CALGARY, Alberta — A few months ago, Bob Trenary was sitting in a restaurant atop Detroit’s Renaissance Center. He looked out the window and saw, way down at the bottom, an ice rink.
“Let’s try skating,” he said to his wife.
She agreed. Down they went. “You won’t believe this,” Trenary said to the rink attendant, “but my daughter is the national figure skating champion.”
The guy shrugged. Trenary pushed away. After five minutes, his ankles were throbbing. He wobbled to the wall, removed the skates, went back upstairs, and ordered a drink.
Skating Moms. Skating Dads. They cannot do what their children can do, cannot spin or twist or leap, some cannot even stand on a skate blade. Yet they have been there through all the years of practice, waiting with the car keys, waiting with the bag lunch, waiting with the check for the lessons.
They were waiting again Saturday, at the Saddledome, watching the final practice before the biggest competition a figure skater can have.
“Who’s more nervous?” Trenary, the father of America’s No. 2- ranked skater, was asked, hours before the Olympic finals.
“I’m not sure. She’s the one skating. But sometimes I wish I could go out there and do something for her.”
There was the first time he put Jill on skates, and the time he allowed her to move to Colorado to train with the world- renowned Carlo Fassi, who trained Dorothy Hamill. There was the time he got a call at a client’s office in Minnesota: “Jill had an accident.” Another skater’s blade had cut across her leg, slicing open her left calf muscle. Bob Trenary was in the Colorado hospital room by the time his daughter came out of surgery.
“If I had my druthers,” he says now, “she probably never would have skated. The price is too high. There are so many excellent skaters out there who are so close — they spend their whole childhood at it — and you’ll never hear of them. They’re number five. Number six. . . .”
He stopped to watch his daughter land a perfect triple jump. He clapped when she hit it.
Skating Moms. Skating Dads. Few balances, lots of checks Marlene and Donald Kadavy were on the other side of the rink. They shifted uneasily in their seats. Their daughter, Caryn, the third-ranked in the U.S., had been ill with the flu. Now. Of all times.
“Her temperature was 103.5,” said her mother, her voice nervous. “If she can’t skate this practice, she won’t be able to skate tonight.” And she didn’t.
How many years had they all waited for these Olympics? She was two years old when her father first pushed her around that rink in Erie, Pa. Who knew what that would lead to? There would be car pools, lessons, checks and more checks, new skates, new outfits, new coaches, more checks, new rinks, more car pools, more lessons, more checks. Mrs. Kadavy would move with Caryn to Illinois for better training. Mr. Kadavy would stay in Erie, working, essentially, for his daughter’s dreams.
“I have no savings, I have no investments, I have endless debts,” he said.
Now his daughter couldn’t skate.
You can be a parent. You can be a skating sponsor. It’s when you have to be both, that the world begins to spin. Skating Moms. Skating Dads.
“She’s been asking us, ‘Why now? Why me?’ ” said Mrs. Kadavy, tugging on her coat. “She’s been crying. What can we tell her? Who can predict something like this?”
“We’re numb,” said her husband. The miles and the debts piled up
Janice Thomas was standing several sections away. As the mother of Debi Thomas, the No. 1-ranked skater in America, she has suddenly become a celebrity herself. Her nerves have gone from raw to frazzled. She speaks quickly, tying and untying a scarf around her neck, unaware she is doing it.
“Can you do anything Debi can do on ice?” she was asked. “Can you do a spin, or a twist?”
“I began skating the night before Debi did,” she said. “She was going to take lessons so I figured I better, too. I enrolled in the teens and adult class. Some teen ran into me and sprained my back. That was it. I had a lot further to fall than she did.”
But Janice Thomas still took Debi through this crazy process. Divorced in 1974, she saw months were there was no money for lessons. She saw credit card applications denied. She went through, what, four cars, five cars? Drove 3000 miles a month, on average? All for this: a four-minute program. A razor slim chance at glory.
This morning, there are people feeling badly for Debi Thomas, wound up with the bronze medal after her mighty battle with Katarina Witt. Yet Bob Trenary, whose daughter finished fourth, would have been thrilled with what Janice Thomas had, and the Kadavys, whose daughter never skated, her illness too severe, would have been thrilled with what Trenary had, and the dozens of near-misses of the world would have been thrilled with what the Kadavys had, one Olympic moment.
Skating Moms. Skating Dads. Everything you saw Saturday night began with them. Yet in the end, all they could do was watch and pray the kid turned out all right, just like every other parent in the world.