It's kinda of fun to rediscover our world, aka leave the house, aka see people doing things that were normal before the pandemic. I love skating, and truthfully, have not been to any form of live skating show in a while.
I rectified that over the weekend, attending Figure Skating in Detroit's annual Skating with the Stars exhibition fundraiser. The non-profit aims to help girls in Detroit get into the sport through funding lessons, ice time, equipment and costumes, while also supporting their educational and social development. They're pretty awesome, and I will bring their story to you soon. (They skated to Butter by BTS, so you know they had me from the start of their lovely performance!)
The headliner of the show was Starr Andrews, a native of Los Angeles who is one of the top Americans on the ladies side. She is navigating a space I find interesting: she is 20. She is good enough to be in the conversation for big things, but has yet been able to make the big leap to the top. Starr had wanted to make Team USA for the 2022 Beijing Games, but finished ninth at U.S. Nationals and fell short for the final roster.
Starr and I had a great conversation about where she is at, what drives her to keep skating, why we all need to advocate for better representation in skating, and most importantly, finding the joy in what we do.
Joanne C. Gerstner: Just wanted to check in with you, and see what life is like right now, because this is the quiet after the intensity of the Olympic season ramp up. What's your life like? The Olympics are over, everything is kind of resetting, and you're in an interesting place. What do you want from your skating right now? Do you want to keep going for the next Olympics, which is 2026?
Starr Andrews: Honestly, it's just all been a lot the last year or two. The pandemic, all of it. Last year, I upped my routines, and really tried to make everything stronger. And then the year was like a lot going on: that weird period with the pandemic where everything was canceled, and then we got to have the virtual regular competitions and then international ones. There was a lot online. So, you had that, and then it was Olympic year as well. I mean, they also had the Summer Olympic Games for summer 2020 moved into summer 2021. It was just a lot going on at once. Right?! But this year is now not going to be as hectic, which is good. I'm getting back in sync right now. Getting back in the training and, trying to find music for the programs for the next season, that's all just really going through my mind. I really want to skate, do my best, and get to that next level.
Joanne C. Gerstner: Everybody evaluates things differently in their career arcs. You're one of the top American skaters, still trying to break through to the big international and U.S. titles. Then there's the Olympics. How do you look at it? Are you taking a more immediate view or do you look all the way to 2026? Can you look ahead for four years?
Starr Andrews: I think it's just like a combination of, you know what, I want to see myself in the next Olympic Games, so I'm really just trying to be more consistent. That's definitely one of my goals - to have more consistent, good programs all the time. Someone that is in my position definitely needs to think that way. I know there is more room for me to grow in my skating. I want to chase my goals, and the Olympics is definitely part of them.
Joanne C. Gerstner: That's the thing, when we're watching you is...you're so close, you can see it is there. I can only imagine what it's like, seeing that last little tiny bit to go to the top, but that's easy for me to say. It's more like, is the bigger jump to make it more mental than physical?
Starr Andrews: Oh, that is so right. Yes. It is so mental and I'm hard on myself. I know what needs to happen, I practice hard, I make myself ready. But the mental part...I've been working on being better at that. If I had a bad practice, a really hard practice, the day before I leave for a competition, how do I not let that get into my head and get me down? I am much stronger now in dealing with that. I think it's just more trusting yourself, realizing, I have created something that is strong and one bad practice does not change that. I tell myself that I have an interest in trusting myself. I tell myself, "Oh, a bad practice is common, so there is no sense in not believing this is going to be great." But it is so hard at times to not think that way and get down. I have to choose not to think that way.
Joanne C. Gerstner: You shouldn't be totally down from one practice, right? But of course your brain can take you to a very bad place. I totally get that. Everyone wants the hot young star to succeed, but we clearly see there is still value to artistry and skill and wisdom in the "older" skaters. You're now 20. How is your skating evolving as you're getting older, more mature, and maybe are you more introspective about what you're intending to do?
Starr Andrews: I definitely think as I'm getting older and more experienced, my skating is getting deeper. When I was younger, I'm going to say that I probably didn't really have a routine. I was like, 'I'm here' and feel kind of weird being in another country, having to compete. As I've gotten older, and have more experience, I definitely have a routine now and it helps me even if I don't have the best feeling from coming from home. I know what I look like anyway, I believe in what I can do. That comes from me being older and having more of a connection.
