Photo Source: MaxPixel
The first time I stepped on the ice to skate, I ended up breaking my glasses and giving myself a bloody nose. As I nursed myself on the sidelines, I wondered why anyone would willingly subject themselves to a sport like this. Despite this bout five years later, I watched, with bated breath, the Men’s Figure Skating Championship, in-person, enthralled, and empowered.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. Simply put, that means my brain makes thoughts happen at such a rate that it sends me into a panic at times. Going into a new phase of my life having just been given the label of having a mental disorder was not very reassuring, and I found myself a bit wayward. I knew there was something “wrong” with me, but not how to deal with it. After a particularly rough day, I somehow found myself on YouTube, and queued up was a video of the Sochi Olympics about some Figure Skater from Japan. I had never had any sort of connection to the Olympics, or Figure Skating for that matter, so my instinct was to click away. But I didn’t. There must have been something kismet about it, as for some reason I choose to let whatever algorithm that decided I would enjoy this take the reins.
I watched Yuzuru Hanyu, dressed in a flowing white costume, glide across the ice to Nino Rota’s Romeo and Juliet. Each step across the ice formed a story, and each jump punctuated it. Having no knowledge of the sport, I had no idea what was difficult or what was impressive, yet I couldn’t help but feel some sense of security in it. Here was a man, in front of thousands of people, being a fully genuine and honest version of himself. Something about that sparked something in me, be it the passion I could sense, or the raw honesty he managed to convey. It inspired me.
I fell down a rabbit hole over the course of that night, and the following days, of the world of Men’s Figure Skating. I still had no idea about the intricacies of finer points of the sport, so each new skater that I watched was wildly impressive. After getting deeper and deeper into the sport, I began to learn the backstories of this skaters, like Javier Fernandez, hailing from Spain, who aimed to take the first Spanish Figure Skating Olympic Medal, or Nathan Chen, who at the time was still a high school student like myself. Each exuded a confidence that I envied and wanted to attempt to replicate. One of my biggest struggles with my anxiety was, and still is, the concept of masculinity. I had never fell into the cultural idea of the “ideal man,” and had felt myself isolated or like I couldn’t fit in. Being my genuine self felt like I was placing a target on my back, as every image on men I saw in my own life and the culture at large was this masculine picture that I felt that I, by extension, must fall into or be shunned.
Yet these men showed me the exact contrary, that you can stand in a stadium in flamboyant, androgynous clothing, and dance on the ice with style and grace and be applauded, exalted even, by the world. I started to realize that maybe I could be the same. Sure, maybe I’ll never wear a mesh sequin shirt and do a Triple Salchow in front of an audience of fans, as much as I’d love to. However, maybe I could do something like that in my day-to-day life. Figure Skating became something that showed me that I wasn’t a failure or faulty by being who I am. It became a tool to empower myself. If you had told a younger version of myself that a sport would become their anxiety security blanket, I’d probably laugh it off. But the connection I formed with skating didn’t simply shape me into who I am today, it allowed me to accept who I was in the first place.
John Finnegan is 17 and lives in Modesto, California. He’s written since his early years and plans to pursue a Doctoral Degree of English Literature. You can find him on Instagram at @johnwfinnegan