Home Athletes Figure Skater Fran Tait’s Story Needs to Be Told!

Figure Skater Fran Tait’s Story Needs to Be Told!

Figure Skater Fran Tait’s Story Needs to Be Told!
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Fran Tait

I wish that an ice skating movie would be made about a skater that overcame tremendous obstacles and went on to do great things in life.  One such individual is Fran Tait who not only became a US Figure Skating Gold Medalist, but is about to become a lawyer!  She overcame so many obstacles to achieve those goals.

After recently seeing and reviewing the 2018 figure skating movie Ice The Movie which has a plot that is similar to most ice skating movies where a talented young skater works towards Olympic dreams, I thought about how most figure skaters don’t even consider the Olympics; they just love to skate and work towards realistic goals.   Fran’s circumstances may have made Olympic dreams seem totally out of reach, but in my opinion, she is far more successful than any Olympian.

Fran Tait’s story is unique since Fran came from a broken home where money for skating really did not exist.  She was the youngest of five siblings who were very close in age;  her single mother struggled to keep food on the table.

I met Fran’s parents even before Fran was born.  I remember Mrs. Tait taking all five children to the ice rink and putting them inside a hockey box to play while she tried to practice her own skating since she could not afford a babysitter for her five little kids. For a time, I coached Fran’s mother who paid for her skating by cleaning houses.

When I became one of the assistant skating directors at the Ice Arena at Chapel Hills Mall in Colorado Springs, I hired Fran’s mom to assist with skating classes.  I didn’t know it then, but hiring Fran’s mother gave those five little kids a chance they could not have had since the generous manager at that mall ice rink, Lisa Valentine Krenz, let all employees and their families skate at the rink for free and also take group skating lessons free of charge.

Below is Fran’s story in her own words.  It made me cry.  Definitely Fran Tait’s story needs to be told.  Wow..

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I grew up in a trailer park as the youngest of five kids to a single mother. At the time, I had no idea how poor we really were. My mom did the best she could to provide for us and for the most part, I was a happy kid.

Under these circumstances, I was very lucky to be able to grow up as an ice skater.  My mom worked at the skating rink at the Chapel Hills Mall, so I was able to skate for free, and my mom was my very first skating coach.

Skating was the only extracurricular activity that my mom could afford for us to do. This is because my mom worked at the rink and the many generous people in the skating community made it possible.  My sister was even able to participate in Cats On Ice!

When the Ice Arena at Chapel Hills Mall closed in June of 2006, we began skating at Honnen Ice Arena at Colorado College. Even though ice time was expensive, the rink’s manager, Linda Kola Alexander, helped to make it affordable for us so that we could continue.

As I got older, my mom’s mental health issues began to become more apparent and get worse. One by one, my brothers and sisters moved out of our house because they couldn’t take my Mom’s constant screaming and yelling at them.

On the one hand, I understood my mother’s perspective on things. As a single mother, it must have been hard raising a bunch of teenagers. On the other hand, as a child and teenager, it was very emotionally scarring to hear such things and to see my brothers and sisters leave.

I was determined to be the one kid that would stay at home until I turned 18. Skating served as my safe haven and everyone in the community was always so supportive.

I attribute the fact that I was able to attain my Bachelor’s degree and now my Juris Doctorate degree to the fact that in the skating community, it was expected that I go to college upon graduating high school. My mom also always raised me with an emphasis on education, but I feel it was solidified by the community that I was involved in.

When I turned 16, all my brothers and sisters had moved out of our home because they couldn’t take living with my mother anymore. This is when things really spiraled out of control.

My mom tried to get help, but the more therapy she received, the worse she got. My mom was eventually diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.  Schizoaffective disorder is a mild form of schizophrenia.

My mother’s screaming and yelling quickly got worse and she began to engage in behaviors that were harmful to me. She began smoking copious amounts of marijuana and bringing men home.

All at the same time, her screaming and yelling began to be specifically pointed at only me. I remember one time when I was 17 that my mom came home from work during her lunch break and I hid under the bed so she wouldn’t know that I was home, so she couldn’t yell at me.

This emotional abuse quickly took a toll on me.

Just as I always had, I got up every morning at 5am to take the bus to the skating rink. People noticed when I would show up looking distraught and having not eaten. I learned about myself that when I am stressed out, I don’t eat.

I reached out to Linda Alexander (the rink’s manager) for help, explaining to her what was going on. Linda opened her own home to me and told me that I could call her whenever I needed to get away. Everyone at Honnen Ice Arena in some way, helped me including three of the rinks coaches: Pam Nearhoof, Donna Schoon, and Karen Kight.

When my mom learned that I shared what was going on with Linda, she became mean. She told me she was no longer going to pay for my skating lessons. It was at this point that I feel my mom decided she just wasn’t going to be a parent anymore.

Linda did not let this affect my skating. She continued to teach me out of the goodness of her heart along with allowing me to continue skating. She even gave me a job at the skating rink so I could earn some money!

The next few months were a nightmare. I began to spend more nights at Linda’s house the worse my mom got, and she eventually spiraled out of control.