Joanne C. Gerstner: What was your takeaway from the recent Beijing Olympics, given all the drama and circumstances in women's and team skating?
Joanne C. Gerstner: The Americans did pretty well, especially Nathan (Chen). Obviously you know them, they're your friends and competitors, so how did you feel seeing them be able to get it done? Some intense stuff, under the circumstances.
Starr Andrews: It was really amazing, because you have to consider they were there (Beijing) for a really long time because of the way the Olympics work. You're there longer than any other international competition. That's something you also have to get used to. I think, of course, you train for that but to see them go and do well, they all had amazing programs. It just makes me so happy because I know how hard they work and it's so exciting to be at the Olympics. I mean, just to see it there, it's awesome. I was really happy that the ladies, even though they had to skate through all that drama, they did well, they kept it together all through that. They all looked so good.
Joanne C. Gerstner: I don't know how much attention you're able to pay to the little faces around the boards watching you skate here in Detroit. I was so moved, watching these little girls really seeing themselves in you. Can you pay attention to things like that when you are performing?
Starr Andrews: I always make eye contact with people when I am skating. I want to see them. It's something that I've always done. I decided early on to make eye contact with a lot of people just, you know, I'm consciously aware of their presence. I want them to know I see them too and I want them in my skating. Just thinking about little girls, especially little black girls, looking up to me and seeing me skate makes me smile. This is one of the reasons I skate - I want to inspire this little girl's voice inside her. Go skate. Dream big. Skating is the reason for my joy. It is my favorite thing to do. I can't imagine my life without it. When I'm at home and I take a couple days off, I'm literally going crazy because all I want to do is go skate the rink. All my friends are at the rink and my life is out of the rink, right? And just seeing how happy the kids are to come up to me and ask me for pictures...is already like, "Oh my gosh, they're so cute." Oh, of course, I'm going to take a picture with you. I know, I should ask you to take a picture with me! You guys are just so adorable.
Joanne C. Gerstner: I was standing next to a little girl, probably like 4-5, who was near the boards and watching you. You took off your jacket before you came out to perform, and she whispered..."She looks like a princess!" when she saw your skating costume. I was so happy to hear that, it was beyond cute. I thought, to her, you were a princess. Such an important moment of representation on so many levels, even though you were just doing your thing, she was blown away.
Starr Andrews: That's amazing that I look like a princess in her eyes...
Joanne C. Gerstner: When she said that, in her beautiful way, which you know was authentic, I felt the value of you being on the ice to her. Here is my bigger thought: I grew up skating here in Metro Detroit. It is quite white, quite stratified in opportunity. How can we, people who love skating, make sure kids like her are more involved in skating? How do we open the doors to make it possible for all kids by being allies?
Starr Andrews: Honestly, in order to be allies, just really spread the word and just like what is happening. Spreading the word would help a lot because it helps other kids see that it is real as an opportunity. When I started skating, I was the only black girl at the rink. Of course, that really didn't register to me because I was just out there having so much fun with my friends. As I got older, I realized when I would go into a locker room and be at competitions, and I would be the only black girl. The only black girl. I didn't want to feel out of place, because I belonged there, I was good. I never really let that get to me, because I'm here for a reason. I worked as hard as the other kids, and I'm going to go out there and do what I need to do. My skin complexion doesn't matter. This sport is for everybody and I want to be part of it. It is a predominantly white sport, and I think that it's important that we do a lot more in taking in more people of color. So I think that's how I am representing the representation we need. Why I support Figure Skating in Detroit, they're getting the girls into the sport.
Joanne C. Gerstner: You've got a platform. People like to watch you. You know you're in the mix. What do you hope people talk about your career, and what do you want people to remember about your skating?
Starr Andrews: I always want to show them how much I love the sport. I really want this to be about them seeing me as a beautiful skater, who's in love with skating, because I think that's really me. Skating is about making things your own, and that's what I do. I can express myself, through my programs and my choices of music. I think that's what we get when we have more diversity in skating, we need more to show that creativity. Even things like my music, I love to use Beyoncé, can make things more special. I want to express myself fully in my skating.
Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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