By Amy Rosewater
Scott Gregory could have given up on his Olympic skating dreams many times.
He could have given up when he blew out his kneecap. He could have given up when he re-injured his knee.
Or when he broke up with partners. Or when he hurt his back.
But as Gregory writes in his book, Champion Mindset: Refusing to Give Up Your Dreams, he never did.
If he had, he might never have made one trip to the Olympic Winter Games, let alone two. But Gregory, a freestyle skater turned ice dancer, wound up winning two U.S. titles (with Suzanne Semanick in 1987 and 1988), making six trips to the World Championships and competing twice in the Olympics (in 1984 with Elisa Spitz and in 1988 with Semanick).
“My purpose in writing this book was to help readers,” Gregory said. “The goal was to help them see that they may have problems, too, but not to give up.”
Although Gregory was an elite competitive skater, not many people — he even said not many people close to him in the skating world — really understand the obstacles he overcame to reach his goals. Scott Hamilton, a skating contemporary of Gregory’s, wasn’t fully aware of Gregory’s triumphs.
“After he read the book, he said something to me like, ‘It’s amazing that you still even skated.”
But he did. And he skated well. Beyond well, in fact.
Gregory grew up by Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in central New York state. As a youngster, he skated upon the frozen lake. His mother was an elementary school physical education teacher and his father was a businessman and airline pilot who flew with the Air National Guard. Gregory had two siblings, a sister, Heather, and a brother, Bill Jr. Scott was the youngest of the three.
Gregory took to skating quickly and started private lessons shortly after he first glided on the ice. At a camp at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a coach displayed an Axel and asked Gregory to try it. Although Gregory previously had done some initial training on the jump, he wound up landing it on his first attempt there.
A young girl at the rink took notice right away, as Gregory writes in the book, she said, “Can you believe that? It took me months to learn that move, and that kid nails it on the first try! That’s not fair!”
It wasn’t long before Gregory started training with Richard Callaghan and soon he was winning regional competitions.
And when Gregory was 15, he followed Callaghan to his new training center in Philadelphia. It was a difficult decision for Gregory, since he had to move away from his family, but he wanted to continue training at a high level and move up in the rankings.
But things did not go smoothly.
“I bombed at South Atlantics,” he said.
He could have quit then.
But he received a letter from his father that inspired him to continue, telling him, “Work diligently, persevere and thou shalt conquer.’’
“That letter really touched me,” Gregory said.
Yet things didn’t improve right away. In fact, they got tougher. He split his right kneecap in half while performing a Russian split jump and was forced to undergo surgery. Shortly after his recovery, Gregory split the same kneecap again. Doctors told him his body no longer could handle the intensity of jumping and suggested he should quit skating altogether.
But that didn’t stop Gregory from skating. He decided to turn his attention to ice dance and his skating career was reborn.
“Obviously, it was really hard for me,” Gregory said. “I was seeing myself competing with the Scott Hamiltons of the time. I think it’s every kid’s dream as a figure skater to make it on your own.
“But after my second knee injury I realized I couldn’t go back and free skate. But I had developed such a passion for skating, gliding across the ice and using the ice as a medium to express yourself. Ice dancing became a great medium for me to keep on doing that.’’
He started ice dancing with Judy Ferris, and after skating just six months together, they won U.S. junior title. But he decided to change coaches and move to Wilmington, Del., to train with Ron Ludington. Ferris did not want to move so Gregory had to search for a new partner. He moved to Delaware and began training with Elisa “Lisa” Spitz.
At the 1982 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Indianapolis, the couple finished third. The following year, they earned a silver medal, and in 1984, they placed third again and earned a berth to the Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo.
The 1984 U.S. Championships were bittersweet for Gregory, because he had hoped to place either first or second, but at least there was the silver lining of making the Olympic team.
Gregory said the festivities of the Olympic Games were everything he dreamed of them being.
“I’ll never forget the Opening Ceremonies and the roar when the American team came in,” he said. “It was a cold, winter day, and I was up front with Scott Hamilton and I just remember the rush from the audience.”
On the ice, however, things were not quite as rosy.
Gregory and Spitz placed 10th at the Olympic Winter Games and 10th at the subsequent World Championships. By then, their relationship had come undone and they decided to stop skating together.
Gregory met with Ludington and although he still loved skating, he was not enthused about starting over with another partner. But Ludington convinced him not to quit and to try skating with Semanick. Although Semanick was 16 when she started skating with Gregory (who was 24 at the time), they managed to gel quickly and place third in their first trip to the U.S. Championships together in 1985 and make the World Team. For Gregory, this was a huge victory because he had been worried that he would not be able to maintain his status on the World Team with a new (and young) partner.
Two years later, they became U.S. champions. They defended their title the following year, in 1988. But not long before the U.S. Championships in 1988, Gregory injured his back. Somehow, despite plenty of time off the ice, Gregory pulled himself together to compete at the U.S. Championships in Denver, win a U.S. crown and qualify for a second trip to the Olympic Games. One of his biggest supporters during this time was Robbie Kane, a longtime coach.
“Somewhere along the line, I developed a champion mindset of courage and fortitude,” Gregory writes. “In the end, the key to living my dream came from within. My job was to make a choice, to do my best, to keep a positive attitude and to commit to persevere.”
After the Olympics in Calgary, Gregory turned pro. He coaches in Newark, Del., along with his longtime mentor and former coach, Ron Ludington. His wife, Pam Duane Gregory, is also a coach there. She coached Kimmie Meissner to the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and to a World title the same year.
Since the book was published, several of his skaters who have read the book at the rink in Delaware have approached Gregory about his injury-laden career.
“I can’t believe you went through all those injuries, and those breakups,” one kid told me. “A lot of people don’t know my story, but I know how many people are frustrated by injuries and other problems and they can get through.”
Gregory cautions that skaters need to listen to their bodies when it comes to injuries, but with positive support from coaches and parents, it is possible to achieve many of their dreams.
“I was so lucky to have my parents’ support,” Gregory said.
Throughout the book, he mentions how his success on the ice it was for his parents to be supportive off of it, whether it was through letters or conversations. He also made a point of saying how his parents supported him but didn’t burden him with extra pressure, which is something he looks back on with appreciation, and hopes parents of skaters today can understand, too.
And he feels lucky to continue to be involved with skating. Now he hopes his experience and his words will help the next generation of skaters who are trying to reach their goals. If he has one objective with the book it is that perseverance is key to achieving any goal — sometimes a skater can be thrown into a situation that doesn’t seem too positive at the time, but it could wind up leading to something positive.
“Things happen in life and at the time, sometimes you can’t understand it,” Gregory said. “Why did my kneecap split twice? Well, it happened and it led me to ice dancing and to two Olympics. That’s what I’m trying to share with other people through this book.”
For more information: Scott Gregory’s book, Champion Mindset: Refusing to Give Up on Your Dreams, written with Diane Cook, was published by Fruitbearer Publishing, LLC, at his website at http://www.scottgregoryolympian.com