Johnny’s World: The Ice

October 23, 2013 10:48 AM24 comments

jworldSeventeen years ago, it was freezing. Seventeen years ago, they were all snowed in by a terrible blizzard. Seventeen years ago, in Amish country Pennsylvania, if there was a blizzard you weren’t getting out of your house for at least a week because the land was forgotten by snow plows and salt trucks. Seventeen years ago, a sunny day came along where the ice that covered a bleak cornfield glistened in the late afternoon sun. Seventeen years ago, my feet were covered for the first time by leather and steel. Seventeen years ago, I took my first step onto the ice, in the most unlikely of circumstances, yet dressed head to toe in dreams.

For 17 years I have watched as my family and those closest to me have sacrificed, prayed, and applauded my journey. As a young person, I was able to connect on a very real level with my mother as I watched her see things that a girl from Oxford, Pennsylvania wouldn’t normally ever have the chance to see. I watched her eyes light up the first time she saw Red Square. I got to see the way her mouth puckered when she tasted her first French crêpe. I watched her glasses fog up when we ascended the Great Wall of China and we shared a disconcerting walk late at night through a tunnel in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. My mom hugged me through fences, cried with me over good and bad, and – audible maybe only to me – screamed every time I took the ice. Until now, I’d never told her I could hear her because I didn’t want her to stop. I had the incredible gift of showing my mother the world, and I worked hard to give her a son she could be proud of.

My brother and father watched from the sidelines for a long time as my mom and I jetted around the world. They attended funerals we couldn’t, enjoyed ski vacations while mama and I were in Norway, and raised the dogs we all got as a family just so I could chase a dream that was so unfathomable to everyone but us. Figure skating stole a lot of my childhood, and it also robbed me of much of the joy in helping to raise my little brother. My father has had health issues that I could never truly understand, as I was never around enough to console him or help him around the house. Though I grew up loving the men in my family, and having them love me, we never got to know each other as grown-ups.

In Vancouver at my second Olympic Games, after having been present to see my first Olympics in Torino, my father and brother cheered me on, cursing the judges for not doing enough for me. My little brother couldn’t even stay in the building because he so proud of me, and so hurt for me. In a weird way, figure skating showed me what true love is.

In my coaches I found a different love, a different inspiration. In addition to raising me in some ways off the ice – teaching me to drive or teaching me to make a proper Russian dinner – my coaches taught me about self-confidence, about believing in myself. They taught me that hard work and dedication to a gift, that for some is God-given and for others comes only from hard work, will only end in pride. Throughout my career I have broken my coaches’ hearts more than anyone else in my life with failures and growing pains, and possibly by never quite knowing how to say thank you for giving me the world. One coach taught me until I was a young man and the other helped me in the later stages of both our competitive careers, and their knowledge and dedication to my growth is something you find so you rarely when both your successes are hinged together in some cosmic way. Not only was I lucky enough to find that working relationship twice, I was able to find it twice and laced with love.

It is surreal writing about my career as if it had happened to someone else and to actually write the words: I am retiring from competitive figure skating.

I have cried my way through writing this entire column not because I am sad, or because I’ll miss training or falling or being so nervous I think my head will explode, or starving or the glory of victory or the agony of defeat. I cry because of the memories that have shaped my life. I am sad about those moments awaiting scores that will catapult me to my first national title and finally believing in myself, or navigating a foreign airport with my mom and aunt. I will miss traveling the world with a crazy group of skaters, coaches, judges, fans, and the like, who all want to see a good, clean fight, a worthy champion and to stop for a moment to appreciate the power of the moments you create together. Although not always a fan of the figure skating world, they are my high school peers, my college frat brothers, my friends, supporters and confidants and I will miss them.

At 29, it is odd to explain to the average Joe that I am retiring. While my retirement surely isn’t a shock to the skating world, I have been able to become a sort of face for my sport to people who rarely watch it, and I always quickly follow up the statement of “I’m retiring from competition” with the truth that I will continue to skate and perform as long as my body will allow me and that I pass my presence in the competitive ranks on to some genius upstart, the youth that keeps the Olympics and sports alive. While I am not old, part of being a champion is knowing when your time is up.

