|KurtKountry: An Unofficial Kurt Browning Website
Stars On Ice 2002
Anaheim, CA: Arrowhead Pond
January 18, 2003
My 2003 "Stars On Ice" experience didn't start off well. My mother had a migraine headache, which prevented us from driving to the Staples Center in L.A. It didn't really bother me. The staff at that facility is not the friendliest. So I usually have problems anyway.
Mom and I did, however, arrive at the Arrowhead Pond, and thanks to their kind and curteous staff, we were down at ice-level in no time.
The first skater we encountered was U.S. Pair Champ, John Zimmerman, whom we had previously met only briefly with my old friend, Kyoko Ina. He was actually looking for Kyoko himself…we had a nice conversation. Then, Mom and I progressed back toward the dressing room, where Olympic champ Jamie Sale was busy… doing her laundry. Such is the glamour of life on the road. But Jamie seems to be adjusting to her new life… considering the events of 2002, of course, this is nothing. We talked a bit about the Olympics. Jamie said that what bothered her most was the fact that the press tried to make it seems as if there was animosity between the two pairs involved. Nothing could've been further from the truth. In fact, they all seem to be enjoying touring together. Now, she hopes the sport can recover.
She also told me that Kurt didn't come on the bus, but was driving in with a friend and had not arrived yet. He was on the second practice session, so he still had an hour or so.
Then Kyoko and Jenni Meno came out. They wondered why we hadn't been in Los Angeles… but they understood. After a brief visit, they were headed to the ice, so we followed. We watched practice from the tunnel. Both John Zimmerman and Gorsha Sur offered to push me across the ice to a seat but I wanted to stay available if KB showed up.
At the end of session, we wandered back toward the dressing area to find you-know-who doing his stretching. After greetings, and hugs, he wondered why we missed L.A. He told us he experienced his first migraine a few months earlier. Until then, he truly didn't understand how severe they could be. I'm sorry that now he knows.
Kurt said his Dad was doing well, but that his father-in-law was ill and his wife, Sonia Rodriguez, has been in her native Spain, caring for him. I told him how much I enjoyed Sonia's performances on his most recent "Gotta Skate" show. He said there would probably be another one in Hamilton, Ont. next year, perhaps with Brian Boitano as a guest. "We've never really done a show together," he said. "and neither of us is getting any younger."
By then, it was time for Kurt to practice. We made our way out to the ice, and helped us to our seats: first Mom; then me. He had new skates again this year. Apparently, they were fine for the first 4 shows or so. The double Axel and triple toe loops were still going well, but the triple Salchow was still hit and miss. In fact, he took one nasty spill, but he survived. He also did a couple of good ones.
Kurt mostly joked with David Pelletier and Todd Eldredge. He and David had made a $ 20 bet with Todd that he couldn't land triple loop-triple loop. KB asked if I wanted in.
"$20 American or Canadian?" I asked.
"American, I guess…" he replied.
I begged off. I have confidence in Todd. I was right. It took a few tries, but he landed the difficult combo.
Kurt came and sat next to me for a while. He asked about the results of the U.S. National Championships being held in Dallas that week. "Michael Weiss is the champion again!" he remarked when I told him of the results. He was surprised, but pleased for him. "He's a gutsy guy!" exclaimed Kurt.
After signing autographs for some sponsor's guests, KB decided it was time to take his skates off and get a bite to eat at catering. But, of course, he had to get Mom and I back across the ice first. He escorted Mom ever so gingerly back to the tunnel. He said his new skates were making his feet ache, so I thought my trip back would be equally as simple. Boy, was I wrong. The next thing I knew we were at center ice for another of our speed and spin fests. It had been two years since we had done this. It seemed a little faster and wilder than I'd remembered.
Instead of just heading straight down the ice, Kurt seemed to veer off in different directions. My perspective was constantly and suddenly changing, but I always felt safe in my buddy's hands. No matter what, it's always fun to be out there: just us having fun and sharing one of the things Kurt loves best.
