Authors: Lucinda Ruh
I was set with two new show programs and I would be skating at the Sun Valley ice shows once a week for three months. The roller coaster ride would never stop. I was literally spinning my way from one continent to another,into one situation to another, into one disaster to another. I would go on my own since we wanted me to grow my own wings and Sun Valley would be the beginning of a new life â hopefully a wonderful new life.
The trip to Sun Valley was a long one, as if life did not want to take me there, and making all the stopovers a chance for me to turn back. But I would not. At long last I arrived at what would be my new home for the next three months. I was excited to be on my own and I didn't feel scared or lost just because my map had no route and no destination. I was actually quite excited to be in the spotlight once more and not have the pressure of judges. It was a world I knew and I could now express all my raw emotions on the ice. I liked my new programs and liked that I did not have to skate by the rules.
The shows were fun and different than I had experienced before. It was enchanting to skate outdoors under the moonlight and spotlight, confusing as to which was which, amusingly similar to how life or I looked upon me as well. To have the spectators on their candle-lit dinner tables watching us made us feel prestigious, yet hungry. Hungry for more in life. Hungry for a real life and not one of caged imprisonment. You could feel that you were part of the history of old Hollywood and old skating stars alike. You were walking in their footsteps.
The first few weeks with all the excitement and hype around me were enticing, but I was getting very lonely and the shows became very repetitive. I called my mother and father a couple times a day and cried on the phone. It reminded me of when I went to skating camp in Japan, on the phone crying for help with my only lifeline. I was still in pain and not happy. Other skaters were coming in and out for the shows, and the dance and pair-teams had each other, but I was the only one who stayed for the three months and had absolutely no family in all of America, and no friends, and I was lonely.
No matter how much admiration I received on the ice from my skating, no matter how many fans came just to see me skate, no matter how much fan mail I received, nothing could give me comfort like a hug from my mother or father. I felt my agent did not really care about me either, and I felt I had been transplanted from one zoo to another and this one made me pace back and forth. It felt like he had just plopped me there expecting me to just adjust and figure everything out. I was at a complete loss for words and movement.
My agent did not visit me and my parents could not come till later in August. Every day I went to the post office and there was a care package from my mother from Dubai. Every single day. It was incredible! I would walk to the post office with a frown and emerge with a smile. There were cards and gifts filled with a piece of my mother's heart. I missed her terribly and my mother missed me too. That is the only thing that made me smile each day. Going to the post office to open the surprise package all the way from half way around the world was the excitement of my day. I read and reread all the cards over and over again. I placed them all around my apartment. I was turning twenty-one that summer and I had still not broken away from my mother and father. I had still not gone through that separation. It was much later in life than when most girls go through it. In the life we had led we were completely dependent on each other, so much that when separated we felt the other part of ourselves had been lost. We did not know how to survive without each other. I had nowhere to turn.
I was also dealing with my recurrent stomach infection. Since leaving China when I had first contracted it, I had been on many bouts of antibiotics for it, each doctor finding and treating another infection and perhaps another virus or bacteria in my stomach. Luckily as time passed the extreme pain and symptoms I had had from China healed, but now my symptoms seemed to be stemming from elsewhere and just manifested into feeling a constant nonstop mild nausea with severe headaches. I was dizzy all the time. My ears felt blocked all day and I had flu symptoms that wouldn't get worse or any better. I was in pain from my knee and back injury. My neck hurt. My shoulder injury had started to flare up again. In this state how could I enjoy skating, let alone everyday life? Where was this all coming from?
The one-hour time that I was on the ice for the show was great, but during the rest of the week being alone was worse than knowing how good the show was. The strange contrast between performing in front of an audience of hundreds that are sitting in darkness while you are under a spotlight and all alone in the light unable to see anything, was extreme. I went to the juice bar in town and told my friend I needed the help of his psychic friend. I was desperate. I was troubled about a few things and they were total polar opposites of each other. I had to basically decide if I wanted to stay amateur (meaning compete at the Grand Prix, the World Figure Skating Championships, and the Olympics) or turn professional and do shows, tours around the world, and at that time there were quite a few professional competitions too.
It was the hardest decision of my life so far. It felt like being eight years old all over again when I had to decide between ballet and skating. I was torn. I was torn because of my injuries and physical health and I was torn because I still had not had the Olympic experience. If I turned professional that dream would be dead and dormant once and for all. In my heart I truly wanted to remain an amateur. I wanted to compete and have that tight relationship with my mother and coach and have that excitement of preparing for a competition. It was the only life I knew.
