Ice Dreams

  • I feel that my life has been very unusual. At 52, I can look back on it now with some degree of distance and judgment. Failure, disappointment and limitations in understanding have actually helped me cope with my life. And part of that comes from being Asian American. My background, sophisticated as it was, was also very traditionally Asian, and there was always enormous responsibility attached to anything I took on.

    The turning point in my life was the realization that I was never going to be an Olympic champion in figure skating.

    Skating was my life. My father, a Chinese-American immigrant who went to M.I.T. to do his graduate work, had learned to skate with his school buddies on lakes in China. Later, when we lived in New York City, he bought me a pair of skates one Christmas. He took me to Central Park's sailboat pond, and that was my first time ever on the ice. I fell in love with it--the speed, the flow, and the wind in my face.

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    I asked for skating lessons. At first I traveled to New Jersey on the bus at night after school to get to an ice rink. I went through a series of teachers and finally ended up with one of the greatest trainers in the world, Pierre Brunet, who had trained Olympic medalists. Eventually I started to compete.

    While I was skating competitively, I was trying to get through school, first at Friends Seminary, then at Chapin, both very rigorous schools, and I was dancing at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet as well. I always seemed to be thrust into this world where the bar was so high. I am the first child in my family to survive, and a lot of pressure was put on me. I remember saying, "Mom, I can't compete if I'm skating half the time that other skaters skate." And she said, "Well, I don't really understand that, because Dick Button and Tenley Albright won Olympic medals, and they both went to Harvard."

    I dropped out of Chapin 10 days before my senior year to train for the 1968 Olympics. When I didn't make the team, my parents were horrified. I quit singles, and in 1969 I skated only pairs. Then one day, my entire skating career ended. My partner, Jimmy Stuart, said, "I have one more year to compete in singles. I would like to try for the world team. I can't do it and train for pairs." It was too late for me to go back into singles. So it was over, over in literally one day.

    It was very shattering. Those first two or three years after I quit skating at 19, I was just so lost. I'd skated since I was 8 years old, and suddenly I was beginning all over again.

    During this time I had a breakdown. I dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College. I didn't feel I was achieving anything. The emptiness I experienced is what I now know is depression--but I didn't know that when I was 19. People didn't talk openly about depression in 1969. You don't know you're depressed; you just know your life doesn't feel right. I know I represented a huge disappointment to my parents. They said it in a million ways every day, never outright, but it was conveyed to me in so many ways.

    I worked myself back into Sarah Lawrence and graduated with a B.A. in art history. I eventually went to Vogue magazine. But with the end of my skating career, there was a sense of loss and failure, a lack of passion and a questioning of what I was doing in my life. So I replaced skating with the best of fashion. And ever since, I've tried to stay focused on what I want to do and what brings me a sense of self-worth and dignity.

    I founded my own company at 40. I was very late to start this business. I know I don't do well unless I have a passion in my life, and it's usually related not only to my children and husband--that's understandable--but to myself. My passion is what I need to do to feel healthy and sane and like I'm making a contribution in some small way. That's what drives me.