When it was over, we went to catering while Kurt went to the dressing rooms to change, etc. We had a nice chat with SOI's costume designer, Jef Billings, who did fabulous work this year. Everyone looks great. Most of the discussion centered on the wild men's event that had taken place in Dallas that day. Jef had spent much of the week in Dallas, but returned early to catch this performance.
Before long, KB arrived and introduced us to his friend, Brian who had recently moved to the area from Toronto. Kurt would be spending the night with Brian, and his wife, who was to arrive later with other guests. They would be driving him to San Diego for the next day's show.
Over a chicken dinner, we discussed many things. Topics included: Kurt's dad, who was doing fine; Sonia, who was unfortunately in Spain caring for her ill father; more about KB's recent TV special, as well as Kristi Yamaguchi's (which Kurt hosted). "That was a lot of work!" he said. When I commented that he'd done a good job and that he also looked nice, KB replied: "That's because I own my own tux. I need the penguin suit (to look that good)."
Another topic of discussion was the TV series Alias, Kurt is not only a big fan of the show, but it's star Jennifer Garner. In fact, the mood at the table took a definite downturn, when I mentioned that Ms. Garner is currently married to actor Scott Foley. I think I ruined some fantasies. Since I was the only single male at the table, however, fantasies are all anyone else could've had anyway!
Showtime was nearing, so KB was off to physical therapy. Mom and I went upstairs to check out the souvenirs (I admit I'm a sucker for the "3M's": magnets, mugs and mouse pads.) and to enjoy the show.
In Anaheim, we sit up in the wheelchair seating. The choreography and lighting design of this show, is so intricate, that every seat is a good one. No one will be disappointed. There's more skating and less talk than last year. It's a good time for all.
We were backstage again after the show. I hadn't really planned to see my buddy again until San Diego, but there was some confusion over the next day's show time. I'd heard it was 6 p.m., but Kurt insisted it was 7 o'clock. So, we just went down to double check. When we got down there, Security director, Lonnie Biegel, kindly waved us back toward the dressing area.
It turned out the show was at 6. We told Brian, and Kurt guests when they got backstage and Lonnie said he'd tell Kurt, so everyone would be on time. As Lonnie pointed out, "We can't start the show without him!"
Before KB came out, we said good night and good show to Todd & Jenni, Todd Eldredge, and John Zimmerman, etc. We also got the news of Michelle Kwan's incredibly exciting seventh U.S. Nationals victory. KB came out skates in hand, went to drop them off at wardrobe, and returned to greet his guests.
After a while, he turned to me. I told him I really loved his solos this year. "'Slippery Side Up' is hard on the body, but always fun to do." He said. I also kidded him: "It's 6 o'clock tomorrow. I was right. You should listen to me. "
"Why should I start now?" he shot back.
I whispered that it was ok if he wanted to be with his guests now. But he graciously said he'd have plenty of time with them. Mom asked about the bandana he wears during the western group number.
"It supposed to sexy," he explained. "So, I thought I'd cover this up," indicating his ever-balding head. I was feeling guilty about monopolizing Kurt's time. Mom and I excused our selves.
On the way out, I had a lovely conversation, with my dear friend, Debi Thomas, (2-time U.S. Ladies Champion, World Champion, Olympic Medalist and former SOI cast member.) Debi is currently living in Southern California with her husband and son, while completing a residency program in Orthopaedics. Dr. Thomas hasn't had much time to keep up her skating skills, but hopes son, Luc, will be on the ice soon. "He wants to play hockey," she explained. Debi never changes. It was a thrill to see her and her beautiful family again.
That was it for Anaheim. Would Kurt be on time in San Diego? Stay tuned.
SAN DIEGO 2003 now here...exclusive photos of Browning, Sale, Ina!
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SPECIAL THANKS TO:
The entire cast and crew of "SMUCKERS STARS ON ICE," especially David Baden, Lonnie Biegel, David Hoffis, Jenni Meno, Todd Sand, Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman... and, of course, Kurt Browning -- all of whom helped make this wonderful weekend possible!
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Copyright 2003 by John H. Baker, unless otherwise indicated.