In between my 17th and 18th birthdays, my mom attempted to kill herself three times. She would do things like ingest rat poison and then call the police for help. Her breaking point was the day before I began my senior year of high school when she took all her mental health medications at once leaving her in the ICU for weeks. I didn’t know whether she was going to live or not.

In this period, everyone in the skating community lended a hand to help me. I lived with both Linda and Pam for months at a time. They both provided for me, purchasing clothes and food for me, and giving me a safe place to sleep. These are responsibilities above and beyond their duties as skating coaches.

I continued to skate and compete. The Colorado College Skating Club (now known as the Colorado Springs Skating Club) and a very generous skating family paid my entry fee to compete at Colorado Springs Invitational and Southwestern Regionals (that was the year that Jo Ann’s daughter Annabelle won!).   Somehow, my skating performance didn’t suffer. I skated the best program of my entire life at that Southwesterns.

Many skating families at the rink stepped in to help me too, helping me to purchase school supplies for school and care for myself.  

I arranged to graduate high school a semester early in December and applied and was admitted to Colorado State University for the Spring Semester. Linda, Pam, and Oscar (who worked at the rink) all drove me to Fort Collins that January to drop me off at school.

Linda Alexander has remained in my life as a mother figure for me. Throughout my schooling she has always been there for me to lend emotional support or a place to stay whenever I wanted to come back to Colorado Springs.

In college, I was able to flourish. I attained a bachelor’s degree with a double major in Business Management and Political Science.

Skating remained a very important part of my life. I joined the Colorado State University Intercollegiate Figure Skating team and eventually became President, growing the team from a few members to over 25 members and qualifying for the Intercollegiate National Championships.

The skating community has remained my closest source of support. All of my best and closest friends are skaters. Even in college, the skating community has remained a source of support.

During my senior year at Colorado State University, I began working with Heidi Thibert on my Senior Moves in the Field test.  Linda had gotten me through all my tests and I did not pass my Senior Moves test a few months prior to leaving for college.

Heidi understood my desire to pass the Senior Moves test and return to Colorado Springs to test. She took my goal seriously and worked very hard with me to get my moves into shape. 

A few weeks prior to starting law school, I went to Colorado Springs to train with Linda and passed my Senior Moves and I became a US Figure Skating Gold Medalist.

 

I started Law School in 2015 and continued skating. Together, with my friend Emily Calzolari, we founded the University of Wyoming Intercollegiate Figure Skating Team.

During my time in law school, I started coaching at the Laramie Ice and Events Center and mentoring students of my own! I have enjoyed sharing my love of the sport.  Just recently, one of my student’s parents told me that I am the reason her daughter fell in love with skating!

I have continued to skate as much as I can. Most recently, I competed at the 2018 Midwestern Adult Sectionals.

In May of 2018, I will graduate with honors from the University of Wyoming College of Law.  I can’t emphasize how much I owe to skating for my accomplishments.

Not only everyone within the skating community that has helped me, but the skills of training as a figure skater have taught me so much.  Skating has taught me about discipline, hard work, and most of all to always get up and keep going!

As for the  future, I hope to get a job in Denver working in any type of business, tax, estate, or transactional law.

For skating, my goal is to pass my Junior and Senior freeskate tests by the time I turn 30!

Fran Tait – April 4, 2018

Happy Skating!

JO ANN Schneider Farris

Further Reading:

 

 

Jo Ann Schneider-Farris Jo Ann Schneider Farris has participated in figure skating for most of her life as a competitor, coach, and author. Jo Ann was the Figure Skating Expert for About.com for 10 years. Jo Ann began skating as a young child. She won a silver medal in the junior dance event at the United States National Figure Skating Championships and is a US Figure Skating Double Gold Medalist. She coached figure skating and has trained skaters of all ages and levels. In addition, Jo Ann taught hockey players to skate and gave instruction in power skating. She is the author of two skating books: How to Jump and Spin on In-Line Skates, the only book of its kind on inline figure skating, and a personal memoir, My Skating Life: Fifty Plus Years of Skating. Jo Ann also has contributed articles that have been included on the US Figure Skating website and the icenetwork.com website, in SKATING Magazine, Ice Skating Institute's magazine, the Professional Skaters Association magazine, and she also wrote about ice skating for Examiner.com. She is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, The Broadmoor Skating Club, and U.S. Figure Skating. Jo Ann is a graduate of the famous Hollywood Professional School, a school that once was in southern California where many serious figure skaters attended, including Peggy Fleming. She is also a graduate of Colorado College and holds a teaching credential from California State University Long Beach. As a figure skating competitor, she trained under World Ice Dance Champion and Olympic Coach Doreen Denny and also Darlene Gilbert, who has trained international and national teams. From JO ANN Schneider Farris: Hi and Happy Skating! Yes, Happy Skating is my motto. I hope to share my love of the sport and my knowledge of it with you and my goal is to link skaters from all over the world on this site. Happy Skating! Please join me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or follow me on Google+ and Pinterest. Email me at joannfarris@yahoo.com

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