Michelle Hedges was abandoned as an infant in China, and later adopted by her parents in Minnesota.
The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships are now behind us, along with the amazing performances of young skaters like Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt. Have you ever wondered what it takes to reach that level of figure skating—not only in length of training, but in terms of dollars and cents? Including those sparkly costumes, how much does it cost to be a competitive figure skater? Have you ever wondered if any child has been denied his/her dream of becoming an accomplished skater, not for lack of skill or effort, but solely due to a lack of financial resources?
One resident of South Minneapolis is about to find out if her passion for competitive figure skating will be cut short due to a lack of money. This young resident was born in Zhejiang province in China on Jan. 5, 1998. One day later she was placed on the steps of Quzhou orphanage with a note saying, “This is Kening” (meaning peaceful). She spent the next nine months at this orphanage being fed only milk and sugar. In October 1998, while weighing only 12 pounds, she was adopted and moved into the Corcoran neighborhood. During the next two years, she continued to grow and experience life in South Minneapolis. However, her life took an unexpected turn when her adoptive parents divorced. It was difficult at first—custody issues, split loyalties—but this young girl continued to grow and develop.
When she was 4 years old, what began as just another winter day in Minnesota and just an ordinary day at the park would actually begin a journey that was anything but ordinary. Her dad took her to Longfellow Park, just like he did every day he had her. But this day he took her to the ice rink, put ice skates on her feet, told her not to be afraid, and that if she fell down, he would pick her up. Then he placed her on the ice. Much to his surprise and great delight, she wasn’t afraid, she didn’t fall (not even once) and she moved with such grace and poise. It was as if she had been born to ice skate.
This newfound love—ice skating at Longfellow Park—became a routine occurrence for both of them. If she was with her dad and if he hadn’t taken her to the ice rink yet, she would vociferously remind him to take her skating. Then one day a flier showed up at his house announcing Learn to Skate lessons at Minnehaha Academy—eight lessons for $68. She was signed up and began to develop figure skating skills under the direction of skating coach Jill Mintz. Little did anyone know this was merely the beginning of something much bigger than a few skating techniques. Toward the end of the eight weeks, Mintz approached this dad and told him she wanted to teach his daughter and help her become an accomplished figure skater. Plans were made, funds were doled out and a journey begun.
It wasn’t long, though, before the real financial cost of becoming a competitive figure skater became clear. With the mounting cost of ice time, lessons, skates, dresses, club memberships, competition fees, test fees, etc., the first $10,000 had been spent—a significant amount of money for a middle class family. Her dad began to notice the other girls at the skating club and he noticed their parents (and their cars). The old saying, “Figure skating is not a poor man’s sport” was quite evident. But what was he to do? Deny his daughter her passion or attempt to overcome the obstacles—primarily financial—that are so common in the field of competitive figure skating.
Through sheer determination and a great deal of sacrifice on the part of a few individuals, the young skater began to break through the obstacles before her. She even participated in the financial aspect by doing print-ad modeling jobs as a means to earn money for skating. However, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle was met when her dad’s employer, Northwest Airlines, reduced his wages and increased the cost of health insurance for him and his daughter. This new concessionary contract gouged around $10,000 per year from his budget. Yes, the same amount needed to keep his daughter doing what she loves—competitive figure skating.
In the broader context, getting children of middle-class families into the sport of competitive figure skating and having them progress as far as their talent and dedication will take them is similar to breaking though the race, gender, religious and sexual orientation barriers that have been overcome in other sports. Why should any one, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or income level, be denied participation in their passion?
Here is where the community of South Minneapolis can make a difference—can have an impact on the larger picture. You can help by keeping this young girl on the path to becoming an accomplished figure skater. A tax-exempt foundation was established for amateur figure skaters desiring to become competitive skaters, to help defray the ever-increasing costs.
The young skater featured in this article is Michelle Hedges—a 4th grade student at Dowling Urban Environmental Center. Her next competition is at Blades of March, held at Parade Figure Skating Club in the Kenwood neighborhood. She will be competing Saturday, March 1, at 9:23 a.m., 4:49 p.m. and 7:02 p.m. The event is open to the public and admission is free. Michelle, her family and friends would love to see a large contingency of South Minneapolis residents and supporters.
To view a sampling of Michelle’s competitions or to make a tax-deductible contribution to her figure skating, please visit: myspace.com/michellehedges2008.