Seventeen years have passed since I first set foot on the ice. I have fallen thousands of times, rotated millions of rotations, and been called everything from a “national treasure” to “a disgrace.” I have lived enough to fill many lifetimes and been afforded more opportunities than even the greatest businessmen and celebrities. I’ve won and lost and through it all I have never lost sight of who I am or what I want from this world –which I believe to be the greatest achievement in my young life. Seventeen years ago, it’s hard to say exactly how, but I knew my life would have some magic, and I have figure skating to thank for that. I wish for everyone in this world to have even one moment of finding their bliss and chasing after it at all costs and I pray that you are lucky enough to even have two of those moments, because they are fleeting and sometimes unappreciated.

I started this story 17 years ago on a frozen cornfield and while my story is far from over, this chapter is. I will never stop searching for my spot in the stars, I will never forget the places I’ve been or the people I’ve met. I will never forget where I’ve come from. It will be a long time until I wake up in the morning not imagining that I’m late for practice, and in addition to never forgetting the sheer magic of giving my heart and soul to the world, I will never forget the smell of the air, the glint of the sun on the slippery surface, or the feelings I had 17 years ago on that cornfield.

Thank you for the memories.

  • Laura Burgos

    <3

  • _Lilzy

    WOW Johnny! Best of luck in your future endeavors and thank you for the gorgeous routines on the ice! Spasiba :-) Hoping to see you in one of the ice show programs somewhere on the West Coast!

  • Guest

    We have received a lot of love from you.
    They are treasures heartwarming beautiful.
    We will never forget you.
    Thank you for ever!

  • Marilyn Rae Forsten

    You put tears in my eyes reading this. You are such a beautiful skater. You will be missed.

  • MeredithMiner

    Tears, both happy and sad. On to the next sparkling future. Much love! xo

  • FSNews.ru

    Thx 2 U, Figure skating was not my favorite sport before Otonal in Turin, but became.

  • skating mom

    You are a true champion! Beautiful letter and all the best to you in your future endeavors, hope you realize the joy you brought into so many lives through your skating. You continue to be a wonderful role model for many young skaters including my 16 year old daughter. Thank you so much!

  • Puma J

    Johnny, you will always be my “Nureyev on Ice” :-)

  • Matt Stone

    Forever a National Champion! You’ve created a brand and a loyal fan base that will follow you where ever you go. Let’s go to Russia, wave our rainbow flags and give some people the middle finger.

  • Lorrie Kim

    You are not the only one who heard your mom screaming! From non-qualifiers to Nationals, I learned so much about parenting from your mom’s support of you. I remember seeing your first competition triple axel; I think it was Mid-Atlantics at Sky Rink. I remember your comeback “Dr. Zhivago” at a summer event; I think it was Liberty Open, and it was one of the best triple loops I’ve ever seen. I mentioned the trajectory of your jumps to Kathy Casey once and she sighed happily. Some who know you as a public figure might not realize that the core of everything for you has been the purity of your skating technique. More than fashion, more than activism, you’re an athlete first and forever. All my love as you leave this arena and go on to your next truth, and the next, and the next.

  • Lady Lisa

    What a beautiful article! Johnny, you should be nothing but proud of yourself for all you have accomplished in 17 short years! I am sure your family is so very proud of you and all of hard, never-ending work you’ve put into your sport to always show us your best! Thank-you for this! I’ve always thought your artistry is the best of anyone in the world, and your connection to the ice is so beautiful and true and not likely to be matched anytime soon. I truly believe your skating was worthy of a medal in Vancouver, and I can remember it like yesterday – one of the best Olympic performances the world will ever see – thank-you again for that. My Russian grandma used to tell me ‘you don’t have to win to be a winner’, and this is so true. It surely breaks my heart that you won’t be competing in Sochi, but if the competitors are smart there, they will look to your skating, to better theirs. I am SO proud of you Johnny! You know, every time you skate, show or competition, I’ve always thought your skating paints an invisible picture on the ice, and tells a story, drawing the watcher in so that you drop whatever you’re doing and just watch the story you tell us with your skating. And isn’t that what skating is so much about? You have given this world so very much with your skating, and I just want to say thank-you.

