"Athletes are sensitive human
beings with lives beyond sport;
they are not simply a commodity."

The Coaches' Report

Abusive Partners: A Skater's Personal View

-- Author's name withheld by request

When you skate with someone, you spend hours together every day, both on and off the ice. Anything they do affects you directly, whether it has anything to do with skating or not. Even their moods transfer to you. If you've never had a partner, you can't imagine the degree of closeness there is in the relationship. It's almost like they're just another part of you. It can be wonderful, like having a best friend and a protective big brother at the same time.

But it can also be a nightmare. Pairs skater Elena Berezhnaya suffered abuse at the hands of her skating partner for years without speaking up. Now it's public knowledge, and everyone agrees how brave she was to survive such treatment. They don't realize that in ice rinks around the country, the same thing is happening to American skaters who can't or won't come forward to end the situation.

I was one of them. I started out with what I thought was the perfect partner -- sweet, talented, hard-working, and very likeable -- and ended up stuck in the worst relationship I could have imagined. At first we were friends, then it got to be closer than that. I was new and didn't have any other friends. People joked about us being twins. It was fun, we were skating well and having a great time.

It didn't take long for the new to wear off. I think it started when I began dating one of the other skaters at the rink. He was a singles skater, no threat to the partnership in any way. But my partner was jealous. He was always making mean comments about my weight or my skating, like "It's a good thing I skate with you, because nobody else would be able to lift you," or "We wouldn't have so much trouble with this if you practiced enough." I started throwing up after meals or skipping them all together, and I spent extra time practicing so that he wouldn't think I was a bad skater.

Later on, it got worse. It wasn't just little comments, it was outright insults. It got so bad that if I wore something he didn't like, he would tell me I looked like a prostitute. Or if I talked to a guy, even to ask what time it was or if anyone had seen my coach, he would ask, "So did you have sex with him yet or are you waiting until after practice?" I was miserable. Almost every day I came off the ice fighting back tears.

It escalated to the point of physical abuse. He never hit me, but he would do other things. Sometimes he would wait until a point in our choreography where my weight was supported on him and he'd abruptly move so that I fell. Or he'd drop me, never out of high lifts but out of small elements so that it hurt but wasn't enough to do serious damage. I had two slight concussions in the same month. He twisted my arm or gripped my hand much harder than was necessary. I remember refusing to go to the beach because I didn't want anyone to see the little bruises where he'd pinched me.

One day I had been talking to my boyfriend for a few minutes before practice. I didn think anything of it, but when I went to put my skates on my partner cornered me. "Don't talk to him," he said. "If you do you'll regret it once we get on the ice." I got scared, but I was afraid he was right about me never finding anyone else. And I wasn't sure anyone would believe me, because on the outside he seemed so charming. Even our coaches didn't know.

I wish I could say I confronted him and put a stop to it, but I didn't. Not long after that an injury forced me to quit, and he found someone else. Eventually I told a few people what had happened, but nothing was done about it. I guess that facing up to it would mean admitting that there was a problem, and the skating community is always very reluctant to do that unless there are a lot of people to back up the story. So I hope this will convince other skaters to speak up, because they're not alone and nobody should have to put up with abuse.