|KurtKountry: An Unofficial Kurt Browning Website
Stars On Ice 2003
PREVIOUS "SOI: ANAHEIM 2003" STORY HERE
San Diego, CA: San Diego Sports Arena
January 19, 2003
Was Kurt late? Well, lets put it this way; I was there about an hour before he was. The staff is so great, though, they remember me from year to year. So, we have no trouble getting in early.
Mom and I spent a little time watching the first warm up group. The one Kurt was scheduled to be in that day. (The groups alternate from show to show.) I especially enjoyed watching Jamie Sale & David Pelletier practice. They have such power, yet it all looks effortless…
After a while, we wandered back and became the only spectators at the Anton Sikharulidze /Alexei Yagudin ping-pong championship. Play-by-play was being conducted in Russian… so I can really comment on the action. Since one of the balls ended up in my lap, maybe they better stick to skating as a career…
We were about to head back toward the ice when we encountered Mr. Pelletier, who greeted me with: "Where's Kurt?" (Suddenly, I was his keeper?) I replied that the only thing you could be sure of with KB, was that he'd be the last one out of the dressing room… (Although he has no hair to do!) David laughed. "That's usually true," he mused.
Just as Jenni Meno was commenting that Kurt would probably get on the second warm-up with them, he blew in like a flash. I didn't even get a "hello." Just a wave on the fly as he tore into the dressing room to change and stretch…I don't know why they were late. From all reports there was almost no traffic (An unusual condition for Southern California, I grant you.) We had traveled the same route ourselves… maybe they were just enjoying the beautiful coastal scenery...whatever!
So, while my buddy was readying himself…hurriedly, I assume. I spent some more time with Jamie Sale.
She is so sweet and talkative. In fact, I got so engrossed in the conversation, that Kurt must've gone right passed me. At one point, Jamie stopped and said: "Shouldn't you be getting to the ice! Kurt is practicing!" Apparently, she and David are under the erroneous impression that I am the "Kurt-monitor", or baby-sitter, or something… NOT!!!
I AM OFFICIALLY DECLARING THAT I HAVE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR HIM WHATSOEVEVER!
We made our way out to the ice. I was in no hurry. I wasn't late. He didn't even seem to notice me for a while. He was busy struggling with his new skates. "They were great the first four shows," he muttered. "The jumps were so high…then nothing!" Eventually, he came over and flung some ice chips up at us and skated off. That was fine. I got to visit with John Zimmerman's lovely sister, Laura, whom Mom and I met at Skate America 2001 in Colorado Springs, where, ironically, I met Jamie & David, as well. Kyoko & John are doing great in the show. Laura is so kind. I was glad she could be there. It was wonderful to see her again.
I, then, spent a few minutes with Jenni Meno. I just love what they're doing this year. It's a bit of a departure for them -- but it really works. Kurt echoed those sentiments to me earlier, or was it the day before… Some of it gets kind of blurry. I don't get much sleep. Trying to catalog all these great memories in my brain can be exhausting!
Anyway, KB requested his music: "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?" The object was basically to keep testing his skates, while attempting to re-acquire the triple salchow that was eluding him a good part of the time.
To me, however, it felt like a sort of semi- private performance. Kurt can be so funny and inventive; I feel he is underrated as a "skater" at times. He has beautiful positions, and strokes around the ice with such authority, it's an honor to get to watch, as it is with all these fine athletes and artists.
When he was done, Kurt came over to visit with fellow skater, Steven Cousins and me. Steven's recent knee surgery kept him off this years tour. KB asked to see Steven's scar. Kurt looked back in horror with a resounding "NO!" when I asked if he wanted to see the scar from my recent kidney operations. I don't think he realized it was on my back!
I mentioned to Kurt that the photos on this site were getting a bit outdated, and asked if we might take some new ones. “You want to do it on the ice?” he asked.
In this arena, it isn’t technically necessary for me to go across the ice to get rink side, so my wheels had never touched this ice before. I thought “Why not? We’d just go out a few feet… Mom would snap a couple of photos… no big deal, right?”
When will I ever learn? The ice was vacant. Kurt was the last one on it. The next thing I know we’re zooming across the ice at what feels like warp speed. The ice was bumpier than that at the Pond. There had been a lot of skating going on!
“You think you remember how it feels, but you really don’t!” I remarked.
“The speed?” he inquired.
Yes, it was that. But there was more: The feeling of freedom, of swaying side to side; it’s a unique sort of motion – almost indescribable.
There was another feeling, too. Kurt and I get to simply be together. We are just a couple of buddies, having fun and sharing a moment. It’s a time of closeness that doesn’t compare with anything else I’ve ever felt. World titles and wheelchairs just seem to dissolve. There are no barriers between us, and I’m not on the outside looking in. It’s a magical, incredible experience.
