“Thanks Mum!” I yelled as I bounded down the stairs.
Before entering the kitchen, I studied my reflection in the mirror. My long black hair was tied into a tight little bun, with glitter sprayed generously over it. My almond-shaped eyes, set between curled eyelashes, seemed to shine by the contrast of the blue eye shadow I had on. My lips had also been touched with a layer lip gloss. I was certainly pleased with the handiwork of my professional make-up artist mother.
Surprised, I spun around to see my mother holding the digital camera in her hand, walking speedily in the opposite direction. How clever of her to take such a candid shot!
With confidence, I strutted into the kitchen, and attempted a quick double-axel in air before heaving myself onto the chair. Instantly, my father served me with a piping hot bowl of century egg porridge, which he had lovingly named ‘the Skaters’ staple’ because it was a tradition in the family to eat porridge before any ice-skating competition. Today was no exception. Today, I would be taking part in the Grand Prix series finals.
Soon, I reached the Armstrong skating ring, which was the venue of the competition. My mother managed to steer me away from the reporters, so that I could have some time to prepare myself mentally for the competition. It was no wonder the reporters stuck on to us like glue. After all, I was the child prodigy of ice-skating. I started skating lessons at age three and began competitive skating 3 years later. Now at age fifteen, after years of hard work and practice, I finally managed to gain qualification into the world’s most prestigious skating competition. No doubt, today was the day of my life.
At the blast of the horn, the competition began. The next thing I knew, my name was called out. At that time, all that was in my head was a view of a cupboard at home. In it stood numerous well-polished trophies, of which some were dated almost three decades back. Those on the first two rows belonged to my parents who were ex-Olympic champions. The third row had trophies and medals which I had won. The fourth row, however, was still empty. Today, I was determined to add trophy number one to it.
Calmly, I took a deep breath and stepped into the ring. At that instant, I no longer felt the glaring flashes of cameras, or the murmurs of the spectators. As the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker filled the whole arena, I started skating to the rhythm. Slowly, as I twirled and leaped, I was no longer an individual on the ice. Instead, I was one with the ice, like a spinning ballerina fixed to a jewellery box. It was as though the music had taken control of my body and I was merely an instrument to carry out its steps.
Skating was my life, my lifeline. How fortunate it is that one can truly find one’s belonging in life and to be able to work towards it. This revelation sent warm tingles of sheer joy to my whole body. To me, this was a major turning point in my life, as I had finally found a goal in life. By doing so, I had crossed the boundary of my immature view of life and had stepped over to a new phase of my growing.
Then, without realising it, I suddenly leaped into the air for a triple-axel and after landing, repeated the same move. Before I could even land nicely for an impressive end, a thunderous round of applause woke me up from my trance.
“Once again, child prodigy Pauline Shanore has proved herself with a record breaking feat never achieved in a women’s competition! Jumping a triple-axel twice-”
I never got to hear what the presenter said at the end. Immediately after curtsying to the judges, I felt a sudden blow at the back of my head, and fell to the cold hard ice unconscious. When I came around, I struggled to open my eyes. Everything around me felt distant and detached. Feeling frightened, I lifted up my hands, only to find tubes stuck on them, leading all the way to my shoulders. By then, all I wanted was out of the cold and empty room, but my limbs felt as heavy as lead, and my head hurt terribly with utter confusion and shock. Suddenly, the door swung open, and in came my parents who rushed to my side, looking visibly relieved that I had regained consciousness.
When the crying and hugging had subsided, a stranger who had come in together with my parents stepped forward to introduce himself. Since I did not have any strength to reply him, I resigned to listening to him.
“Pauline, you have just suffered from a stroke,” said the stranger, who was called Doctor Malone, kindly.
Upon hearing that, I was stunned. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I, of all people, would experience such an illness. All my life, the only stroke patients I had ever heard of were the elderly. He also told me that he was still trying to find a cause to my stroke.
That fateful day, my wonderful world collapsed. All this while, I had been enjoying my dream of a perfect life, so that when the reality of the unfairness of life stepped in, I was caught unaware. Before I had passed out, I was still applauding myself for having almost taken charge of my life with a newfound goal to work towards. Now, the tables were turned. Fate had come along and taken control of my life.
A week after learning of my stroke and undergoing physiotherapy, I was still soaking the pillow wet with racking sobs. The sight of the gold medal from the Grand Prix finals which my parents received on my behalf did earn from me a smile, but the realization that I would never be able to do competitive ice-skating tore me apart inside. All these years I had grown use to the sweet taste of winning, and certainly not to the severe blow of losing to reality. The stroke left me with a paralysed right leg, and a heart full of shattered dreams, dreams I could never live up to. I could not even stand on my feet, let alone ice-skate.
My parents swiftly enrolled me into a private school, to keep me safe from all staring eyes of the public. However, the eyesore of a wheelchair did nothing to help me to fit in easily to the ‘normal’ people. Furthermore, my classmates mostly left me alone as they had no idea how to communicate with a touchy and irritable paraplegic who seemed to bear resentment to everyone around.
All that was left behind were pictures of my beautiful past, and the unfilled cupboard of trophies. Too afraid to face up to reality, I simply withdrew into a world of my own. My textbooks were filled with only drawings of a skating ballerina, someone I wanted but could not be. The teachers called for volunteers, but I never once did raise up my hands. Why should I bother to?
I started to go to the park to enjoy some quiet time, where nothing came between me and nature, my only source of comfort. One day, I was at my usual spot, when I saw a father and son not far away. The father was squatting at an arm’s length from his son, with a muddy patch between them.
“Come on Jay, you can do it. You can’t see, but that doesn’t matter! Come on, I’m waiting just in front of you!” The man gestured enthusiastically to his unmoving and unresponsive son.
I gasped. The boy was blind, I just realized. The boy stood for a few seconds, seeming to hesitate between trusting his father or to stay safe by not attempting. With all my might, I willed silently for him to cross the mud patch where his father awaited him with wide open arms. Finally, the boy took a deep breath and crossed successfully.
“Son, I’m very proud of you. The boundary in your mind is the one not set by human expectations, but one set by yourself. Aim for the skies, nothing is impossible. There will always be obstacles for you to overcome, and thus boundaries to be crossed. However, the higher you aim, the more you get. When you fall, it doesn’t matter, just climb up again,” the father said, to his son, who was sitting on his lap.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, splashing onto the picture of me, looking radiant and glowing, which my mother had taken of me on the day of the Grand Prix finals, before the stroke.
“Class, may I know what’s the formula for speed? Volunteers please!” My teacher asked in class the next day.
My hand shot up before the others.