walked towards the ice circle, and could feel my feet trembling and I wasn’t even on the ice yet. Before I stepped out on the ice, I closed my eyes and thought of the only person who inspired me to want to finally learn how to ice skate.
Dr. Debi Thomas, who now practices orthopedic surgery, was the first African-American to win the World Championships in 1986 and a bronze medal at the 1988 Winter Games. She was my version of Michael Jordan. Forget about being “Like Mike”, I wanted to be “Like Debi”. I can’t even count how many hours I sat in front of the television watching Debi Thomas and her figure skating routines. In my head, I knew that once I got on the ice, I’ll be a triple Salchow, Double Lutzing fool!
Now I’m not going to sit here and say that my first try at figure skating was remotely close to Debi Thomas, because it wasn’t. When I stepped on the ice, for the first few minutes I held on to the wall as I figured out how to control my balance. I still remember seeing the kids that looked as though they were no older than 6 yrs old just flying past me and I figured if they could do it, so could I.
Just don’t fall, is what I kept on telling myself.
Once I took my hand off the wall, and took a deep breath I was literally gliding across the ice. I remember seeing my grandmother clap for me, and for some reason that was the only reassurance I needed. After a few Saturdays at the ice rink, I was able to teach myself how to do a single jump and basic spins, not without the occasional fall of course, but there were never any serious sprains or other injuries.
If it wasn’t for me discovering Debi Thomas as a kid, I doubt I would have ever attempted to ice skate. Even till this day, you can still find me at The Gardens Ice House, but now, I have my 9 year old with me. Amazingly, when he took his first step on the ice, it seemed as though it was second nature, let him tell it, he thinks it’s genetics.
Dr. Debi Thomas, will always be one of the few athletes, that will forever hold a special place in my heart.