I am as lucky as anyone can be. Although, when he lets go, and I end up sailing across the frozen water on my own, I may be pushing that luck. (I warned him that I’d filled my surgical quota for the year. He said he be careful. Yeah, right.) Actually, Kurt’s right in front of me, watching very carefully. After all, it’s our big trick. We may not be ready to challenge Jamie & David yet… but we’d be cute on Kurt’s next TV special. OK, maybe not. "Too bad you don't have streaming video on (KurtKountry), you could show everyone," KB interjected. (He claims to have never visited this website, so how does he know there's no video at all...Hmmm...)
We posed for the photos I’d requested.
And it was time to go to catering. That is once my buddy got me off the ice. He had to get the wheelchair up a slight bump, and there was a small hesitation.
“Don’t worry,” Kurt insisted. “I’m a professional!”
I reminded KB, that when I encountered actor George Clooney in a similar situation, Mr. Clooney used the line: ”I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
KB used this opportunity for a bit of boasting. Turning to his friends, Kurt announced: ”John & George Clooney are just like that.” He crossed his fingers tightly.
Not exactly true. I’ve met the man twice. He’s warm and kind. That’s about all there is though.
Catering was fun. We sat with KB's other friends. They talked among themselves, and watched the NFL playoffs on TV. They remarked that tailgate parties are illegal in Canada…no one at the table seemed to have ever been to one anyway. I tried to stay quiet as they watched- not being a football fan myself- then Kurt made fun of our beloved World Champion Anaheim Angels baseball team, and noted that a friend of his cries when his favorite sports teams lose. "I cry when you lose," I joked.
"Don't worry, I don't compete anymore." He responded. "If you don't compete, you can't lose."
Kurt also spoke of one of his other favorite things: movies. He especially enjoys goings to drive-ins.
The last time I was at a drive-in I was about 6 years old, and saw Mary Poppins wearing my pajamas. Kurt got a big laugh out of that.
KB said he once went with 11 people in one car, and "ignored" the movie. He hasn't been in a while though. He's heard of a drive-in around Toronto, but hasn't been there yet. Then, he excused him self to prepare for the show and say good-bye to his guests, who were leaving immediately following the show. Since, I had ice-level seats, he knew we'd see each other post-show.
This was a good time to catch up with my old friend, Kyoko Ina.
Her shoulder is doing fine following surgery last fall. She's enjoying the tour. Mostly, we talked about old times. (I was there when she won the U.S. Junior Ladies Championship in 1989, and when she first became an Olympian in 1994.) It's really great to watch someone progress to this level. I just loved watching her in the show with John. It was also fun to discover we share another great love -Krispy Kreme doughnuts: or as they are now called - "the food of champions!"
It was time to make our way to our seats. The staff is kind and generous. Mom and I were talking to one of the security people, and I mentioned I was excited about seeing the show from ice-level.
She said, "Of course, what wouldn't you be excited about seeing your brother skate?"
Somehow, I discovered it had gotten around the arena that Kurt was my brother? Kind of odd, but it was nice, too!
Anyway, we got to our seats. The show was great again. Especially, since I got some waves and winks from "my brother." Once I even caught him standing in the wings behind me.
It was a completely different perspective from the night before. Comparatively speaking, they looked like skating giants bathed in white lights. At one point, KB skated toward, and the lighting made him look like a true "skate god." It was almost as if he could skate through me (weird!).
At intermission, I had a visit from a loyal "KurtKountry" visitor. Thanks for everything! At the end of the show, Kurt visited us, himself, as he shook the hands of our seat-mates, and delivering hugs and kisses to Mom and I. Obviously, confirming our "family ties" to the entire staff!
As we waited for KB to make his way out of the dressing room, we talking with Steven Cousins, discussing the difference in climate between San Diego and Barrie, Ontario. Apparently, they had a bit of a white Christmas where Steven lives. It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit where I live. Coming from New York, however, I could relate. Steven misses skating, but will not rush his recovery. He hopes to perform on the Canadian SOI tour, and said "maybe" about next years U.S. tour.
KB finally made his way out, but just long enough to drop a bag of "clean laundry" at my feet, before going to drop off his skates, etc at wardrobe.
At least, I knew he'd return. When he did we shared a private moment.
He led us outside. As I said my good-byes to the others, Kurt helped Mom push my wheelchair up the steep ramp that led to the busses. When we reached the top he asked for a hug, and said: "Bye, Bro." He never called me that before. "Are you Big Bro or Little Bro?" he asked. (I am older but smaller.) "Funny, you should say that," I remarked. "Some of the staff inside thinks we're brothers!"
"Whatever works!" he replied, before going off to sign autographs for some lucky fans who lined the ramp area. He came back to give me one last kiss on the forehead before boarding the bus.
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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!
We thank you for the
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Copyright 2003 by John H. Baker, unless otherwise indicated.