Jenni Kahanic slips on her ice skates for the first time in over a year to try out the make-shift campus rink. Memories flood over her as she thinks, “this is how it used to be.” For Kahanic, ice skating is more than just a casual winter activity, it represents nine years of her life.
Kahanic began skating at age nine. “I started because all of my other friends could stand up on the ice but I couldn’t,” she remembers.
What started as group lessons for hobby’s sake became a passion. Within a year, Kahanic passed out of the eight beginning levels of basic skills, and, seeing her natural abilities, her coach advised her to pursue further lessons.
Soon, Kahanic was spending 2-5 hours a day on skates, training at the Sioux City and Sioux Center rinks. Except for weekends when her “body needed a rest,” skates became second nature for Kahanic as her days were filled with home schooling and training.
Triple toe loops, jumps, camel spins and double axels became part of Kahanic’s daily routine. By age 16, Kahanic was competing with her freestyle and short programs at 5-7 competitions per year. Beginning her competitive season each January, Kahanic said the goal was to “pique by regionals in the fall.” Competitions took her and her three sisters across the Midwest to Detroit, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Colorado Springs.
By this time, Kahanic had just tested into and begun competing at the junior level, only one level from that of Olympic-caliber figure skaters. Anticipating a trip to California for a big competition and soon an international assignment, Kahanic had high hopes for the future.
About a month before she turned seventeen, however, everything changed. Prone to over train and battling a torn Achilles tendon and a stress fracture on the opposite foot, Kahanic “ended up on crutches for the second time because of skating.”
After a visit to the doctor, Kahanic was told she must either “stop skating now and walk when I was thirty or keep training and pushing myself and risk some serious injuries.” Kahanic chose the first option.
Looking back now, Kahanic remembers being really lost. “When I quit, I was just about piquing in my competitive career. The USFSA was going to send me to a different country to compete against other kids. It was very hard to have that no longer be an option,” she said.
Just a few years later, however, she says it really doesn’t cross her mind anymore. In some ways, she says it’s nice to “not have pressure to be on top of my game every day.”
She’s even appreciated being free to find herself outside of the pressure to train and compete. “I’m Jenni regardless of the sport or activity I’m in. My relationships to others and to God define me, not my placement at some competition,” Kahanic said.
But that’s not to say Kahanic will ever forget. As she flips channels and pauses to watch a figure skating competition, she said “I’m right back there.” But the difference today is that “in the end, I turn off the TV, and I’m right back here.”
Though her competition days are over and life has moved on to new and different seasons, Kahanic still remembers. “It’s like a love story on the ice. It’s just you and the ice,” and nothing else matters.