“It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.”
That one line in a seemingly unrelated Super Bowl commercial became the unspoken motto for Alissa Czisny last season.
Only, her fire didn’t come in the form of an economic disaster. It came, instead, with a shocking turn of events that cost her what many thought was her best chance at fulfilling a life-long dream –competing on Olympic ice.
After finishing 10th at the 2010 Nationals and missing that chance, Czisny had a decision to make.
Many assumed the result had made the decision for her. She would retire, right? Obviously, she didn’t have the “stuff” to hold up under the pressure of expectation. Her best competitive days were behind her, they claimed.
The thing is, Alissa didn’t see it that way. Not even close.
“I had almost quit skating after last season,” Czisny admitted. “But I chose to come back because I love to skate and because I wanted to reach my full potential. [I] felt that I hadn’t yet realized that.”
So, Czisny boldly decided to take charge of the next phase of her career, the phase that would likely be the most difficult: the comeback.
She changed her coaching team to Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato, hoping the change would give her new perspective, and most importantly, renewed confidence.
“They believed in me at a time when there weren’t many people who believed that I could accomplish anything more in my skating career,” Czisny said. ” They helped me technically with my jumps, they helped me with the everyday training, with competitions, they helped me completely change my perspective on skating.”
So, the dream team went to work. Alissa had come so close before — she won at Skate Canada in 2005, placed third at Nationals in 2007, won that title in 2009. But this season needed to be about the present, not the past, or even the future.
“This season meant a lot to me, not only in terms of placements, but also in terms of personal achievements and satisfaction,” Czisny dais. “This year, I was able to overcome so many things, and I felt as though I [became] a new skater.”
A skater committed to proving — to herself, first — that the best was yet to come.
Armed with two stunning programs, Alissa took on the first challenge of the season, despite still battling the newness of her training arrangement. Apparently “new” works well for her.
“To be completely honest, going into Skate Canada, I did not feel ready to compete yet,” she said. “I was still trying to adjust to new coaches, new technique and I was quite nervous to compete there. However … It was wonderful to win again, and to do it in Canada, where I had won my first Grand Prix competition. I was able to gain confidence from that competition, heading into the rest of the competitions of the season.”
That confidence carried her through to the Grand Prix final where she became the first American lady to win that event since Sasha Cohen some eight years before.
Almost lost in the shuffle of her international success was the fact that, regardless of her return to elite form, she had to qualify for the national championships by competing in the Midwestern Sectional. Right in the middle of her Grand Prix season, no less. But thew new, confident Alissa took it all in stride, easily moving on to the event that brought about much excitement, but also much trepidation.
“Nationals was a difficult competition for me, especially considering the terrible experience and disappointment that I had at the previous year’s nationals,” she recalled. ” My coaches were extremely instrumental in helping me cope with everything going on and in helping me prepare for the competition. And I enjoyed Nationals–possibly for the first time ever–and was happy that I was able to put the past behind me and really prove to the world that I was, indeed, a new skater. ”
Czisny walked away from Greensboro, once again the champion. This one meant a little more, though. This one was like a dream. She skated her “Winter to Spring” long program with a freedom and lightness that drew cheers — and tears! — from all who saw it. She had made it through the season without giving into the demons that taunted her with the past; she battled through the fire, taking the heat, and stood now, strong as she’d ever been.
Still, the ever-humble champion wasn’t about to say “I told you so” to those who had doubted.
“Although I did feel a bit vindicated in winning the title, I felt that it was more of a personal victory, in overcoming my own battles, rather than proving to everyone else that they shouldn’t have doubted me,” she said.
And after a Worlds experience that left her believing she could still do more, Alissa is back on the ice, readying herself for another season.
” I feel that I have not yet reached my full potential, and I have so many improvements that I want to make,” she said. “I also have personal goals that I have not yet reached, so I am already working hard to make this season even better than this last season!”
And this time around, she’ll have plenty of people in her corner from the start.