By Nicole Davies
I paced up and down the grassy hill inside the fence of the gym parking lot at school. I memorized the individual blades of grass in each patch of green and brown. Deep breath, inhale, exhale. I continued to pace. I had lacrosse practice, but I couldn’t bring myself to head down to the field until my mom showed up with my letter. The letter. Deep breath.
I needed to read the words “we are happy to inform you that you have been placed on the Junior roster for the 2004-2005 season.” One of my best friends read those words on her letter an hour earlier, and I was anxious to confirm the same good news for myself. My head was spinning; I couldn’t wait to be a member of Team USA, to represent my country internationally, to skate with the older girls, to paint my skates and compete two programs.
A few weeks earlier, I wasn’t thinking about the privileges, experiences and opportunities I would have on Junior, because I hadn’t planned on trying out until the following season. I was happy skating on Intermediate with all of my best friends, and I didn’t want our team dynamics to change or our team to get split up. When a number of my teammates, including four of my closest friends, decided they wanted to move up to Junior I didn’t want to be left out, so I showed up for Junior tryouts along with almost half of our Intermediate team.
I told myself I was there for the experience, with no expectation of actually making Junior, because I knew I didn’t have a chance. Even with that mentality I was shaking with nerves at the first tryout as my coach watched me perform my junior moves solo. Over the next few weeks of tryouts and “skate with the team” I got more comfortable and relaxed, I laughed with the girls, and I got attached to the idea of skating on Junior. Pacing the hill that afternoon after hearing one of my teammates made it, I believed the odds were in my favor.
I saw my mom’s car pull over the hill, so I ran over and jumped in the front seat. The butterflies fluttered in my stomach and I tried to control my breathing as my mom handed me the letter. Either I would get the opportunity to spend the next three years competing at the Junior level, or I would have to go through the nerves, the stress, the emotions and the anxious waiting of the tryout process again in a year. My envelope was fat, and a fat envelope meant only one thing—registration forms!
I pulled out the papers and began to read. “Dear Nicole, Thank you for participating in the tryout process. It is never easy to assess the right blend of new skaters. At this time we feel that you are not ready to join the Junior line…” I read it again. I didn’t move. “I didn’t make it.”
I didn’t cry. I made my mom drive around for a few minutes because I couldn’t face my friends at lacrosse practice without letting the information sink in. I called my skating teammates to break the news. Most people hadn’t received their letters yet, so they didn’t know how to react. After I called everyone I went to lacrosse practice and went through the motions, but everything was a blur and I didn’t absorb anything my coach said. When I got home I was still in a fog. I signed on the computer to figure out if the rest of my teammates made Junior. I found out from an alumni skater that my best friend did. A wave crashed over me and I felt physically sick. My heart broke. For some reason the thought that the two of us would be split up never crossed my mind. I knew some people would make it and some people wouldn’t, but I never pictured us divided.
I signed off the computer and turned off my phone to gather my thoughts and spend time alone. My emotions spun and shifted from disbelief, to disappointment, to anger, to sadness. The final count: three of my closest friends would be moving up to Junior, and they were leaving me behind.
Over the next few weeks our friendships changed. I wanted to be happy for the girls who moved up, but it was painful to hear about how much fun they were having on Junior when I couldn’t be a part of their new experiences. Each stage of the season brought a new ache of disappointment. I watched my friends get their international assignment, apply for their passports, get fitted for their Team USA jackets, wear fake eyelashes for competitions, compete their first junior short program—I wanted to be doing all those things for the first time at their side.
Although I didn’t think it possible the day I got my rejection letter, or even in the weeks following, as the year passed I was able to rally and gear up for Junior tryouts again both physically and emotionally. During my final season on Intermediate I developed leadership skills, strengthened my skating, and improved my understanding of what a team needs to be successful—all important characteristics of a strong international skater and a valuable team member.
The second time I tried out for Junior I made the team. I didn’t take anything for granted that season because I was thankful and honored to earn the privilege and opportunity to represent Team USA. The fact that not everyone gets the chance to compete at an elite level is something that I appreciated everyday. I have a distinct memory of warming up at Porter, looking around at my teammates in their navy blue Team USA warm-ups and getting the chills. I was proud and happy to be on my team, competing two programs, wearing red, white and blue, painting my skates and wearing fake eyelashes.
On Junior my friendships healed, and the pain of disappointment faded, but I never let myself forget what I learned from my last year on Intermediate. That year, the year I didn’t make Junior, was one of my most challenging, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Those experiences made me who I am. It taught me to fight when faced with disappointment, to never give up, and to take control of things in my power even in situations that seem out of my hands.