Part I Lainey - Her First Olympics

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I fell in love with ice skating when I saw Tara Lipinski win the gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. She was the fifteen-year-old underdog behind the favorite-to-win Michelle Kwan. Tara skated the performance of her life and became the youngest to win a gold medal in figure skating.

And I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to make a stadium full of people jump up and down and scream. I wanted to be so happy after performing that all I could do is cry.

After Tara's perfect performance, I stood up on my family room couch and proclaimed: "I will be the next Tara Lipinski." I was dead serious. My mom laughed, not anticipating my obsession would soon take over her life. I did my first spin on my parents' wood floors. I was five years old and I never looked back.

It's hard to believe it's been seventeen years since that fateful night. Daily practice, countless hours of preparation on and off the ice, hundreds of competitions and I finally land a spot on the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. And I'm the underdog, just like Tara.

We leave for the event tomorrow. My mother, who manages my schedule, is going with me. My dad and brother will be rallying our friends and family and watching from home. I wish they could be with us at the games but finances are just too tight to allow it. I'm happy to know there will be a group from home rooting for me. When I get nervous during my routine, I'll try to think of them watching me from thousands of miles away. I know that even if I fall, they will be in my corner.

Everyone is a little nervous about the security at the games – my dad keeps printing out articles on how to survive terrorist attacks from the Web. It's kind of freaking me out, but I'm trying not to let it rattle me. There's really nothing I can do about it anyway. I've come this far. I'm not going to let terrorists ruin my dream.

At this point, all I can worry about is my skating. And my biggest concern is whether or not to include my triple axel in both of my singles programs. My mom and my coach Sharon think I should be conservative and forget the triple axel and focus on skating a flawless routine. But seeing that this will probably be my only Olympic Games – I'm already twenty-two – I'd rather go down fighting.

Mastering the triple axel has been my obsession for the last couple of years. It's one of the hardest jumps for me, well, for any female skater. I want to use it in the most important competition of my life. My gut tells me I'll regret not including it, but I know it's a risk I don't have to take so it's a dilemma for me. I'll know what to do when I have to make the final decision.

Mom walks into my room with a checklist. "I have our passports, visas, itinerary, and plane tickets and I packed all of your dresses and tights for competition. Your father has packed your skates. Lainey, you have your make-up case, right?"

"Yes, I have my make-up case."

"Make sure you pack it in your checked luggage. We don't want anything confiscated."

"Okay mom."

"How are you feeling?"

"Good. Nervous. Excited. Like I'm going to throw up any second." This is the moment I've been working toward since, I don't know, forever. All of the 4 am practices and weekend competitions instead of going out with my friends or going on dates will all be worth it if I win gold. These Olympics are everything to me.

"Oh baby, you'll be great. Your father and I are very proud of you." She sees the worry in my eyes. "We'll stay focused, keep you hydrated and rested. Get you as much ice time as possible. It will be just like any other competition. I just hope the food is edible."

We both smile. I take a deep breath to calm my nerves. She kisses me on the forehead. "Speaking of rest, we have an early morning flight. We should both get to bed. The van will be here at 3 am. When you're done packing, put your bags by the front door so we don't leave them behind. Good night sweetheart. And don't forget to ice your hip."

"I will. Good night mom." I zip up my bags and get ready for bed. I can't believe I leave for the Olympics tomorrow.

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