Doing It for Real: A Skater with Type 1 Diabetes Takes Her First Test


I took my figure skating test two days ago, on Sunday, as planned. For me, it was a rite of passage as a skater and a crystallizing learning experience. The outcome was mixed: not a quantifiable triumph, but a personal one.

Because the test would be my first ever as an adult skater, in the days leading up to it I tried to practice as much as I could without burning out, and I sought information from my coach and other skaters as to what the scenario would be like. Both, it turns out, are necessary for facing physical challenges.

On Friday, I had a lesson with my coach, Fred, at which we ran through the test as an approximation. We predicted the test could go either way; in some moves I was strong, in others still tentative. I was nervous. At the end of that lesson he said, “We’ve done what we can do,” in a positive (not resigned) way, and he gave me some last-minute advice on getting ready, which included a good night’s sleep.

On Saturday, I went to the rink hours for my club: the MIT Figure Skating Club (FSC). I continued practicing and tried to keep the urgency out of it. I felt sort of detached, in a useful way. There was no heightened emotion. I was calm.

I went home, washed my skating clothes, thought about what I would eat for breakfast, and went out to dinner with my family. Not nervous, I was still looking ahead to the next morning. I did not overeat at dinner, which might have required a correction bolus with unpredictable results later. I drank only half of my glass of wine, not wanting to experience the paradoxical low blood glucose (BG) sometimes brought on by alcohol consumption.  At bedtime, my BG was close to the ideal 100, so I dialed back on my basal rate by 20%.

Sunday morning, I awoke at 5am, alert. BG was 130 – pretty good. Got ready, double-checked my bag. I ate some whole-wheat crackers and peanut butter and filled a bottle with water. On my hand I wrote: Take off pump! I knew I would want to remove my pump before the test, not wanting the jitters of low BG to coincide with the jitters of test nerves. I arrived at the rink early, and talked to other early-bird skaters who were also registered for tests. A little nervous, not too much.

Went into rink. Judges arrived. Watched the first set of tests, one skater at a time. More nervous. Thirsty.

The 10-minute warm-up for my set of testers was announced. Heart pounding in chest. Knees trembling. Skated and warmed up, thinking too much.

I noticed that my coach, Fred, had arrived, and I was relieved to see him. We stood and watched the two skaters who tested before me and talked in low voices.  He prompted me to say out loud the order of the moves in my test:

  1. perimeter stroking, both directions
  2. forward and backward edges
  3. forward and backward crossovers
  4. waltz 8, twice
  5. spirals


Abruptly, without fanfare or announcement – just a nod from the test coordinator — it’s my turn. I fumble at unclipping my pump; I swig from my water bottle and drop the cap. I have practiced a calm skating face, and I put it on. I begin. My knees are shaking. I remind myself to bend into them, harder. I feel awkward. The rink is totally silent; there is no music, and the judges and other skaters do not speak. During my least comfortable moves, I hear my toe picks scrape the ice loud. So loud! They are not supposed to be scraping the ice. I frantically think: Oh no! I can’t stop this sound. I can’t fix this move. I know I am supposed to be skating on the balls of my toes, not on my toes, but I can’t make my feet get back to the balls. Still, I tell myself what Fred has told me: Keep skating. Go through the patterns.

I keep my outward composure, my skating face. I remember the order of all the moves, and I skate them all. My heart is pounding behind my sternum, and my knees shake. My arms, strangely, are steady. My T-stops are firm.

I finish; I skate off; I wait.

The judges’ feedback and scoring sheets are brought over and handed to my coach. Fred holds them, running his finger under certain comments. “Good. Yup, more work on these. We knew that.” He doesn’t say pass or no pass, and I can’t decipher the arrangement of the summary sheet to see if it explicitly says “pass” or “no pass,” but I can tell: no pass.

But, I’m okay. I’m not elated, but I feel lighter and proud of having done it. I feel as though I’ve been initiated and gone from being one kind of skater to another kind, and this is a kind that can’t be measured in technical skill, but in desire and determination.

And I kept skating. I did not back down or lose track of what I had to do.

The main judge, on his way out the door, stopped where I was standing with Fred. He said, “Don’t be discouraged” (I wasn’t), and he gave me some advice and more insight into his score. I thanked him.

The test session ended, and the ice opened up to all skaters. I skated, around and around and around. It was like breathing.

Tomorrow, I have another lesson with Fred. We return to the drawing board with more information. There is a 28-day waiting period to test again, and I will. From the experience, I learned that there are two kinds of preparation for an athletic test or competition: technical and mental. It is one thing to have the skills – and I believe I can skate better, privately, than I did during my test on Sunday – it is another thing to have the mental composure, toughness, and perhaps even bravado to carry me through a public scrutiny of what I can do.

I would never say I am glad I have diabetes, but my many years of living with it has taught me that I can make mistakes – even have a major fail – and I can take the feedback from those mistakes as data and apply them as knowledge to try to improve.

There are no assurances as to outcome. But going back to it, again and again, feels like progress. And on some days, I glide.


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10 years ago

Jane, this was exhilarating to read:  I could feel every bit of tension and excitement along with you.  Shaking knees and all, you pushed through–clearly, you’ve already got the mental toughness that this kind of competition takes.  But the best part?  That afterward, you “skated, around and around and around. It was like breathing.”  You still take pure pleasure in it; that’s what I call an unmitigated victory.

Scott K. Johnson
10 years ago

You came away with some awesome feedback and a test under your belt. That will surely ease some of the nerves for next time. You can do it!

Karen Higginson
10 years ago

Awesome…I’m rooting for you. You have a great attitude which I’m sure will continue to serve you and others well.

Robin Cacopardo
10 years ago

Wow, great post!!!

I’m so impressed that you do this. It sound so hard and stressful it’s hard to believe you do this for fun (running is so easy in comparison). I really hope you pass next time.

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