Yet I knew I couldn't do my jumps because of the pain I was in. I also did not like the show life and I had always said I never wanted to be a show pony. Yet I thought I owed it to my parents to use my spinning to do something with what I had. My agent laid more guilt on me by saying I owed it to my parents and could pay them back one day with all the money they had spent on me like a flowing river if I turned professional. Nice dream! To add to the problem, if I wanted to stay amateur and compete I wanted to do so only if I could train with my Chinese coach. He had left China and for whatever reason, was now in Tokyo. We had moved nonstop for skating and we really felt, coming to our senses, that to then move back to Japan to train with him with all my injuries and illness was just not worth it. Could we really just go on and on like an energizer bunny, not only spending all our money but also really wanting to fight once more only to find myself in dire situations? What was this worth? I had my spins. Why not use them? I did not need any more medals to perform with the rest of the world and Olympic champions. I was lucky.
My agent could not understand my confusion with it all. He pushed and pushed and I felt cornered. For me it was so hard to give up the Olympic dream, and then on the other side of the spectrum even today I can't forgive myself for spinning for money. I just felt so dirty. I felt that receiving money for something that was so sacred to me ruined everything. It would ruin my spins, my soul, and my life. I felt this deep inside of me. I felt I was selling my body and I felt I was doing something terrible. Spins were to be done at times like a prayer, not to be done over and over again like a machine on autopilot! I did not seem to see however how the spins were making everyone else so happy.
I had also wanted to model. When I was younger in Japan I did some modeling at the young age of about nine and I had loved it so much. I loved dressing up. But then skating took over and there was no time for my other interests. As I grew up I also knew my mother detested modeling and for her only skating was to be honored. I was scared to bring up anything unrelated to skating in case my mother would erupt at me. I knew she did not want me to have any distraction that would disrupt my skating career. Now that I was alone I thought I had the chance to explore modeling and entered a modeling contest that I saw in one of the fashion magazines. I snail mailed my application.
My mother arrived in Sun Valley in late August as the shows were ending and decisions were to be made. As my luck would have it, the answer from the modeling competition came in the mail while my mother was there. She opened the mail and saw that I had been accepted to quite a big modeling agency and she became furious. She hit me a lot that day. I cried and cried, not so much because of the hitting but because I tried so hard to understand my mother and I couldn't. I never seemed to be able to make my mother proud of me unless I was spinning. Spinning my own web of confinement. If it breaks, start over and spin another web.
The summer shows ended and we decided to go to where my agent was living in Hackensack, New Jersey for a while. We needed more time to decide on my future and my mother saw how devastated I was with everything. We decided not to make a final decision then and there and just to see how the months progressed. We thought perhaps I could do shows while still leaving the amateur ranks open for me. What we did decide was that for me to return to Japan was out of the question. It was too insane an idea for nothing tangible. We would stay in the States. We were in the dark concerning not only my future but also even the present. Something would reveal itself soon enough. My life seemed to be out of my hands. I was powerless and so was my mother. We decided to run with the tide. We had no more wishes, no more goals, no more wants. We were more than exhausted. It was the end of any certainty.
(HACKENSACK, TOURING THE WORLD, DUBAI)
Humans need to suffer to become angels.
ust as I started to have my wings grow they would be clipped. I believe everything happens for a reason and I do believe that every situation, every person in your life, is a lesson in disguise. There is never a moment that is not a lesson. I too believe that blessings can come in many shapes and forms. They can be concealed, and in life one ought not to make a judgment on anything or anybody since you never know what lies beneath that disguise. You might miss out on a chance and sometimes what you are looking for is not what you ultimately want, but what you finally get, if you let the universe do its work, is actually what you wanted all along. Those that can learn from life every second have truly mastered the notion of living in the “now.” We are all too busy always pondering what happened in the past and working for what “will” we truly always miss what is happening in the present.
Months passed by, and as I was training in Hackensack, New Jersey and still debating my decision, I was also traveling all around the world for amateur skating shows. With my traveling and my name growing in fame, I had many suitors here and there, but I was not interested. I was really not in that space for a relationship. I had so many life-changing and challenging events happening to me simultaneously that I was not available and not open to love. I also was again going through serious bouts of what appeared to be the stomach virus or bacterial infection and I was in and out of hospital emergency rooms every week. It was getting very serious and rounds of antibiotics were doing more harm than good. But at last a stroke of good luck would come.
A big opportunity arose from invitation to me to attend the World Professional Championships held in Washington, D.C. in 2000. It was definitely an honor to receive such an invitation and my agent cautioned us not to turn this down. It would, however, turn me professional and training for the Olympics would then become just a distant memory. This invitation was the turning point and the deciding factor. Only five ladies were invited to this competition each year and usually only those of Olympic or world gold medal status. For me to be wanted there, was pretty huge. I felt a rush of excitement and I felt this was a sign from up above. I did not want to pass this one by, and so it was decided for me to turn professional upon accepting this invitation.
