It Was a Perfect Figure 8

HE looked like what he imagined Hans Brinker in "The Silver Skates" to look like: blond, blue-eyed, small. He felt so alone out there in the middle of the big, empty ice-skating rink, waiting for his music to start.

He'd already won the compulsory figures. Now, he had to do his program: artistic merit, technical skill, the whole bit.

He'd been working for months with his coach, Chris. Since there weren't too many eight-year-olds competing, she thought he might even get a ribbon. He and his mom had been getting up early in the morning three times a week so that he could work on his own particular patch, slowly and carefully carving out a figure eight, one half of the figure on his left foot, push off, and then the other half on his right foot, again and again. Often they had to drive through thick fog. His mom would pack breakfast, to ast and hot chocolate, and off they'd go.

Doing the figures correctly, without dropping his foot - ever - started out to be very hard. He didn't think he could get steady enough to glide through the whole figure eight so that the judges would like it, and the push-offs were in the right place. Over and over again. Sometimes he'd have to touch just the other toe down to balance himself. "Chris, I can't do it," he would say.

"Yes, you can, Donal. You're doing fine. Now, one more time, and don't forget to breathe."

He and Chris had to work on the program every afternoon after school. His mom would pick up his sister, Catherine, and him at school and they'd both spend the rest of the day on the ice. At first, his mom was doing some skating too, but Catherine was always stopping her to admire her spin. "Look, Mommie, watch me spin." So after a while she just sat or stood in the waiting area. She said it was a little warmer.

Finally, the day came that Donal had to do the compulsory figures. He almost couldn't watch the others go through it. His main worry was his own job. But he watched Tony, a kind of big boy, start. He kept asking himself over and over whether Tony would drop his foot. Ha, he did.

Chris gave Donal a pat on the back and a push. His turn. "Careful, breathe, don't bite your tongue, steady," Donal thought. It seemed easy. "Hey, this is fun." He didn't drop his foot.

HE feeling in his stomach was weird after he was through. The judges seemed so stern and serious. But when they were all done, they liked his figures the best. Chris couldn't believe it. She said that the other coaches had sort of laughed that she had entered a kid as little as Donal. Then he managed a perfect eight. Her words.

Now it was his turn again. "Don't hold your breath," he thought. "Everything is so quiet. OK, there's my music. One, two, three, go." Each step and each jump came easily and he could listen to the music and know what came next. He landed his jumps without a wobble. Three minutes wasn't very long, but it sure was long enough. "Done. Stop. Bow. Off the ice," he recited to himself.

Chris was proud of him. Donal thought his mom would cry. His dad smiled. The judges gave him second prize. He didn't get a ribbon, he got a foot-high trophy. Almost as big as first place. `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will spark imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.

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