Kaisa was an ice skater. She was good at it too. But she had to work at being good. When she decided to do a thing, she threw herself into it.
Her parents had first noticed that when Kaisa decided to walk. While her brother and sister took their own sweet times, Kaisa didn’t. She went at it wholeheartedly
She was two when she first walked out onto the ice. She didn’t want to get off. It wasn’t the skating that took up her time. It was the routines. On top of being a good skater, she was a perfectionist. Any screw-up in a routine and she beat herself up.
When she first went to the training camp, she realized she had found her place in the world. There were others like her. They were not just competitors. They were friends. When one did well, they all did well. That was their way.
Helsinki is a large city, the largest in Finland. Before any time, everybody in the city knew about her. She was their darling. With her small body, her blonde hair, her blue eyes, she was their darling. And she loved the applause.
Finally, she went into competitions. Initially she did well. Winning a medal or two, but she went after more. That is when she fell. And she fell hard. She broke her arm.
The doctor put a cast onto it and she went back on the ice. The ice was her home.
Once her arm was out of the cast, she began exercises that would build up her muscles. She learned how to fall without breaking anything. Sure, she might have a bruise or two but she would be able to get up and skate. That was the point.
Thirteen and she found herself Olympic bound. “You have four years to train,” her coach told her, “and you must train hard.”
While other girls went out on dates with blonde haired blue eyed boys, Kaisa skated. And she skated and skated. Until she was ready. Everybody said she was ready. And so she was.
She stepped out onto the ice at the European Championships and she went into her routine. Not a mistake. Not an error. She had chosen a James Brown song to dance to and she gave the music the bump and grind that it deserved. When she walked out off the ice, the applause and cheers were deafening. She was the hottest thing they’d seen on the ice in years. The medal went to her.
Again and again she fired up the ice. Soon she would be on the Olympic stage and would give the Americans a run for their money. Then she fell in love. And she didn’t just fall in love with anyone. She fell in love with a first class jerk.
As she had matured as a skater, she had remained innocent to the ways of love and sex and dating. She didn’t know how to take her feelings. So she did the only thing she knew. She went on the ice. But the ice was melting from the sun of her love. She fell and this time she didn’t fall well. She broke a leg.
Her coach and her doctor told her the news. “You’re going to be okay but we’re afraid the Olympics is out.”
That night she cried out, “To hell with love. I will be a champion.”
The cast came off and she went out on the ice. Within minutes, she fell. She had an ear infection that was affecting her balance.
They treated the ear, then she went back out on the ice. She fell again. The Olympics were a year away and she would not be ready.
Her mother came to her. “We know how bad you want this. But something is telling you that this is not for you.”
They cried together and held each other.
“You’ve got to let it go,” her mother said. “This is not your journey. You’ve done your bit. Now lay down the skates and go find your journey.”
Seventeen years old and one of the best skaters in the world, she dried her tears. She took her time to heal, then she went off to the mountains to be alone. In the cabin where she was staying, she got plenty of sleep for the first time in a long time. Each morning she woke up early and watched the sun rise over the mountains. Each day she took long walks in the forest and thought about her life. Without skating, she had no compass.
One night by the fire, she looked through the books on the shelf. There weren’t many. One was a diary. She began to read it. The next day she finished with tears in her eyes. She closed the diary. She went outside and said good morning to the world. She knew what she would do. She would be a nurse like her mother and she would go to Africa to help at the refugee camps she had read about.
She was a new woman and her skating life was over. But that was okay. She had learned what she needed to learn.
She caught the train back to Helsinki a week later. Sitting and reading a magazine across from her was a man. He looked up from his article. She was smiling. He smiled back.
“I’m Kaisa,” she said.
“I’m Jussi,” he said.
She went to say something but she couldn’t think of anything to say. But he found the words for the two of them.
“What are you doing with your life, Kaisa?”
“I’m going to be a nurse,” she told him. Her smile was bigger than it was when she first smiled at him.
“A nurse, eh. I’m going to be a doctor. I want to go to Africa and work in the refugee camps.”
“That’s what I want too.”
They didn’t talk for the rest of the journey. They just sat and looked at each other and occasionally they laughed.
For the first time in her life, Kaisa was truly happy.