  • Lady Lisa

    Think it’s gonna be a major 2 hr cry here!

  • TJ

    Johnny Weir, thank you so much for the beauty and the happiness that you brought me and so many others — it’s really beyond what I can express through words. I will never forget the thrill I felt when watching you perform “Born this way” or “Bad Romance”, or the electricity in the air when you performed “Fallen Angels” with Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov — or any of the other countless performances that pressed the limits of artistry, sport, and fiercely individual personal expression. You have revolutionized figure skating and the way people think about it. You courageously stood up for yourself and you encouraged others to do the same. You leave figure skating a better place than it was when you came to it — and for that I and I’m sure so many others are truly grateful. Thank you for bringing such incredible joy and beauty into my life and into the lives of so many others. You are an inspiration to me both on a personal and artistic level and I really cannot communicate the level to which you have influenced me and made my life better and made me a better person and I know that must be true for so, so many more people. It is a privilege and an honor to have been your fan for so many years, and I look forward to many, many more years. I wish you joy and fulfillment in whatever your next steps may be. “Thank you” is such a small phrase for such a big feeling but it is the closest I can come to capturing the feeling that is in my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything, especially the beauty and joy you’ve brought to the world! Best of luck and much, much love!!! <3

    • TJ

      PS This is beside the point but I’m sorry, I can’t resist — this is *such* an incredibly well-written article. Thank you for letting us into your heart:) <3

      • TJ

        PPS I know you’ve sidestepped a literary career in the past, but if you ever eventually want to return to it, I do genuinely think you have incredible promise as a writer. <3

  • Ali dM

    You’re an amazing person Johnny Weir and I wish you the greatest joy and fulfillment in your next great adventure!!! Thank you for everything that you’ve given the world! I’ll never understand what it’s like to be a professional athlete, much less one who challenges every wrong he sees, but please know that you’ve changed so many peoples’ lives for the better; so many more than you will ever know!!! You are a hero (and my hero) and you have made the world a better place! A thousand thanks and a million well wishes!!! May you have as much happiness in retirement as you’ve brought everyone else in your skating (and in just being you)… Rock on superstar – the adventure is just beginning;)

  • sahdiak

    When I was 17, it was a very good year, the Frank Sinatra song began playing in my head after reading your first few lines. May you have many more great years, where ever your decisions in life takes you. Like Frank Sinatra, you did it your own way, whatever people said. I admire that because it isn’t always easy and you mostly don’t take the easy road. Looking forward to watching your pro routines and hearing your skating commentary.

  • Anna M. Ross

    When one door closes another one opens. Congratulations to you on all your great successes throughout your competitive figure skating years. You are a superb athlete and person. Thank you for sharing your incredible talents with the world and for all the extreme hard work on and off ice to obtain those talents. Thanks to your amazing family for being so selfless and allowing you every opportunity to pursue your dreams and goals. Your dedicated work ethics will never steer you wrong. Wishing you much happiness as you continue your figure skating in a considerably less stressful venue and HAVE FUN! YOU’VE EARNED IT! My deepest and most heartfelt congratulations to an outstanding athlete. All the best to you, young man! xo Anna M. Ross

  • Barbara Erickson Breuer

    Best of luck. May you always walk in love and light.

  • Lady Lisa

    original gangsta for-ev-va!

  • Mi La

    Keep the dream in you. And if you decide, do not hesitate to come back. Plushenko has done it.

  • Amanda Shank

    Like Johnny cried through composing his retirement statement, the tears stream down my cheeks as I write this.