It turned out to be a stupendous decision. It opened doors for me like never before, but with my health problems I could not accept most of them. Many doors would be closed due to my failing health. I would, however, always have a chip on my shoulder about never having been given even the chance of becoming an Olympian. I had done everything I could have in the world of skating, but to realize that I would never be able to say I was an Olympian would always make me sad.
I skated incredibly well at the 2000 World Professional Figure Skating Championships. I was in my element. I needed to do only a few jumps and I could spin and be as artistic as I wanted. I had standing ovations and performing in front of thousands of people was incredible. I loved it, and while I had never received the perfect score of 6.0 in amateur figure skating competitions, I now received at the professional level many perfect scores of 10! I was the Hallmark video of the day. I got many offers, but once again not really intended for me to accept since at that time I was not American and they were obliged to first use their American champions. I was at the bottom of the totem pole concerning endorsements. We did however have many different agents come up to us who wanted to represent me. But what truly are agents other than people wanting some of your money? I wished to have open doors leading to glorious opportunities, not agents hunting us down and closing the doors behind us!
The best part of this competition other than coming back with a bronze medal was that my parents and I were invited to the White House for lunch. The speechwriter at that time to President George W. Bush had been at the competition and was so enthralled with me and my skating that he personally invited me to come. I was elated. I had met him and his colleagues at the after-party and they were ecstatic over me. I felt like my spins had brought happiness and I could not have been more happy. More than for me, I could not wait to give the gift to my mother and father of a visit to the most important house in America. What an honor it was. We gladly and gratefully accepted. We visited the White House in December 2000 for a private tour and a wonderful lunch. We could not have been more thankful for such an amazing and memorable experience hosted by such gracious people of the government.
At the time I turned professional the world of ice skating was not too distressing. Of course it not as wonderful as when it hit an all-time media frenzy in the 1990s but it was definitely much better than it is now. There were tons of tours and shows all around the world available to us, which is different from now. I was invited to do some skating shows over Christmas and New Years' in the Caribbean islands that were produced by a famous male French champion. I had never been away from my family on Christmas day and was not too sure how I would handle it all, but I felt it was time for me to take the opportunities to grow stronger mentally and in my skating experiences as well. The young skaters that grow up in America have many chances to do shows, perform showcases, and have the chance to skate under spotlights, but where I had grown up in Asia there were no such opportunities. I also wanted to get used to traveling back and forth, living out of suitcases and being able to perform my best even in a second's notice.
So off I was to the islands. It was an experience to journal. It was incredibly scorching hot on these islands. After all it was the Caribbean. I am not at all much of a beach person. Mountains and snow please my senses far more than the sticky sun and sand, and even more so during holiday time, so I stayed in my hotel room for the most part and read a lot.
Also, touring is not what you might expect it to be. The skaters that are pair or dance teams stick to themselves since they have each other. Skaters of the same country stick to each other while speaking their native language and they tour so much together that there isn't much space to give freely to a newcomer. I did not belong to any nation so I was different and separate. I also am totally to blame for some of this isolation. I had become very insecure and apologetic in my life and with myself. I'd rather hide in the corner avoiding conflict and liked to sit behind everyone so I had a clear view of what was going on and have no fear of someone behind me stabbing me in the back. I also did not really know how to socialize. So they saw me as the spoiled one instead of seeing my shortcomings. It stems from the constant fear I grew up with that everyone was against me and having been always an outcast. Having been treated always so differently I ceased to expect anything else.
With my stomach never feeling right and my never feeling in my optimal health, I was scared I would catch even something more serious when in the Caribbean. I was very careful with the water and fruits and ate only grilled food or fruit I could peel myself. I was living in constant fear of my health. I was not feeling well at all and would never wake up feeling refreshed. I was lonely on this tour since my family was celebrating Christmas day all together and I was alone in my room most of the time with no Christmas tree to peer upon and let me escape into my fairy tale world. Again I felt my agent did not understand me. But who ultimately did? Not even I understood myself.
The show itself was unique. These were islands, so figure skating was the last thing the natives thought about, let alone had even heard about. Ice to them was definitely foreign other than having ice cubes in their drinks. I think they thought these were strange people who had arrived bringing frozen ice with people skating on it to their island of paradise! I don't know if it was the smartest idea, but for sure it was something that had never been done before and would never be done again! When we arrived the team was setting up the ice.
