Motherly Advice

Motherly Advice

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Motherly Advice

A man, to see far, must climb to some height.

Ralph Connor, 1900

I had the kind of mom who was never in a hurry. This would sometimes drive my dad crazy, as he prides himself in being always on time and totally organized. I sure know where I get my relaxed attitude from, and it’s not my dad!

During all those years of early morning skating practices, mom would wake me up at 4:50 A.M. with a gentle nudge and a soothing voice. She followed this up five minutes later with another wake-up call. My dad had a different style altogether. He would call from the door of my room and then again only ten seconds later. He had no sympathy!

Mom would have breakfast for me in the car, and truthfully, I think we really savoured that thirty-minute drive from our home in Caroline, Alberta, to the rink in Rocky Mountain House. She would think nothing of stopping to look at some deer at the side of the road, or to sit on the hood of the car and wonder about the northern lights. Sometimes it seemed like we had the whole country to ourselves. Sure we would be a little late, but she knew that sometimes there were just more important things to experience. Well, the years went by, and eventually more important things did come along.

My coach, Louis, and I were on the bus on the way to the arena when we heard the news. It seemed most of my toughest competitors, including Brian Boitano and Victor Petrenko, had already finished skating, and the results were not what we had expected. Since I pulled last to skate, I had a perfect opportunity to see most of the event unfold before I even stepped on the ice—and so far it was looking good. The event just happened to be the 1994 Olympics in Lillihamer, Norway, and I just happened to be the reigning Men’s World Figure Skating Champion.

Jogging around the arena, I felt optimistic. A clean skate without even a triple-triple combo would leave me in the necessary top three spots; heck, it might even leave me first! The path to Olympic gold had been cleared for me, and now I just needed to get out there and do it. But the Olympics sometimes have a way of twisting destiny. They had already put a bend in the road for Brian and Victor a few hours earlier. Little did I know they would do the same for me.

The Olympics had been good to both of those guys in Calgary ’88, and then in Albertville, France, in ’92, and then they had turned pro. By the rules, neither of them should even have been allowed into these games—but these games were different. Only two years had passed since Victor had won his Olympic gold, and Brian, one of the toughest competitors ever, had played a big role in getting professionals into these Olympics. It would be the toughest Olympic Games ever with these names back in the pot, and now, here I was set up to take the gold.

The Albertville Olympics two years earlier had not been so good for me. Then, as now, I was coming in as World Champion, but I was recovering from a slipped disk and was not even close to being the skater I could be. I had always dreamed that when the Olympic experience came to an athlete, everything would be perfect and you performed to the best of your ability. But why should the Olympics be different than any other aspect of life? You have to play the cards you are dealt. Now, like Brian and Victor, I was being handed a second chance. It was starting to look like this time it might just be my turn.

The warm-up before the short program was going well. With only one minute left, I had already run through everything I needed. And then I started to think. That was my mistake.

Anybody who knows me well would have chuckled a bit there. You see, there are only two really big moments in a short program: the necessary combination of jumps, and the necessary triple jump out of footwork. Once these two are out of the way, you are flying. I had a triple axel planned with a double toe for the combo, and a triple flip out of footwork. I was a little worried about the flip, so I decided in that moment of “thinking” to practice the takeoff for that jump. I did this by trying a double flip. This is a very easy jump, and I never practice it. I simply warm up and then just do the triple flip.

Well, I fell. Not a normal fall but a hard one. The kind that jars you, and not only that—I was embarrassed. I looked up at my coach, and he had the strangest look on his face. Then, instead of just going and skating it off, I tried it again. I landed it, but not well, and then the announcement came to clear the ice. I did—but I left my confidence behind. Doubt had crept in, and for the next fifteen minutes, I guess I let it grow.

My program was going well. My triple-axel combination was perfect, and I was on my way. I really don’t remember what I was thinking going into that triple flip, but I do remember being in the air, and feeling a lean. But instead of doing something about it in the .7 seconds I was up in the jump, I froze. If it had been a practice, I would have just fought for it, but I think I lost it—just for a second. I dropped my right hand, slipped off the edge and all was gone . . . just like that. Did I say I lost it for a second? It wasn’t even a full second, but like so many Olympic stories, within that moment, somewhere, I gave away the gold medal.

Right after the marks—and, oh, they were awful—I did an interview with Rod Black. It was tough, but what can you do, you can’t hide. I held up through it, but I was not expecting to see my parents at that moment. Somebody had got them through security and there they were, right down at ice level. When I looked up and saw them, well, I just lost it. And then, as I blubbered away like a child, my mom hugged me and said something only she could have pulled off.

“Kurt, if you had won that gold medal you would have been so busy. I know you. You never wanted to be that busy in your life anyway.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard her right, but deep inside I knew two things. First, that a smile had already snuck across my face. Second, that as usual, she was right.

My mom passed away during the summer of 2000, and losing her makes me hold onto moments like these even more. She was one of the most loving people I have ever known. Sure, I sometimes miss the fact that I never won that medal, but when you really think about priorities, I miss my mom a lifetime more.

Kurt Browning
Edmonton, Alberta

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners