So I was at the gym running on the treadmill and watching the championships on the little treadmill tv. I watched the short program and later got to see the free skate programs. The announcers had very specific expectations of what was going to happen before the short programs even begun. There were two favorites – Mirai Nagasu and Alissa Czisny.
Mirai Nagasu (in red, below left) took the US Championships in 2008 and went on to place 4th at the Olympics in 2010.
Alissa Czisny (in white, below right) took the US Championships in 2009 and 2011 and was expected to take the championship again this year to win 2 years consecutively.
On the other side of this was Agnes Zawadzki (right, purple) who spent the last two years doing ok, not great, and generally unhappy as a skater. Last year she almost quit because figure skating had stopped being fun, something she enjoyed and looked forward to. She got a new coach and decided to try one more time. She went into the nationals not expected to place.
Ashley Wagner (top left, black) had some health issues that made the last couple of years difficult for her. She ended up moving to California to work with a new coach and everyone was kind of curious to see what, if anything, this new coach had given her.
What happened over the short program and free skate was shocking to the announcers and the audience. Marai Nagasu and Alissa Czisny did not have clean programs. They stumbled, they didn’t make landings, they were not on their game. They fell repeatedly. Each mistake brought more mistakes until one of the announcers mentioned “this is just heartbreaking to watch.”
Out of no where, Agnes performed a beautiful, clean short program with the most amazing jumps. She caught air. She had so much power in her spins she defied gravity. She sparkled as she skated and ended up sweeping the short program and went into the long program in first place.
Agnes fell during her long program but she still finished with the most beautiful smile. She was absolutely glowing. Ashley Wagner skated a very strong long program without any falls, no mistakes. I think she dropped one of her 7 (SEVEN!?!?!?) triple jumps to a single if I remember correctly, but otherwise it was flawless and she ended up taking the gold medal.
It was a nail biter of a competition and with each troubled performance the announcers kept saying the same thing, “She let the negative thoughts/the doubt/the fear into her head.” It wasn’t that these trained athletes couldn’t do their sport. They’d practiced these programs until they could do it with their eyes closed. It wasn’t that they COULDN’T do it. This is important so I’m going to repeat it one more time - it wasn’t that they couldn’t do what they set out to do. It was that they got out in front of that audience at game time and for one moment thought -
“What if I’m not good enough? I can’t do this.“
And they they couldn’t.
“She did a double instead of the triple she planned.”
“She wasn’t going into the jump fast enough.”
“She held back.”
And I kept thinking, what if they hadn’t held back? What if they still missed the jump but the reason they missed it wasn’t because they held back? Wouldn’t that be better than thinking back later - maybe I could have stuck the landing if I’d just gone all in no matter what?
What might happen if we writers went all in and didn’t hesitate, didn’t hold back? Maybe we still wouldn’t get agented, still wouldn’t get published. Maybe our dreams wouldn’t happen with this book, or the next. But wouldn’t it be great if we could say
I finished the book, finished the query letter, and I put myself out there.
I let them judge me and maybe they won’t find what they are looking for in me today, but it won’t be because I didn’t show up to play the game.
I didn’t hesitate.
And I sure as hell didn’t hold back.
We can’t fail if we don’t finish, but we can’t win either. Maybe we’re not yet gold medalists. Maybe we aren’t going to be John Green or Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling. Maybe we won’t even end up agented and we’ll have to take a different path. But maybe we will come out of no where and be our own Ashley Wagners and Agnes Zawadzkis. Maybe we’ll bring people to their feet because they sure didn’t see us coming.
There’s only one way to find out.