Monday, 9 September 2013

Interview With Allison Scott

Leah Adams photo

Three times Jeremy Abbott has stood atop the podium as the U.S. senior men's champion. You know, no big deal! Just a few national titles, right? In 2010, he represented the United States at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Right now, it's 2013, and Jeremy's preparing for his biggest season yet... which very well might see him heading back to the Olympic Games once again, this time somewhere a little more cold. But they have vodka, so that's the main thing. At any rate... beside every figure skater that makes it "to the top", there is a support system of family, friends, coaches, choreographers and so many others that are integral to that skater's success. And then there are those support figures that go the extra mile... One of them is Allison Scott, who's not only Jeremy Abbott's mother but an amazing person all of her own. She's a huge supporter of the sport, not only a skating parent and an adult skater herself but a blogger, friend, lifelong fan and huge supporter of skating itself. We talked about a little of everything - from what it means to be a skating parent to her own skating and involvement in the sport, the ever controversial and hot topic of judging to her favourite skaters and even bullying within the sport. I enjoy ALL of the interviews that I've done but this one will definitely go down as one of my favourites and I think you'll agree:

Q: Your son is one of MY favourite skaters, the amazing Jeremy Abbott! When Jeremy first started skating, did you ever think he would achieve and continue to achieve the things he has today?

A: I’m not sure there is a good answer to this, Ryan. Looking back now, the past 24+ years just “happened.” All we knew was that Jeremy loved to skate. From the first time he stepped on the ice in Aspen at age 2 to today, this is what he’s lived and breathed. It’s been his life and his passion. Did we ever think he would achieve the things he has? We hoped he would achieve what HE wanted; not what WE wanted. There’s a difference. What we hoped more, though, was that – when we got to the last hill of this competitive roller coaster and looked back – we could all say, “What a ride it’s been!”

Q: The amount of sacrifice that parents of skaters go through to allow their children to achieve their dreams is incredible. Believe me. I know. I didn't make it to the Nationals let alone Olympics and my parents made some serious financial sacrifices to allow my sister and I to both have ice time, lessons, new blades and boots, skating in the summer, spring and fall, clothing, travel... the list goes on. How mentally difficult is balancing a day job and trying to support an elite skater... and most importantly how can people with the means help? I don't think a lot of skating fans even know how they can help support their favourite skaters!

A: I’m not sure we did it well, at least not financially. But I also know we’re not alone when it comes to making extreme sacrifices. Our story is relatively common. We will probably never catch up with the bills. We refinanced three or four times and we still have two mortgages. We are not wealthy people; our house is very small and in an older neighborhood. We both work in the hospitality business, which has suffered some tremendous setbacks in the past four years. Up until that time, we were starting to make some headway. Then, my husband (Jeremy’s step-dad Allen) was laid off in 2008 and had a long period of stringing projects together. After Vancouver, we felt someone from the family should be at  Worlds to help end a difficult season. Allen went to Torino to support Jeremy and while he was there he blew his knee out . That landed him in an Italian hospital on his birthday, then to surgery at home and on crutches for a long time. All of that set us back even further. But Jeremy’s been paying his own expenses since 2009, so now we’re just trying to consolidate. Regarding funding, we have been so fortunate. Years ago, we had people donate to the New England Amateur Skating Foundation in Jeremy’s name.  I t was a true help when Jeremy was pre-Juvenile through Intermediate. After that, we got some assistance from USFS Memorial Fund. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it usually got some of his lessons covered. We’re very grateful for that support and we give to it each year now so other young skaters and their families can keep going. In past years, Jeremy has had private assistance from individual sponsors. One from Japan stepped up with a few years of support to help with skating bills. Unfortunately, this person became quite ill and has not been able to assist. I can tell you, however, we could not have survived without this unsolicited assistance. The other support has come through foundations. There are some out there. Most federations are aware and have contact information. You have to do your homework, though. Criteria for each are different. Then there are the fans. What can you say about fans who step up and help when they perceive a problem. We have had help on so many levels from fans – from offers of tickets, to discounted lodging, to words of encouragement. Of course, people know about Jeremy’s Japanese Fan Club. They are single-handedly responsible for continuing and growing Jeremy’s idea of the Boys Fund to encourage young boys to stay in the sport. Words cannot express our gratitude for those fans that saw the need and supported Jeremy in his efforts. This was a long answer to a difficult question. The “Readers Digest” answer is, yes, people can support their favorite skaters but they need to do their homework, make sure that gifts do not compromise the skaters or their families even further tax-wise, and they also need to know that there are many ways to support, other than monetarily.

Q: I remember when my sister and I were both skating and how much of the edge of my seat I was watching her skate. I think I was more nervous for her than I was myself. How do you and have you dealt with the nerves of watching your son compete on the national, Olympic and World stage?

A: Every parent deals with nerves in their own way. I’ve never been one to really hide or pace. I know parents who absolutely cannot watch. I know others who purposely video their kids because the camera gives them that extra layer of “protection.” Over the years, I learned to deal with my nerves by watching a LOT of skating before Jeremy competes. I’ve been known to go to whatever level of competition is out there the day before and the day of competition. I think I do it to desensitize myself (or to numb myself – aka: brain freeze!). I watch ALL senior men. Of course, I do that because I know so many of them and I truly love them. They’re like my kids. Sometimes, I’m more nervous for my “boys” than I am for my own boy. I want them all to walk off the ice happy with their performances. Jeremy so rarely skates in early groups anymore, that means I’ve got hours of skating before he even takes the ice. By the time the last groups are up, I’m ready. Nervous? Of course. But certainly better mentally prepared. Of course, the Olympics in Vancouver were an entirely different “animal.” I’d suggest people read my blog to truly know how I felt about that experience!

Q: Tying in with my own experiences in the skating world, I certainly know about "skating parents". Some of the nicest people I've ever met have been parents of skaters but the "Stage Moms" you see on shows like Toddlers And Tiaras and Dance Moms are out there in skating... believe me. What have your relationships with other skaters parents been like and does the same cattiness that goes on in rinks across America still exists amongst the parents of elite skaters in your opinion?

A: You know, it’s funny. By the time we’ve all been around the block as many times as we have, there is an understanding and commonality that binds us all in some strange and slightly dysfunctional way. Many of us have been together for more than 20 years. We’ve seen the highs; we’ve experienced the lows. We have lived through more than our share of extreme challenge and in some cases extreme tragedy. We’re “family.” Yes, what I call the Dragon Lady moms and the Darth Vader dads are out there – particularly at the lower levels. But when you have years of shared experiences, and years of having your derrière frozen to metal bleachers, you learn to keep one another company. We understand one another.  


Allison and her husband Allen

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island with 3 things and 3 people, who and what would they be and why?

A: That’s easy. My wonderful husband of 25 years, Allen. My incredible daughter, Gwen, and my terrific son. Family is everything. Three things: a trunk big enough to hide my step son, his wife, my grandbaby, my son-in-law and my mom; a boat and fuel. (I guess that doesn’t mean we’d be stranded, does it?) Oh, and a computer with WIFI so I could blog about the experience…and call for help..

Q: What can you share about your own skills and experiences on the ice?

A: I skated as a kid. I don’t remember ever not skating  -  or skiing, for that matter. I was one who loved to do figures, though I can’t say I was particularly good at it. I still love nothing more than skating recreationally, but it has to be outside. I’m a huge fan of skating outdoors. I was club president for a long time but I truly loved helping with Learn to Skate, and taking my preliminary dance tests. I loved doing shows and with a good friend we designed and constructed many of the club sets in my garage outside of Aspen. That was the best time for me. I loved doing competition announcing, particularly for club competitions. I never felt volunteering to help was a “chore.” It helped me get to know officials and learn the rules of competition.

Q: You were recently a judge on Young Artists Showcase and have been a vocal supporter of this particular event. How can events like YAS bring more viewers to skating right now and most importantly, why should new skaters and choreographers get involved in the future?

A: Now that the “New System” isn’t new any more – and it certainly isn’t going to go away – it is incumbent on those of us who want to see the art and sport of figure skating evolve to support budding young choreographers who are working from within the system to show it can be so much more than TES and TSS, plus grades of execution and, certainly WAY more than just the jumps. Choreography isn’t a necessary evil that gets a skater from one element to another, it is the thread that forms the fabric of our sport. That’s why I support YAS, and the skaters who are putting themselves on the line artistically to explore potential.  When Audrey asked me to be a “judge” for YAS4 Challenge 4, I was very nervous. “I’m just a skating parent. I’m not a judge, skater, choreographer or coach. I’m just another frozen butt in the stands.” But both Audrey and Doug Mattis pointed out to me that, if we’re going to rekindle a love of skating in a wider audience, skaters need to understand that they are not only performing for scores, they are performing for audiences. That performance needs to reach past the first few rows of the judging stands and all the way to the back row of the arena. They felt I could bring that perspective, so as nervous as I was to express my opinion, I did it out of true love of the sport – the same reason the skaters were creating their wonderful pieces. It’s been an honor and joy to watch every piece, and to express my “uneducated” opinion, as well as voice my undying support. New skaters and choreographers need to take note, and if it is YAS, or some other outlet where they can create, they NEED to create. It will only elevate the sport.