They had put water down with a refrigeration system and were waiting for it to freeze. There was a meek attempt at having a tent-like cover over the ice surface so that the sun's heat would not beat on the ice directly and reduce it to a puddle of water! When the show started the cover would be lifted. We had to wait two days until the ice was ready for us to skate on. It was hilarious when just after a few minutes of our skating and jumping on the very thin ice surface, the holes we created, both big and small, caused the pipes to explode. They were exploding everywhere. The ice surface was incredibly small already and now we had mini fountain springs all over the place. It became dangerous and we tried skating in and out to avoid them.
The team tried to fix them, but soon as one was fixed another pipe would break somewhere else. It was complete disorder. The shows were starting that evening and there was no way there was enough time in the heat to freeze a new sheet of ice and also no way the shows could be canceled. Also as the night darkened, we would not be able to see where these little water springs were when we were skating and we could get seriously injured.
So the team decided to put potted plants on the ice on top of each and every broken pipe! It felt like I was skating in a garden! It was funny as well as frustrating because these potted plants were not lit and we had only an approximate calculation of where they were. I was worried that when under the spotlight I would skate right into them and fall on my face! As far as the spectators I was not so worried, because for them if you just did a single jump or an easy spin it was Olympic material to them. So I smiled and put on a show face and on I skated. Luckily no one was seriously hurt. For every show we had for those few days more and more potted plants were placed on the ice! By the end there were more green areas than white. We were hopping over the pots. I was relieved when the shows were over and it was time to go home. I was melancholy because I had missed a family Christmas for this tour. I didn't know if it was worth it.
Show life was very different from what I had been used to and how I had been trained from the age of four. There was no structure. No regimen. No support, no goals. No real training. It was just trying to keep at the level you were since there was no time for improving. It was sleeping in one hotel to the next, from one city to another, skating under one spotlight to another. It felt like a circus on the road, but more prestigious, with more money invested in the production. And our wishes were to be granted to a certain extent. I was lucky, however, because in some skating tours the skaters are treated terribly. I was on the best and most honored tours in the world so I couldn't complain. I was treated like a star. I was a star. Some productions were incredibly produced with top-rated lighting and fans worldwide followed the entertainment. To see them so happy made it all worthwhile.
Even some travels to the shows were stupendous as well. After I did a show in the early evening in New York City I was taken by limousine to the helicopter pad and taken by helicopter to the next show where I performed later that evening. We were almost waited on hand and foot. After all, the success of each show was a direct result of how happy the skaters were with the production and whether we would want to skate on that specific tour again, and so our happiness was the producers first concern. And, oh my, did some skaters take great advantage of it! Later on, one of the tours I was part of was conducted the whole time by a private jet. Yes, I was living the life, but was I really? For me to be content in life I need to be stimulated mentally and spiritually as well, and that part of my soul was hungry. Very hungry.
As I kept on touring, all these troubles and my unhappiness mounted and I was stuck in a rut. My back hurt non-stop. I dealt with it by taking painkillers every day. My stomach pains were terrible and I was eating less and less. I was so limited as to what I could eat that my diet remained very imbalanced. Basically I was eating only fruit when I was on the road since most of the food served was not to my liking. I also wanted to stay thin so I just ate certain food groups. I was very strict and disciplined with myself as I had been all my life. I never ever gave in to myself and punished myself for every mistake I made. I was still tearing out my eyes lashes and eyebrows out and picking my skin until I bled, but hid it all too well. I was not calm and not in my element.
One of my next tours was in France. I never went on the practice ice, not even once for the two week tour. I couldn't. I was too weak, tired, and unwell. I stayed in the tour bus's bed all day until a half hour before the show started. Then I would drag myself to the rink and into my costumes, paint my makeup on as well as my smile, and push myself through the show. I almost fainted each time I finished my solo performance. I trudged on. The other skaters were not my friends. The tour's organization was a mess as well. It was France after all! The show never started on time, not ever. The bus driver sometimes would even drive intoxicated. We hit so many lampposts on the way it was ridiculous. I am not sure the bus driver was even qualified to drive but in France anything goes!
A new experience for me as well was that skaters were drinking and smoking a lot on the tour. I had always been in such a “clean” and “good girl” environment with my mother that this felt all too uncomfortable and too real for me. I liked my dream world better. Starting relationships with others while on tour was also very new for me to understand. I was single and I had too many other issues at hand that were far beyond the dating world. I thought it rude and inappropriate for skaters to hook up randomly with others in the bus, but I closed my eyes and ears and just tried to rest so I would be well enough to survive another day. My issue was survival, not if someone liked me or not.