They look ready. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro fly around the ice, all velvet black and frothy grey-pink – and sparkle, too, of course. But it hasn’t been an easy road to this Canadian figure skating championship for this team looking to finally make a mark.
Concussion. Nuff said. Neither knew how hard it could be.
It all started innocuously enough. They were training in Montreal last Aug. 3, attempting a jump combination when Moore-Towers fell – right in the path of her partner. It all happened in a split second, so quickly. There was no avoiding it. Marinaro collided with her head, her temple actually.
“It was such a silly, small thing,” she said. “If you were watching it from the side, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. But it was just so right on my temple and it shifted everything just so.”
Moore-Towers had suffered a concussion earlier in her career – as it turns out, not nearly so serious as this one – so she knew immediately what had happened. Nobody else really noticed how painfully dramatic this little accident was. It didn’t look like a train wreck.
They had a competition in two days, and Moore-Towers burst into tears. Coach Bruno Marcotte, concerned, asked her if she was nervous, perhaps with this test in the offing.
Moore-Towers likes to think of herself as tough. Most pair skaters are, particularly gusty pair females. She did not feel well. She threw up immediately and felt very dizzy.
“I was a little bit in denial,” she admitted. “I thought it would be fine.”
They actually competed at that summer provincial event, and they competed well.
Afterward, Moore-Towers took about three days off and the team devised a plan for them to train a little bit, day by day.
They thought they’d be better by the time the national training camp rolled around a month later. They went out on the ice, but kept the big dramatic elements under wraps. They were to have competed at the U.S. International Classic at Salt Lake City. They wanted to. They had to skip it. Of course, Salt Lake City is at altitude, too. Not the best plan to go.
She wasn’t improving. “I don’t think we shut it down enough,” she said. “The difficult part about concussions is sometimes in the mornings, I felt really good, and so we would do a little bit more and a little bit more. And then it gets to be the night and it’s very not okay.” Those brief good times proved to be nasty teasers.
The worst were the constant headaches. Still, Moore-Towers convinced herself she could push through those the way she always pushed through injury. But even difficult were the bouts of dizziness and disorientation and the feeling of nausea that wrapped her like a heavy blanket. That scared her more.
Having a high heart rate is not the way to go for someone with a head injury. Training was not the bet thing.
‘It’s a very frustrating injury because I can’t physio it, really,” she said. “I can’t rehab it. The only thing I could do is rest and not read a book and not really be in the sunlight. “
She had just started to take French lessons at university and she loved it, could see the progress. But that was all put on hold. Best not to make the brain active, at all, at all. Frustrating.
‘It’s tough because it changes your whole life,” she said.
She heard from those close to her that her personality had changed as well. But she liked her perky self. “I don’t want to be dramatic about it, but it’s something that changes more than injuries I’ve had in the past,” she said. “It really has a lot more to do with everything.” Marinaro tried to tell her. He’s been the voice of reason through it all.
“Patience is a virtue I have none of,” she admitted.
Finally it began to sink in, especially since Moore-Towers’ symptoms got worse. Her head got worse. Her nausea got worse.
Finally on Sept. 23, the coaching team took Moore-Towers off the ice altogether. She didn’t get back on the ice until early November. She spent all of October off the ice.
They had been assigned to two Grand Prix events and they got back onto the ice just before the first one, Cup of Russia. But it was too late to be ready for that one so they had to withdraw.
But next, they eyed NHK Trophy. “It’s my most favourite place,” she said. “There was extra incentive to really get better.”
They were skating well. Maybe they could have gone. But Moore-Towers and her doctor decided that the long flight, the jet lap, the air pressure and all wouldn’t do her any favours. If she had done it, she would have lost a couple of days completely. The choice was to do either NHK or Challenge. With Challenge they had an extra 1 ½ weeks to train and repair themselves – and no travel. They opted for Challenge. “It sucked, but it was the smarter decision,” Moore-Towers said.
They had run through their free skate only three times before they competed at Challenge. Their short program was a welcome breeze. The long program? Not so much.
“The long was extremely tough,” Marinaro said. “It was extremely demanding but it was what we needed. We needed to get that under our belt to come here so this wouldn’t be our first event.”
They ran up against their anguish and attitudes and learned from it. At Challenge, they wanted to chalk up big scores, to make a mark, to prove they were back and get a little recognition. The problem was: they went in with zero confidence.
“We didn’t believe in our long program because we didn’t have a lot of mileage on it,” Moore-Towers said. “We didn’t believe in our ability to get through the long. And when you don’t think you can get through it, the elements became much more challenging.”
They learned from this. They did not embarrass themselves. They don’t regret it. They found a clearer picture of what they needed to do. Choreographer Julie Marcotte worked steadfastly with them to understand their routine, what had to shine from their faces.
And it does.
After being away from a sport they love for three months, Marinaro says they do not enjoy it more than they did. “But we definitely cherish it more.”
And they cherish each other more. “If the concussion taught me anything, it improved our relationship in areas that I didn’t even know we needed improvement,” Moore-Towers said.
It forced them to communicate with each other. It forced Moore-Towers to be honest about how she was feeling, rather than button it up, as she was accustomed to do. She calls it “sugar coating” things. In doing so, she appreciated Marinaro more for the way he acted throughout the journey.
He didn’t put pressure on her. He was understanding. “I felt extremely lucky to have Mike through it all,” she said.
And it has made Marinaro grow as a person as well. Before the accident, he admits he took their career together for granted. Why wouldn’t he? The sun would come up each day, just the same, wouldn’t it?
Marinaro found this is not so. There are no guarantees in life. “I thought it was just going to be like this forever,” he said. “But then I realized this is not the case. This is going to end some day. I don’t want it to be right now but there will definitely be an end some day.”
And so they need to take in each moment, they say. They need to strive for the stars every day. These thoughts have made them improve even faster. They are trying to make some magic. Maybe now they can.