By Liz Leamy
Magic happens if one has a mindset of confidence, determination and commitment.
That was the message Frank Carroll delivered to the 400-plus coaches in a keynote speech at the 2014 Professional Skaters Conference and Trade Show in Palm Springs, Calif., on Thursday.
The coaching icon, who has taught some of the sport’s biggest stars including Michelle Kwan, Evan Lysacek and Gracie Gold, brought the crowd at the Rancho Las Palmas resort to its feet with an emotionally charged story about his rise to the top of the sport.
Describing his journey from the first time he started skating as a young boy growing up in Worcester, Mass., through his climb to becoming one of the sport’s most decorated and successful coaches, Carroll spoke with humility, heart and candor.
“My career has been very long and it’s been wonderful,” he said. “It’s also been a bumpy ride and you know what? I wouldn’t change a single thing.”
For many years, he spent most of his time at rinks around the Los Angeles area teaching from the wee hours of the morning through the evening in order to cultivate his skaters.
“There were no windows and I wouldn’t see daylight all day long,” Carroll said. “I [just wanted] to be the best coach I could be.”
Carroll said he has been most influenced by his former mentor, the legendary Maribel Vinson, the nine-time U.S. champion and 1932 Olympic bronze medalist, who lost her life along with her daughters and the entire U.S. figure skating team when Sabena Flight 541 crashed en route to the 1961 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
“She was a teacher who I owe all of my success,” he said. “She based her teaching on intelligence, technique and theory and explained there was a total science behind everything you did.”
From the moment he set foot on frozen swamp pond behind his childhood home, Carroll said he had loved the whole concept and feel of skating. He began training and competing at local rinks, yet was told by some people he would never be good enough to make it as a successful competitor. Rather than be deterred, however, this only made Carroll more determined to achieve success and he wound up winning two U.S. junior medals, a silver and bronze.
“I was a very determined young man,” he said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Holy Cross University, where he majored in education, Carroll went on to tour with the Ice Follies for several years before settling in the Los Angeles area to coach full time.
“I learned a lot about skating and performing from the Ice Follies,” he said.
By age 37, Carroll had become known as a premiere international American coach who had been responsible for helping his talented young skater, Linda Fratianne, the eventual four-time U.S. champion and 1980 Olympic silver medalist, qualify for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team.
From that point on, Carroll’s coaching career remained on an upward trajectory. During the mid to late 1980s, he helped the late Christopher Bowman win two U.S. titles and two World medals. He went on to teach Kwan, Lysacek and dozens of other top U.S. and World contenders. Last season, he helped Gold clinch her first U.S. title and Denis Ten of Kazhakstan claim bronze at the 2014 Olympics.
Despite his rousing level of success, Carroll has remained humble, which was apparent as he reflected on his career.
Over the years, Carroll has been dealt some major blows, including an incident in which a student had lost her life in a car accident en route to the rink, a teenage skater who had succumbed unexpectedly to bone cancer and the shock of discovering a good friend who had sadly ended his own life. Shaken by these incidents, Carroll has managed to view these tragedies as a means to continue to work harder and gain greater wisdom.
“I was told [to] teach and teach and teach,” Carroll said. “I did that and I think teaching and hard work saved my sanity.”
Carroll also talked about his experiences as the longtime coach of Kwan. He mentioned the media frenzy the two experienced during the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and the poignant exchange Kwan had with President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, during the Goodwill Games, where they had gone to watch her.
During this time, Carroll said Kwan had become such a huge star that they had to travel to events with an FBI security guard named Larry, someone he described as a “wonderful guy.”
One of Carroll’s fondest memories was when he overheard a mom telling her daughter at 1996 Skate America that she had “witnessed one of the greatest athletes ever” [Kwan] and “never forget that experience.”
Through his incredible journey, Carroll has attained amazing insight, wisdom and compassion, while remaining as steadfast to his true passion of skating.
“I love the feeling of being out there skating,” he said. “If there’s one song that is the basis of this keynote address, it’s ‘I’m Still Here’ from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies.”