    I’ve been an avid figure skating fan since I was five years old and saw the 1988 Winter Olympics on TV. Though without the advent of Ice Network or even the internet, I didn’t follow every single event as avidly as I have in the past 10 years or so. The drama and artistic aspect of figure skating captivated me and kept it’s hold all these years. It is my constant and I am eternally grateful to have lived through what I deem the golden age of figure skating and worshiped male skaters like Boitano, Wylie, Browning and others. But no one has made such an impact on my appreciation of the sport than the fantastic and incomparable Johnny Weir.

    I first laid eyes upon Johnny in 2001 during US Nationals and then again at 4CC (where he really caught my eye), I hadn’t followed his junior career or junior skating much in general, but I was aware of his Junior World Champion status. When I finally saw the man behind the remarkable achievement, he appeared to me as this lanky, skinny and somewhat gawky youngster, though he was only a year younger than me. I had no idea what to expect from his skating and wasn’t the most optimistic when it came to the state of US Men’s skating at the time, but when he began to glide across the ice, I was completely spellbound by his ease and grace. It was as if he had been born on the ice. Dick Button summed it up perfectly when he said Johnny skated like liquid gold. Needless to say, it was love at first sight for me.

    The more Johnny’s personality shined and the more his skating evolved over the years, the more I fell madly and hopelessly in love with him. He inspired me in so many ways: he was my artistic muse, motivated me to stay in shape, watching old videos of his best performances cheered me up when I was having a bad day, he gave me someone to root for and believe in when all my favorite skaters had retired, and he made me so fiercely proud to be an American.

    There are countless adjectives I’ve used to describe his skating over the years: sublime, graceful, transcendent, inspired, artistic, stunning, mesmerizing, magical, angelic, smooth, flowing, entertaining etc., but no mere word could ever do justice to what he creates on the ice. And no one will ever match the ease and ride out of his 3A, the grace of his movement and the depth of his soul. He will always be one of the brightest stars in the figure skating annals.

    Through the triumphs and the tumbles from grace, the brilliant programs and the not so brilliant moments, the biased commentary and the unjust scores, the heartbreak, the sublime jubilation, the sparkles and the tears; joyous and devastating alike, I’ve been on this journey with Johnny. To hear the official word of his retirement breaks my heart, as it’s the end of an era. There are so many hopes, dreams and medals that I wanted for him and that he was robbed of, and he so justly deserved. Yet time moves forward, the next generation rises up, but the memories always remain and I will never forget a single competitive skate from Johnny Weir. All great stories come to an end, and despite the lack of a few titles in his full trophy case, his story was an epic and masterfully written one.

    I cannot lament the injustice of Vancouver forever, and he won that Olympic gold in so many of our hearts. Those games and his flawless performances propelled Johnny from star to legend, despite not going home with the hardware he deserved. In so many other ways Johnny’s dreams have come true on and off the ice, he became a full-blown celebrity, he found the love of his life and got married, he has a fashion line and designs costumes for other skaters, wrote a book, had his own documentary and reality show, and more twitter followers than any figure skater in history. He has such a brilliant and creative mind, I believe he can achieve anything. I look forward to his career as a figure skating broadcaster for NBC, a show skater and whatever he chooses to do with his life in the future.

    His influence on the next generation is also undeniable. So many talented young skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu, Jason Brown, Misha Ge, and countless others aspire to be like Johnny. I see more male ice skaters that want to emulate him than any other figure skater of the past. He is their idol and forever mine as well. He will always be my beautiful ice angel and no one will ever own my heart like he has. Bless you Johnny Weir.

  • linlin

    Johnny, you have been my favorite male skater ever. I know several times I was so angry when you were not marked as you should have been.. I knew joy every time you were on the podium. Continue with you love of life and I know you will always be a success

  • vera polyakova

    Johnny, you have been a great inspiration in my life and you are a true champion. You will always be loved!

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