Jacque Tiegs photo

Q: I love Yuka Sato! I'm dying to know... is she as nice in person "as she seems on TV"?

A: In a word? YES! Past that, it would take me a volume the size of War and Peace to describe how incredibly grateful I am to Yuka, Jason and the Detroit Skating Club team for how they embraced Jeremy and made him part of the family. But the relationship Yuka and Jeremy have is one of total respect and collaboration. Yuka has been described as “the skater’s skater.” Jeremy admires her so much and respects not only her talents, but her innate sense of what he needs to further himself artistically and athletically. She always has his best interest at heart.

Q: If someone were coming to your house for your best dinner, what would they be having?

A: (I am fighting the temptation to say “YOYO” which in our house means – “You’re on your own.”) I’m pretty good at grilling and creating something out of “nothing!”


Allison and Doug Mattis hit the frozen stage

Q: You're great friends with Doug Mattis, who was actually one of my favourite professional skaters to watch when I was skating. I've gotten to know him (and you) a bit but don't have a clue how you both first met! Why do you both get along so well and what's the funniest time you've had together?

A: I got to know Doug through his posts online, and through many mutual friends who said we had to meet. We actually didn’t meet until San Jose and we hit it off immediately. Subsequently, we’ve had many opportunities to work together on volunteer projects, most notably for Nick and Tricia LaRoche’s show, “An Evening on Ice.” This year, we also joined forces in tweeting and posting in support of “Skate for Hope.” Both projects are extremely important to both of us and we love collaborating, coming up with fun ideas on how to gain attention and raise money for these causes. The past two years of Nick and Tricia’s show, I’ve volunteered my time and talents out of my deep love for both of them. Jeremy was only able to skate in the first show, but I’m a “lifer” now. What they are doing is so very, very important. I went to “Hope” as a skin cancer survivor. While Doug and I did some work together, I was there more as a support for Carolyn and the program she has built over the past 10 years. It was incredibly inspirational and I’ve made many new and wonderful friends thanks to going. The funniest time Doug and I have had together? Well, most people would expect me to say it was when we skated together last year in “An Evening on Ice” because we helped raise donations. Yes, that was incredibly fun – and funny. But for me, the funniest time I’ve had with Doug was when I stayed at his home in Vegas and got my toes eaten by his puppy Ina. I couldn’t walk down the stairs or into the room without getting attacked. I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. However, Doug and I tend to laugh a lot when we’re together. It is also the one thing that is the springboard for our creativity and makes us such great collaborators. I am a huge fan of this man. He is one of those very, very special people who will always be my friend. He’s like my younger (WAY younger) brother from a different mother. By the way, I adore his mom, too! Mama Jill is a force of nature and a very special woman.

Q: What are your honest opinions on the IJS judging system - the good, the bad and the ugly?

A: It’s funny but I’ve never really objected to IJS. There are some very good things about it. Where it fails to deliver is not as much in the system itself but in the lack of explanation of the system to the skating fans. In my opinion, if people got to SEE the scores – the TSS, TES, grades of execution and levels etc – as they are recorded, it would be so much better. Instead, they see a score that makes no sense to them at the time it’s flashed on the Jumbotron; they don’t get to see the larger view until the protocols are posted. With the 6.0 system, there was security. 6.0 equaled perfection. But that was subjective. No one outside of the judges really understood what went into achieving those scores. At least with IJS, there is some outline of expectation with a point value assigned to it. Will it ever be perfect? It’s a subjective sport. “Perfect” is when you take the human element out of it, like Jeremy’s sister had when she was a ski racer. How fast can you make it down the hill. You don’t have to look great; you just have to cross the finish line first. If you have sparkles on your downhill suit, no one cares. It might cause for some comment, but – hey – you won based on how fast you skied. If you sign up for this ride on IJS, get to know it as well as you can. It’s not going away. 6.0 isn’t coming back. One of my favorite sayings applies here: “It is what it is.”

Q: You wrote a piece on your fantastic blog "Life On The Edge Of Skating" about bullying. How much does bullying exist within the skating world and in what ways can it change?

