November Skater in Residence Blog – Kurt Browning

BLOG TIME !

Funny word … blog. It kind of falls out of your face like an accident.

“Excuse me, but what did you just say?  I couldn’t quite understand you.“ “Oh, pardon me, it was nothing. (cough cough) I just blogged a little.”

As far as describing something you write, blog is a much nicer word than ‘essay.’  Essays are so demanding and structured. Blogs are un-structured, I am told. I have also been told that I can be chaotic and unorganized at times. Well, if that is true, then blogging should be right up my alley.  So stand back, 6 feet at least, because I am about to blog, and I wouldn’t want to get any on you.

So…what have you all been up to during this pandemic? Really? You don’t say. Uh huh.

To be honest I really only asked to be polite and we both know you can’t answer me anyway, so, let’s keep pretending.  Now, ask me what I have been up to. (insert that question into your mind now). Well thank you for asking. I … have been ‘up to’ my neck in photos.

Photos of me, basically.

  • Me skating
  • Me training
  • Me backstage
  • Me at restaurants
  • Me posing… tons of those
  • Me mugging… even more of those, unfortunately me Me ME ….. 😩

It’s enough to make you have to gag a bit, or blog, whichever comes first. Going through 5-6 thousand photos of your life, I wish I were exaggerating here, gives you quite a bit of fodder to ponder.

I bet you are asking, “Why so many photos?“ Well, I was an international competitor during the era of ‘the envelope full of pictures.’ Before digital pics, we snapped a shot but did not know the results immediately. To remind some and educate others, we actually had to take the roll of film to a store and get it developed. When dropping them off, you often got propositioned, “Want an extra set of prints? Just a few bucks more. 😃 ” So, if you took the bait, you had an extra set of pictures to give to family members, friends, or even one of your fav skaters.

I was often handed an envelope with as many as 50 pictures from a competition I had been in. 5 of me doing figures, 10 of the short program, 10 of the long, 10 of the award ceremony if you made the podium, 10 of you skating in the gala and finally at least 5 of you walking to or from the bus into the rink or hotel.

It adds up!

As I culled the photographic herd, it felt like I was being disrespectful. You see, the garbage can was filling up to the brim with flat, colourful memories. It is amazing how many bad pictures you can take of a person skating, or am I just a tough subject to make look good? 🤔 And in case you were wondering, I looked into it, and it seems you cannot recycle ♻️ pictures … darn it.

Speaking of pictures, a quick shout out to a few of the people who were especially talented at making me look half decent in a photo: Tina, Debi, Andrea, Tracey, etc etc. Much Appreciated. And thanks to my mom (Neva) and my sister (Dena) as well. They made scrapbooks and answered fan mail. I unearthed so many ancient podium shots from my teenage years and all of them with my Mom’s glorious handwriting on the back with dates, details and names.

Names like Don Cowan, Andy Klein, Douglas Hemmerling, Mathew Hall, Patrick Brault, Doug Mattis, Norm Proft, Mike Slipchuk, Ronny Winkler, Paul Wylie, Heiko Fischer and even Brian Orser. The podium was a special little club. A mini elite gathering on a precarious platform where we wallowed in accolades, applause, awards and admiration. All the ‘A’ words, it seems, were heaped on those 6 shoulders (12 for dance and pairs). The podium is, understandably, a very special place that took quite a bit of time, trial and error, and good old-fashioned hard work to even apply for a spot. It left you jealous if you did not get to climb up and join in. Sport, like life, is hard that way.

Did any of you wonder why I didn’t mention Elvis or Victor? Patience, please. What… you in a rush to put your spice rack in alphabetical order? By the way, that is on my ‘to do’ list tomorrow.

Where was I ? Right, on the podium.

One of the best experiences I ever had while waiting to be handed a medal was in 1989. It was the World Championships in Paris, and it was the first time us 3 lucky kids had ever been on a world podium before. Grzegorz Filipowski placed third and, as happy as Chris Bowman and I were, Grzegorz was ecstatic! As I looked back at that moment in my life from different angles in different photos, I wished I could really go back and listen to what he was saying that made Chris and I laugh so much. He was one happy, bubbling bundle of joy and entertainment. In contrast, Victor Petrenko seemed stoic and intimidating. Sharing a podium with him was more like one sportsman respecting another sportsman. It wasn’t until we toured through Italy together that I realized he had a silly, fun and spontaneous side. One night we were all joyously gathered in my hotel room, as usual, and he decided to wear the top to my long program outfit. It was a purple and pink suit jacket kind of thing and it fit like a glove. To be more precise, I am not sure how he could breathe with it on. Canadian Champion and triple axel girl Lisa Sargeant tried it on too. She liked it so much she asked to wear it out to dinner (I have the pictures to prove it). That was the same night I chewed one end of a thin bread stick and famous East German coach, Juta Müller, nibbled at the other. Use your imagination. Years later Lisa was getting married to another skating friend, Jamie DriscolI, and I gave that jacket to her as a gag wedding present. Skating has been a portal to all sorts of amazing friends over the years.

Speaking of Elvis, he has never borrowed any of my clothes that I know of. Our on-ice rivalry stayed just that, on the ice. Our touring lives hardly ever crossed until recently on Stars On Ice. It has been great to spend time and see things from each other’s point of view. He appreciates that I know the judges treaded lightly on me a few times, and I appreciated the day he thanked me for helping him along when he was new to the big scene. We were, and still are, a good team.

Of all the thousands of images, and memories, I have sifted through, I have chosen to ‘blog’ ( insert tiny cough sound ) about the podium pics that I found.  The traditional 3 smiling faces :). Of course not everybody is in bliss on the podium. I am sure that silver, when you are expected to win, or especially when you actually thought you deserved that win, makes for a bit of a forced smile. While on the third step of the podium back in Paris, Grzegorz, on the other hand, was probably so happy because he was not favoured to make top 3 at that worlds in 1989. It is all about expectations isn’t it?

