Wyoming Legend

By: Diana Palmer


SHE HEARD THE cheering of the crowd, as if it was close by. Lights flashing from dozens of cameras in the spectator stands. Music, beautiful music. The sound of her skates on the ice made smooth by the Zamboni. The perfect lifts and tosses by her partner as they soared toward the gold medal in the World Championships. The reviewing stand. The medal looped around her neck, the exultation as she faced the news media and shared her struggles and tragedies that had led her and her partner to the medal. Then, so soon after, the new tragedy that had put her in the hospital just days before they were to start training new programs for the National Championships and then, if their luck held, the Olympic Games. The hope of that Olympic gold medal in pairs figure skating, however, was already fading in the distance. Her hopes and dreams, crushed as the surgeon labored to reduce the damage in her ankle. Gone. All gone. Hopes and dreams of medals were lost like the dream that faded as she woke in her own bed, in her lonely apartment.

Karina Carter went to the kitchen to make coffee. It still felt awkward to walk without the cast and supporting boot she’d sported for five months. She had sports therapy for the break, which was healing. But her partner, Paul Maurice, was forced to practice with another skater, one not in her class. If the woman performed well, he would break up his partnership with Karina—with her permission, of course—and prepare for the Nationals. He and Karina had placed in the top tier at both the Grand Prix and the Four Continents events earlier in the year, which, added to the Worlds gold medal, would surely give them a spot on the Olympic team. It had been just after the last of the international competitions that the accident in training had happened.

Now, in October, almost six months after the accident, Paul was going to have to break in a new partner. That would mean that both he and Karina would sacrifice the Envelope—the stipend awarded by the United States Figure Skating Association to high-level contenders. Paul and Karina had been in Tier 1, the highest level of all. But if Paul officially changed partners, which he hadn’t done yet, both he and Karina would lose their financial help.

With that in mind, Karina was looking at job possibilities. Her expenses would be much less since she was out of competition, perhaps forever. She had a career decision to make and it was going to be a hard one. Paul understood. He’d always supported her, whatever she did. She hoped that his new training partner worked out, so that he could compete again in figure skating. If he worked hard, he and his partner would work their way through sectionals and Nationals to the big events next year. It would mean missing the Olympics, because a new team had to practice a lot to get to even the early competitions. Pairs skating was the hardest of all the disciplines in figure skating, because there had to be such perfect unison in the movements.

But that no longer concerned Karina. She’d given up. Her doctor had convinced her that it was madness to get back on the ice. That suited her, because she was afraid to try to skate again. The fall had been nightmarish.

There was a job interview later today, in Catelow, Wyoming, north of Jackson Hole and the small town where she’d been born. She’d lived with Paul’s family just after the tragedy that had cost her parents their lives. Her parents had been gone for three years now. They’d died, ironically, in a plane crash on their way home from watching their daughter compete in the last Olympic Games. That tragedy had crushed her spirit. She and her partner had worked so hard. But they’d placed only eighth in the last Olympic Games. But this year, they’d won the Nationals, the Grand Prix, the Europeans, and then the gold in world competition. If it hadn’t been for Karina’s fall...

That gold medal in world competition had fired them up, made them hungry for the events that would lead them back again to the Olympics. But the accident, in training of all things, had robbed Karina of any hope that she might participate again. Paul felt guilty because he’d thrown her so high in one of their signature moves; but she’d landed badly. It had been her fault more than his.

Their new coach had comforted her. She needed several months to recuperate after the surgery to repair her ankle. She’d be back. She needed to keep up with the physical therapy, see her sports doctor regularly and then get back on the ice. She could do it, even if it took a whole year, which it might. The coach, an accomplished skater himself, insisted that one accident wouldn’t rob Karina of her chance at Olympic gold. After all, wasn’t she named for two famous figure skaters? Her name, Karina, was a combination of Katarina, for Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, and Irina, for Irina Rodnina, who’d won a record total of ten Olympic gold medals in her career. Both skaters were heroines of Karina’s late mother.