The Carruthers: family bond strengthens pairs skaters

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When Peter Carruthers was small, a friend got angry with him as they were playing and began teasing him about being adopted. "Your parents bought you!" he said.

"YEs," Peter replied loftily. "They picked me out. I was the bestm baby."

Charles Carruthers chuckles as he recalls the incident. We are sitting in a deserted airport awaiting the arrival of his daughter, Kitty Carruthers, also adopted. He speaks of them with the special pride of a father who has seen his children accomplish much.

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In 1980, Peter and Kitty -- then the secong- ranked pairs figure skaters in the United States -- found themselves in the Olympic limelight after an accident sidelined Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner. Even non- aficionados couldn't help feeling proud as they watched the young, enthusiastic brother and sister skate their hearts out in a performance that earned them fifth place.

Now, at ages 21 and 19, Peter and Kitty are the US senior pairs champions and are preparing for the world championships. But if they had not lived on a heavily traveled road, and if Mr. Carruthers hadn't liked music, Peter and Kitty might never have begun skating.

"We lived on a hill," he says. "We were very much afraid that they would go sliding and slide out into the street sometime. So I got the bright idea when they were roughly 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 years old of leveling off some of the backyard and making a little skating rink. That would be something they could do for winter recreation, and we could watch them."

As the only children in the neighborhood with a skating rink, the two became social big wheels. Everyone, came over, so Peter and Kitty got in quite a bit of skating time, particularly on weekends.

"They'd just get into the house and get their skates off when another kid would arrive, and they'd have to go out and skate with him or her. So they would skate from early in the morning until 10 or 11 at night."

Music, too, was an important influence.

"From the time they were infants they went to bed with classical, semiclassical, dance music, everything on the hi-fi. My feeling when they were little was, I'm not going to give up listening to music in the evening just because we've got a couple of kids. They can learn to go to sleep to music. By the time they were 8 or 10 years old there wasn't anything in the way of music we could play that they didn't know -- they had it memorized.

"As soon as they started skating in the backyard it was natural to put on music for them to skate to. Even before they knew anything about skating they were always trying to stroke to the music, or trying to express the music in their somewhat clumsy way."

In March 1970 the ice on the rink melted, and the two went to a public rink. There they had their first lessons -- group lessons that cost $1 each. The teacher could see that the Carruthers children had talent and insisted they take private lessons with a young national competitor who had just turned professional.

"His first words were, 'I hope you have a lot of money,'" Mr. Carruthers recalls. "I didn't realize just how much he meant. The first winter and summer wasn't too bad -- only about $100 a week for lessons and ice time. But from then on it began to get expensive."

He estimates that this year it will cost about $32,000 for such things as pairs, singles, and gymnastics coaches, ice time, and living expenses (Peter and Kitty train year-round in wilmington, Del.). About $7,000 of that will come from the US Figure Skating Association. Last year the Skating Club of Wilmington made them honorary members, giving them free ice time. Other people have also made donations, but the bulk of the expenses are paid by Mr. and Mrs. Carruthers, both of whom now work.

But one senses that the experience has brought the family very close -- even while at times separatig them. Mr. Carruthers proudly tells how Kitty won her first singles competition wearing a skating dress he had made that same morning. ("It wasn't very elegant," he admits.) And when the kids needed summer skating time, the family fixed up an old school bus as a camper, and spent several weeks in Falmouth, Mass., where a rink was available.

As the plane pulls up to the gate and a petite young woman enveloped in a puffy winter coat with a US Olympic team patch on the sleeve appears, Mr. Carruthers clutches two roses from bushes lovingly tended for months indoors.

But Kitty, lugging a bulky skate bag nearly half as tall as she, doesn't notice the flowers. All she sees is the man waiting patiently for her. She rushes over and throws her arms around him with a heartfelt and exuberant. "Hi, Dad!" Only after she has been holding the blossoms for 15 minutes does she stop in amazement and say, "Dad, where on earth did you get roses this time of year?"

Supposedly, the two-day trip home is to visit a bootmaker for skating boots. But in the car she admits the real reason is to see her parents. Asked if it's hard being away from home, she says in a very small voice, "I hate it. I hate it a lot. I wouldn't mind as much being away from home, but I never really get to see my parents, and they can't afford to come to all the competitions."

But she says she loves skating and wants to keep on "as long as my body will let me. I'll keep doing it until I don't want to anymore, and then I'll stop. My parents have always been good about that, they've never pushed us. In fact, they've always said, we will never be disappointed if you want to quit right now. We're so proud of what you've done."

Though parental support has always been there, Mr. Carruthers admits that some practices were agony for his wife and him.

"It used to be excruciating to see them working on a particular jump and fall perhaps 40 times in a half hour on that same jump," he says. But when they were little kids and had an injury or something we never made any fuss about it. We took care of it, but we never said, 'Oh, you poor dear.' So they never cried. That was a help."

Their schedule is demanding: up at 12:30 p.m., then skating till 3:30 p.m., from 5:30 to 7, then from 11 till almost 3 a.m. -- the times the ice is free. Sometimes they try to get in some dance classes, and Peter plays racquetball. Occasionally they take in a movie or go out to dinner. With a giggle Kitty adds , "But there really isn't that much. We train in Wilmington, Del., and there's not that much to do there anyway."

Are there times when she doubts if she wants to continue? A long laugh.

"Oh boy, I could tell you. . . . In fact, the Saturday night before we left for Nationals I wanted to quit. It was the most awful thing. I had one move, a death spiral in the short program, and I had so much trouble with it. My coach worked with me for an hour until I could barely even move, and I was crying for hours and hours and hours. The whole time Peter was saying, 'It's all right. You can do it,' and he never got mad at me. I said, 'I want to quit. I hate this. I'm not going to go through this anymore!'"

Ron Ludington, their coach for six years, says one of their strong points is their great enthusiasm and willingness to work hard.

"They strive for perfection and are never satisfied with anything less. Sometimes if they skate with the slightest error they'll get down on themselves. But they're very good at consoling each other. They're not both down at the same time. When one's down the other's up. They seem to rise to the occasion."

Often the support they give each other is unspoken. "After training with somebody for so long and spending so much time with him, it's kind of really just a feeling," she says. "Before we go on the ice Peter will grab my hand and hold it, and it's just a closeness. He always says, 'Now we're in this together -- le's have fun.'"

Asked about their future, Mr. Ludington says: "They haven't really scratched the surface yet in their ability, and they will still be developing within the next couple of years. IT isn't as if they've reached their peak.They're just climbing the ladder."

They are definitely looking forward to the 1984 Olympics. But Kitty adds, "I'm also going to try to look forward to the next three years, too."

"It's going to be a struggle," admits Mr. Carruthers, "but we're going to try to do it if they want to. For now, I think we'll take it one year at a time."

And the immediate future? Although the routine for the Worlds won't change from that of the Nationals, Kitty says, "You can always be faster and stronger, and can always have better presentation on the ice. You don't necessarily have harder moves from one competition to the other, but you can always have more spark and excitement."

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