Every dream starts small. Aspirations to become the next Banksy begin with spray paintings on walls; the path to be Philip Glass redux might take a young musician through performances of “Ode to Joy” that cross music with “Duck Hunt.”
You might hear some version of this next month during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with the athletes’ narratives hyping their lifelong dreams of competing or performing on the largest stage in the world. They dream of flying, soaring to the gold, and are haunted by visions of spectacular crashes and failure.
But they still start small, start by taking the T-bar up the bunny slope or by trudging three blocks through the snow to sled down that neighborhood hill face first. From there comes the investment and the hours upon hours of practicing that lead to the early successes like the ones Gilbert skater Brenna Greco has begun to see.
Getting into skating
The soon-to-be 15-year-old and current Williams Field High School freshman already has several of her small moments tucked under the belt. She got on the ice about eight years ago after the Greco family found a coupon for ice skating in a newspaper, and the “snowball” rolled from there. She found a coach, began to make Polar Ice Gilbert her home four hours per day during the weekdays and an additional session on Saturday, and had to choose between pursuing a future in the rink or on the soccer field.
“I love that it is an individual sport, so I can have my moment. And the feeling of being on the ice is better than the feeling of kicking a ball,” she said.
It’s not a painless place to be.
In eight years of skating, Greco has already sustained three broken bones — one of her ankles now has a screw in it — earned a few stitches and a bounty of bruises from crash landings, and has shed her fair share of tears in the process.
The logical question, then, is if the scrapes, cuts and transformation into a bionic woman — not to mention the hours of practice every week — are worth it for the young skater. The answer, plain and simple, is yes, because Greco believes the past eight years have made the ice feel like home.
“It’s almost like a feeling of achievement when you do something well; you just feel successful, like a moment of brilliance,” she said. “Then, of course, there’s the falls, but that leads to motivation.”
The driving force
Let’s explore that last quote by starting at the end, which focuses on the philosophy of bouncing back after a moment of failure. It’s a pretty common refrain used by athletes, who spend much of their careers overcoming disappointments, both physical and mental. You can’t win if you don’t compete, and you can’t compete if you stay down on the ground.
Success is a key motivation to get back up, which draws back to the beginning of Greco’s statement. She’s had a taste of triumph, especially during the most recent season with the Desert Ice Skating Club of Arizona, where she won the top award at two competitions in Arizona. Greco estimates she made it to the podium — essentially finishing in the top four — for 16 of her 20 performances last fall.
Finishing that well on a frequent basis provides something stronger than motivation for Greco. Rather, she said it makes her ravenous to repeat.
“It makes you want it more, and it makes you want to do it again; the feeling of achievement wants to be repeated,” she said.
Aiming for perfection
“Repeat” is a word Greco relives every time she takes to the ice for practice.
Victory in ice skating is determined by subjective “perfection” via judges. There’s a certain way a skater should land every jump and every axle, and it requires hours upon hours of practice to get those moves as close to perfection as possible.
It’s not just limited to proper practice time; tips are offered by Ann and Greco’s coach Emma Keppeler as the skater warms up while having her photo taken. Keep the knee up more, they told her, don’t smile during your spins, they said.
One way or the other, she had to make sure she did it right.
“Consistency is definitely the hardest part of skating,” she said, admitting to a difficulty pulling off her triple jumps.
What she does isn’t cheap either, and that’s not just based on the cost of coaches, ice time or other equipment.
A sizable expense is given to the seamstress who designs the outfits that aid in her quest for aesthetic perfection for her. They come in an array of colors, different cuts, and are a clear reminder of figure skating’s inherent sartorial flair.
Blue, she said, is common for figure skaters, and Greco has dresses which sparkle, like the purple one she wore to Gilbert Polar Ice this week, and she flaunts her favorite color — yellow — in another outfit.
“It feels like you’re letting yourself out,” she said.
Watching the present, seeing the future
She’ll see her fair share of such outfits next month while watching the Games in Sochi and rooting for her favorite skaters — Greco’s a self-professed Gracie Gold fan — and try to imagine herself at that stage. Mentally, she already does that on the ice, as she’ll put herself into their skates and try to emulate their moves and grace.
Her stage now, though, is smaller, but it is the same one stars like Gold stood upon before they made it to Sochi. Greco has her fair share of drive too — Keppeler burned her ears a bit and used phrases like “hardworking,” “committed,” and “driven” to describe her pupil.
The young skater has a few steps and goals in mind as she advances in her skating prowess. The voyage starts with a trip to the national competition, and includes international competition as a member of Team USA in the long run.
“And maybe someday it will lead to the Olympics.”
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