By Barbara Perry Bind
Skating champion Lucinda Ruh took to the ice when she was just four years old and skated her way to international renown. She is the world record-holder for the longest and fastest spin on ice, a two-time national gold medalist and two-time world professional bronze medalist and has been twice named to the list of the 25 Most Influential Names in Figure Skating by International Figure Skating magazine.
Now Ruh calls Greenwich her home and is teaching the tricks of her trade to local skaters. She also is putting the finishing touches on her book, "Frozen Teardrop: The Tragedy And Triumph Of Figure Skating's "Queen Of Spin," which is due out this August.
The Citizen spoke with Ruh about her upcoming book, her road to success on the ice and her passion for her sport.
How did you get started in skating?
I started skating because of my much older sister. We were living all around the world, and figure skating had become my sister's comfort. Therefore, as the little baby of the family, my mother had me wrapped up in blankets and many of my young days would be spent in an ice rink, waiting for my sister to master her practices. When I was four years old, my mother thought it would be a good idea that, as long as we were at the rink, I should use the time efficiently as well -- and hence, my skating career started.
Who are some of your biggest skating influences?
I was always a single skater; yet, somehow, the Russian 1988 and 1994 Olympic Champion pair team of Ekaterina Gordeeva and the late Sergei Grinkov were my biggest idols. I emulated Ekaterina, and I watched hours and hours of the pair's skating. To be then later performing with Ekaterina in professional shows was quite the honor.
You're known as the `Queen of Spin,' and you are in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest and longest spinner on ice. It's amazing to watch. How do you generate that kind of speed?
Thank you so much! Just lately, it was incredibly interesting to hear from a fan that when they used to watch me spin they could hear the wind that I was producing with my spins! That is exactly what it felt like to me, too! Like I was the eye of a tornado, and I was creating it all.
It took incredible strength, endurance and hours and years of practice. I am sure God has given me some of the talent, too.
I was, however, never taught how to spin. I just found a way to go faster and longer every single day, and it has now, along the years, become a very refined, unique and specific technique.
You have been credited with creating more than 20 different spins. How do you come up with them?
Since I was very little, I would spin for at least two hours a day and the last 20 minutes or so were always dedicated to creating new positions. I loved ballet, so I would incorporate all my ballet experience into the spins as well. I would just create the positions I saw in my mind, as I always saw myself more of an artist than an athlete. My mother, as my most influential teacher, would say whether the new position was a keeper or not, and so on I would practice and create.
What is it about spinning that made it so compelling for you?
I think every little child has a fascination about spinning. If it is spinning an object, or even twirling, something in the brain enjoys the sensation. My father mentioned to me when I was little that I needed to find something that was unique and that only I could do in this world. This way I would be remembered, and so I chose spinning from the age of eight.
Somehow, I just felt an instant connection to spinning really fast and long. It felt like meditation, giving me almost a trance-inducing feeling -- the images and positions I could create while spinning took me to my own fantasy world, and it was exhilarating.
You've skated as both an amateur and a professional. What is the difference between competing on the national and world stage and performing with groups such as Champions on Ice and Stars on Ice?
For me, the biggest difference was that in the professional world of figure skating there was no set schedule, no coach telling me what to do, no new goals of winning competitions, and no specific times where I had to peak.
It was an incredible adjustment that I had found very hard to do. It is not like in most sports where when you turn professional your career just starts. In figure skating, turning professional means you have already accomplished everything and now you are just riding the wave that you have created.
I found, as well, that a lot of skaters saw themselves wanting to improve artistically when they turned professional as there was now more time to explore these venues; before, they had purely focused on mastering the jumps. But, as I had always focused more on being an artist anyway, as a professional I then just felt a certain freedom to finally be able to do what I was meant to, and to be able to move the audience how I had always envisioned, without the limitation of rules and judges.
Which do you like more, competing or performing?
In one way, I somehow never had separated the two. To me they come hand in hand, and so for me I loved both. Although I must admit, I innately am not much of a competitor. I just loved being an artist, painting feverishly on the ice.
You're now teaching figure skating. What does it take to make a good teacher?
I have passed on my knowledge of my own experience on the ice for nearly the last eight years or so. I had started slowly with seminars all around the world, leading to mentoring many Olympic and World Champions. For me, I am the coach that I had always wanted in my career, and that to me embodies giving respect to my students -- in return, they will respect not only my teachings, but also me.
As in all relationships, the one between student and teacher is refined in such a way that what is to be learned is for each to be the best they can be for each other. A teacher's role is not to preach but, rather, to see what the student needs in order for them to achieve their dreams, and not the dreams of the teacher but the one of the student. A teacher is really there to awaken the extraordinary in others and to never let his or her own ego be let into the equation.
Some of your students include Greenwich residents. Do any of them stand out, and why?
Each student I have stands out for me in their own unique way as they all carry the future and to that, they all make a difference to me. I do, however, have one student who I work with more than with anyone else and therefore can explore a side to a student rarely shown to a teacher. She is Pippa Leigh, and she stands out not necessarily because of her talent, or ability, intelligence or maturity, which she all embodies, but rather for the incredibly innocent, in-touch-with-herself charm which she exudes and with which she conducts herself and translates into all she does. Pippa reminds me that time is fleeting, and not a minute therefore should be rushed. We are where we are, when we are.
You have a book coming out in August. What led you to write a book, and what is it about?
I wanted to write my book because so much of my story has gone untold. I feel I have a responsibility to help others to achieve their dream, yet avoid the mistakes I had made.
It is the autobiographical accounting of my life. In this straight-forward memoir, I take my readers through the harsh and painful realities of the figure-skating world while exposing the never-before-released details of my own private pain and suffering which would ultimately make me a Guinness-listed international icon yet a bed-ridden suicidal--starved, agoraphobic and terrified to face my own inner truths.
It is a true-life tale of beauty, refinement, genius and skill, contrasted against the cut-throat starkness of not only the figure-skating world, but the world in general, in its bleakest, most tortuous, most mind-warping moments -- as seen through my eyes whose personal life would harbor its own menagerie of horrors, secrets and personal violations.
In telling my story, I hope to encourage others to find the vision and strength to pursue their own aspirations, even when they seem overwhelming or unattainable without ever having them have to lose their self, self worth or self-respect. For if you have won yet lost yourself, then who did you win for? It is my story of how I overcame extraordinary adversity to achieve extraordinary fame and worldwide admiration only to ultimately ask myself, `Why am I here and what greater purpose might I serve?'
Even though skating permeates throughout the whole book, it is far from the main focus, and it is primarily about becoming a champion in life. It is, above all, a story of love -- love for self, love for others and love for the sanctity of life even in the dark and lonely battlegrounds of overwhelming impediments and impossible odds. It is a story for everyone who has ever dreamed of truly being themselves.
What other projects are you working on?
Well, I am really busy right now with getting my book published, but after that I definitely would like to continue writing, as it always has been a huge passion of mine. I plan next to write a series of children books.
In addition, I am always very busy continuing my work with my skating obligations, mentoring, working with several charities and always looking to add new projects and new opportunities to my endeavors.
Looking back on your skating career, what achievements are you most proud of?
I am definitely most proud of accomplishing something in the world that no one has ever done and maybe will never do again, and so for that to be people's inspiration is my proudest achievement. The gold medals and the Guinness title are, of course, the icing on the top.