A: My blog on bullying was intended as a pro-active way to spotlight what is happening in so many areas of our lives right now - not only personally, but with  what exists on line,  in homes, schools, workplaces and on playing fields around the world. With the proliferation of social media, bullying has taken on a new form. It’s out there. We’ve all seen it. How many sad young people have taken their lives because they have experienced bullying? There are way too many examples of late. My heart breaks for the families who didn’t know what was happening because their kids were too shy or ashamed, or too embarrassed to tell them. But bullying takes on many subtle and not-so-subtle forms that extend way beyond the more publicized cases. I wrote my blog because, at some level, we have all experienced it. What I’ve found over the years is that bullies usually were bullied; they were taught by example in their homes, and many seem to do this as a way to “get even” for the verbal and sometimes physical abuses they experienced. Education on what bullying is, and how to deal with it, is the only way to help people cope. Like with all things, there is strength in knowledge.

Q: Speaking of your blog, did I mention how much I love it? Only having started to blog in February, it's a whole new world to me to be honest and I feel as if I'm learning as I go. What do you enjoy most about "putting a pen to paper" so to speak and what are the downsides?

A: Thanks! I love yours, too! I started my blog as a journal more than as a blog, per se. I don’t monetize it. I write as a form of “exercise” – or “exorcise,” as the case might be. The fact that it has caught on and gained the respect of parents, coaches and skating fans around the world is encouraging, but I don’t feel compelled to write unless I have something to say. That’s the nice thing about it; it’s not my day job. Because it isn’t how I make my living, I haven’t found many downsides to it. The one thing that has, from time-to-time, been problematic is that people view me as Yoda. I am a bit taller than that; I think I have a bit more hair. What I don’t have is all the answers. I only have my opinions and perspective from being in this sport for more than 24 years. It is difficult when I receive private messages asking for advice on difficult topics. I try to direct people to the professionals who are equipped to talk about these things. If they are coming to me, they don’t have the resources. I try to get them with the people who do. I’m only there to let them know that, on some level, they are not alone. I strive for “universal truths” that transcend our small and frozen world. What I enjoy most about blogging is trying to find those universal truths and to express them in a way that is meaningful, and humorous. I love double entendre. Doug Mattis gives me a +3 GOE on many of mine. I can tell you that my double entendre can beat most quads, particularly when done in combination! At the end of the day, what I really enjoy about blogging is seeing how it is reaching so many people, and how many friends outside of skating I’ve made because of what I write. You can’t put a monetary value on that.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters ASIDE from Jeremy of all time to watch?

A: Wow... so many! I’ve been in love with skating since I was three years old. I’ve loved so many skaters for so many reasons, each reason as different as the decade in which they skated. I’m going to “cheat” here and give you three icons in my mind and three more current but equally inspiring. I can do that because I’m old and it is my prerogative. Top three from past decades ( in no particular order) would be: Janet Lynn, Robin Cousins and John Curry. That’s really not fair since I have a TON of favorites - so for those of you who are skating greats and also my friends in this category... I humbly apologize. Top three from recent years: I’m a Jeff Buttle fan and was even when Jeremy competed against him. I remember walking up to Jeff at the Colorado Springs World Arena when it hosted Four Continents. That was the first time Jeremy competed in Four Continents.  Jeff was sitting with a group of Canadian skaters and I introduced myself. You could tell from the expression on his face he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I immediately launched in and told him how much I admired his skating. He was extremely gracious, but I could tell he was more than a bit shocked. I can’t imagine what they all said about me when I walked away. I think they were all a bit dumbfounded at my “fan girl” moment.   I never got to meet  them, but I’ve always admired Shen and Zhao (can I count them as one?). And - of course - Michelle. What can I say about Michelle other than thank you for being so supportive, such a great role model in addition to inspiring skaters and fans around the world.

Q: What is one thing about you most people don't know?

A: I’m pretty much an open book... or blog. I think the one thing people don’t know about me (yet) is my truly wicked sense of humor. I also don’t think people know I am a huge supporter of artistic and athletic programs that empower and encourage people with disabilities. The one thing that I’m most proud of is that I lost 38 pounds on Weight Watchers.  I’m even more proud of the fact that the love of my life, my husband Allen, has lost 68. We’re celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary September 17. We’re going for 50 years! Of course, if we had married when we both were FIRST married (this is a third for each of us) that 50 years would only be seven years from now!

Q: Looking forward to the Sochi Games and beyond, what are your biggest hopes and dreams for your son - and figure skating in general?

A: My hope for my son is what it always has been for all my children: to continue to find their passion and to love their lives. My hope for skating in general is that it continues an evolution within the system and finds its artistic “voice” again, so we can enjoy the true art and sport of figure skating. I also hope our sport finds new role models and mentors who understand that the best way to pay back to the sport that has given them so much is to Pay It Forward to the next generation.

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1 comment:

  1. Honest, loving and forthright, that's Allison!

    ReplyDelete