Thursday, August 16, 2012

YAAY OLYMPICS.... and... now what?

A few days late posting this, been battling a cold this past week.... on the mend now, so we're back on!

Everyone come down from their Olympic high? Man, the U.S. had a pretty impressive run, huh! 104 precious metal necklaces -- Woot Woot! Though there are a number of sports there that still baffle me (the kind of sports that it seems like people strive to perfect but only perform at the Olympics), I still look forward to seeing what happens in Rio.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I finally read this book that's been untouched on my shelf for quite awhile now : My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva (who went by the nickname Katia). I originally got the book because I remember my mom and I watching Ekaterina and her husband skate on television when I was a kid. My mom loves watching figure skating ( I think I watched mainly because in my mostly tomboyish heart, I secretly wanted to have similar pretty, flowy dresses). I remember hearing of the tragic death of Sergei and being shocked at his young age. I even have a memory of watching some skating program (now that I think of it, it may have even been an Olympic performance of some couple) where they panned to Ekaterina sitting in the audience with, what seemed to my young self at the time, quite a sad, wistful look on her face (I think this was only shortly after Sergei's death). I was always curious about the backstory but you know how things go. Some books get pushed back time and again for more modern "must reads". So, in the spirit of the Olympics (though admittedly this may have been more appropriate to read for the Winter Games), I dedicated a couple days to this short read.

For those of you unfamiliar with this couple, they were a pretty familiar couples figure skating team back in the 80s and 90s. Originally from Russia, they did a number of tv specials before and after becoming two time Olympic Gold Medalists. They toured the world with friends and fellow skaters such as Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamuguchi. Then suddenly in 1995, Sergei dropped on the ice while rehearsing a new routine with Ekaterina. Doctors were unable to save him, determining that he died from a massive heart attack (stemming from undetected coronary heart disease). He was only 28! Gordeeva now does shows to raise awareness for heart disease and the importance of heart health and has since remarried -- to none other than fellow Russian ice skating champion, Ilia Kulik

This book details the whole span of their life together, from the very first time they skated, through development of the friendship and later the courtship, her struggle with widowhood,  as well as the backstory stuff within a sport you never really think about as a spectator (such as one story where she tells of Sergei having a muscle injury that affected his ability to lift things, so she basically goes on a starvation diet to get as small as possible to give him as little weight as possible to struggle with, even though she was already super tiny naturally!). It also gives one the sense of what life was like in USSR Russia vs the United States in the same time period --- made me realize that no matter how bad we think we have it, it's really not as bad as it could be!

I was also struck by how young these two really were... to go through all that they did, I mean. Makes the story all the more heartbreaking to think of it. Your mid to late 20s... your life has barely begun. So sad. And yet there was such a beautiful love there. Maybe because it seems so immortalized when it happens so early in life. Ekaterina's description of the last night of Sergei's life, her own terror, was incredibly hard to read, thinking how panicked I would be myself in such a situation but later the story of the memorial show done for Sergei was memorably powerful. Though part of me did picture the ending of Ghost for a moment. :-)

I think that Sergei's soul now lives somewhere. In our religion, we have two very important days after a death: the ninth day and the fortieth day. From the day of the death until the ninth day, the deceased is still with us, and people will dream about him very clearly. Then on the ninth day the deceased starts his journey to the gates that open to Paradise or to Hell. God will decide where He wants this person. On the fortieth day, he leaves us. He's free. He now has his own spiritual life.  ~~ Ekaterina Gordeeva

Though it's clear by her writing (and by the fact that she's Russian, of course) that English is not Gordeeva's first language, some of the writing being awkward and slightly jarring in some places, maybe more simplified than what you're used to --  there's a still a pretty resonating story to hear here. Go back in time a bit, relive the fun as well as the struggles of the 90s. I know I miss those years :-).

Katia skating at Sergei's Celebration Of Life 
Music is Mahler's Symphony #5 IV Adagietto.
She describes this performance in the final pages of her book:

 I had always liked this music, which is sensitive and tender and also a little bit sad. Marina {Sergei and Katia's choreographer} told me that Mahler wrote this music when he was proposing to his wife; that, in fact, the music served as his proposal; that he gave it to her, and she sat down at the music and played it, and the music did his speaking for him. His wife immediately understood....When we first listened to it on the ice, she said to me, "I don't know what to do." Then we listened more and the music told us what to do. Marina said to me, "Imagine that you are skating with Sergei for the last time," Then, "Now you've lost him, you're missing him, you're looking for him and can't find him. You get on your knees and ask God why it happened. Your legs feel broken, as if they have no strength. You cannot move. Everything inside you feels broken too. You must ask God for some help. You must tell God you understand that life goes on, and now you have to skate. You must thank him for giving you Sergei for half of your life, the most beautiful time in your life. This is about how all people can get up from their knees in the face of adversity, can go forward, can have the strength to persevere. You can find someone to life for. You can have a life of your own now." ... As the time neared for my solo number, I thought about the words Sergei used to say to me when we were getting ready to skate. We always kissed each other before we skated, we always hugged and touched each other. Now, in the tunnel waiting to go on the ice, I didn't have anyone to touch or kiss. It was a terrible feeling to be standing there by myself. Only Dave, the tunnel attendant for Stars On Ice, was there watching, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing: How sad to see her standing here without Sergei. But then I thought of what Marina had said: Just trust Sergei, and he will help you...But as soon as the Mahler music started to play, and I skated out into the darkened arena, the bad feelings went away...
There's more to this but I will let you read it on your own. Hard to discount the idea of an afterlife after reading how her husband helped her get through the routine and how she never wants to do this number again, to maintain the special, otherworldly feelings she experienced with Sergei in those moments.

This book will also serve as a reminder to thank your spouses for the love they give you each day, never knowing if it may be the last.

Love you, sweet Finbar.