On my list of things to do, or lately pictures to organize, I will hopefully finish an album that consists solely of those podium pictures. I Even found a stash from my teenage years. Ahh.. we were so young. It has been fun to flip through and see the changing width of our pant legs, different amounts of sequins, depths of our neck lines, lengths of our collars and loss of our hairs. What isn’t in this particular book are any shots of myself on a podium with 5 rings on the front of it.

Now, what if this album did have a picture of me on that particular podium? And, since we are in la la dreamland now anyway, what if there were even two pictures of me on a podium from two different Olympic Games (small pause to think on that). Well, that little daydream was fun but it just wasn’t to be. I have created a different album with pictures from my 3 Olympic Games. They include some tough memories but also wonderful moments I do not ever want to forget. I did not medal at the Olympics, when expected, but I have dear friends who never ever got to even go. Perspective!

Time smudges things. It smooths the harsh, cutting edges of our losses. How I dealt with my Olympic failures, right or wrong, helped me move forward with my professional career.

“92’, I had a bad back.” “94’, It was bad luck in the warm up.”   More like bad decision making! Looking back, I think that not being announced as Olympic Champion, like most to my right and to my left in Stars on Ice were, made me hungry. I needed to find a way to contribute while skating in a cast that gives off such a golden Olympic glow. I knew I needed to take risks and work my skating butt off to be creative, entertaining and relevant in that environment. But, these past few weeks of photo-sorting and soul-searching has me wondering a little bit. ”How would I have been different had the Olympics turned out, well, more golden?” I am sure it would have been fun but maybe I wouldn’t have worked so hard or been as fulfilled as a professional skater?

Guess we will never know. With 5 world medals and so much luck in my life, I do not deserve to whine, but after this deluge of photos showing me everything in super slow motion, it is hard not to wonder.

Truly, I struggle to remember the Kid From Caroline, as they called me back then in the papers. Are my memories really mine or have photos, videos and four big moments twisted my memory of my younger self? Of course it has! No choice really. I see a kid in those photos with a mischievous smile and a fantastic mullet. He looks like fun, trouble, but definitely fun. A champion, I suppose, but more importantly, and hopefully, a friend to many. Lucky, too. How did he jump so high with horseshoes in his pockets? Looking at these pictures I get pulled into my past but not for long because there are dogs to walk, kids to cook for and so many other daily things to take care of. And since we cannot stay in the past, we also need to remember that we cannot stay the same person we used to be. Holding too tightly to either our successes or failures is, in my not-so-humble opinion, potentially unhealthy. Human history can teach us about ourselves. Learning from our past shapes our collective future. When not sorting pictures, I have been watching ‘Origins’ on Disney+. (not a paid endorsement). They talk about how the human race is constantly molding and pushing our borders, our lines in the sand, back and forth over the centuries. There are trends or developments that changed everyone’s lives forever. So many opportunities to learn. For example, lately, everyone on the planet is keenly interested in how past pandemics were dealt with. Pretty sure not too many of us thought about that this past New Year’s Eve. It helps to look back and learn from our global past but it also works for individuals as well. We think back on the big moments like jobs taken, moves made or marriage proposals accepted or turned down, but we also learn from the little moments too. Quite recently, I learned that the cupboard door left open can attack the top of your hairless head leaving a mark for all to see. Hurts too! I now close that door every time. Mistakes teach us to put our keys and glasses down in a consistent place, that dogs don’t usually get out through doors that have been closed and that plants thrive much, much better when actually watered occasionally. And on a bigger scale, looking back has taught me that losing the Olympics actually hurt me more than I let on.

Unlike smacking my head on the open door, I did not learn, and did it again. The feelings I have about those two losses have evolved over time. Sometimes we need to change the Band-Aid on old wounds, or better yet, realize we are healed and throw that Band-Aid away.

The trinkets, videos, photos and medals are all part of who I was, who I am and even who I will be someday. I have realized that it is important to understand that we cannot stay who we were or even who we are because we are all constantly evolving. Writing this has changed me a little and potentially aged you a lot. (almost done here, thanks for your patience).

Even though there were things in my past that I had hid from, I now believe that we should not be afraid to look back on our lives. Be open to change and growth. Try not to hold on to things so hard that you cannot evolve and grow naturally. I look at myself on those podiums and I know I cannot sit back and be that person my whole life. Those successes are there for me to lean on, but not to stand on. And when I see pictures of myself sliding across the Olympic rings, on my keister, well I try to let that lesson lift me. Carrying in our hearts an awareness of our mistakes, in any arena, yes, that pun was very intended, is a useful tool. Feeling regret or sadness for too long can turn into punishment ongoing. Mistakes, bad luck, bad judgment, regrets, they are all great teaching tools. But consider the option of allowing yourself to trust that you are always growing. That you’ve learned your lesson and that it could be time to move on.

Finding, organizing and preserving my skating past has been quite the emotional journey. It has moved me to tears and laughter and given me a reason to reach out to so many friends and also to remember ones that we have lost along the way. And you know, I bet I’m not alone in this. I am sure many of you have taken this journey lately as well. This pandemic has done so many terrible things, but I bet that our basements, closets, garages and storage lockers are looking better than ever. Wish I would have bought shares in Got Junk!

Speaking of the passage of time and journeys, thank you so much for going along with me on this blogged up thought process. I doubt we will be hugging anytime soon, but there is a chance I might be in a photo stashed away somewhere in your life. Why not open up an old box full of memories, come visit, and remember…

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