The ice glowed with a cold bluish hue around the edges of the rink, but in the middle, it was white where the cutting edges of skates had scarred the smooth surface. Huddled to one side of the rink was a group of toddlers, rocking unsteadily on the narrow blades as they clung to their mothers. It was the first time most of them had ever seen a skating rink, and it would be their first experience with ice skating.
One little girl with straight blonde hair was anxious to get started. Her mother helped her onto the ice. She tried a few running steps, but the skates slid out from under her. She went down hard, falling back and hitting her head with a resounding crack on the ice. The cry was one of sincere pain. Holly Cook, the toddler, wanted to end her skating career then and there.
“On my fourth birthday, Mom took me down to the ice rink which had just opened and signed me up for a group lesson. When I hit my head, I didn’t want to go back on the ice after that.”
But she did. Holly’s mother wiped away the tears, comforted her, then helped her again stand on the ice.
As a four-year-old, Holly Cook did try again, and since that time trying again has become a part of her daily life. She has spent hours and hours perfecting the intricate moves that make figure skating look deceptively simple when she’s on the ice. For 11 years she has honed her talent, skill, and grace, until now at age 15 she is one of the best—one of the 10 best women figure skaters in the United States and in the world. Competing in her first senior Nationals, Holly came in tenth. In her first international competition in Yugoslavia, she placed eighth. Just a few months ago in an international skating competition known as the Coupes des Alpes, she took first.
Get out the scrapbooks with the clippings and photographs of Holly’s skating career, and the picture of her after the first competition will tell you all you need to know about why she has been successful. There she is at six-and-a-half, standing in third place holding her little ribbon, with her eyes glued on the trophy in the first-place winner’s hands. The look in her eye is everything. It is a look of pure resolve, a look that says next time the trophy will be hers.
Holly’s mother, Marge, noticed the look also. “That’s when I realized her determination. The girl who placed above her had an axel in her routine. Holly didn’t do that yet. She came home and went right to work learning it. I realized then that she had something special. She would fall and fall but keep on trying.”
Her teacher and coach, Chris Sherard also noticed the determination and talent of young Holly. “She was all business even as a six-year-old. She knew what she was supposed to do. She didn’t agonize over every performance. On the outside, she’s different than on the inside. Outside she’s a nice kid and tries not to hurt feelings. When she skates, her inner self comes out, and she becomes aggressive and strong. She wants to compete. I think the combination is nice.”
Holly is approaching a critical period in her skating. She is entering senior high school and needs to either make a commitment to skating or relax and become involved more in school. “Everybody decides in about ninth grade,” Holly explains, “if they really want to skate or not. You have to decide whether to be involved in all the high school activities or to stick with skating. I’ve been skating well and working hard. Now I want to stick with it.”
It isn’t always easy to stay with a schedule when it includes five or six hours a day on the ice. A typical day goes something like this. Holly wakes up at 4:30 in the morning and gets ready for school. She heads for the skating rink and skates from 5:30 to 7:30. Then it’s off to school by 8:00. She’s in school until 2:00 since she’s allowed to skip her seventh period class. Then it’s back to the rink for more practice from 2:00 until 5:00. At 6:00 it’s dinner and homework, a short time to relax, then to bed.
Holly has learned how to deal with the ups and downs of skating. “There is always a point when you want to just quit. If you stick with it, things turn out for the better. I know when I have really bad days, when I just want to throw in the towel and say bag it, that everybody has bad days. You have to just realize that it happens. I have to think, ‘I’ll stick with it.’”
And Holly has a pretty clear view of how things should be in big competitions. “There are a lot of big heads. I don’t want to get like that. I want to stay laid back and skate for the fun of it. A lot of skaters skate because others want them to, but I just don’t want to do that.” Her parents agree. Holly is the youngest of six children, and they want her to skate as long as it is making her happy.
For Holly, doing well in her skating routines has brought a lot of satisfaction. “At the last Nationals, I had the best long program I have ever, ever skated. When I got off the ice, the crowd was great. I love the crowd. It was fun to hear them clapping for me. I had tears in my eyes. I was happy with myself.”
But not all competitions go smoothly. “There are some competitions where I do well and others when I do bad. Sometimes you just don’t feel like skating. Other times you’re just rarin’ to go. And those competitions are the ones you pull off.”
When asked to analyze her own style of skating, Holly is quick to point out her strengths and weaknesses. “I like powerful skating. I like the fast portions of my routines. I’ve been told I skate like a boy,” Holly says with some chagrin. “My favorite move is a cantilever. It’s fun to do. Girls don’t do that move in their routines. But right now I’m working on my maturity. That’s how I present myself, keeping the body up, standing up straight and working with my arms. Then I’m going to work on the consistency of my jumps.”
As a Mia Maid in the Bountiful Utah 53rd Ward, Holly has had the support of her Young Women leaders and the other young people in the ward. Susan Larson, the Young Women president and formerly Holly’s teacher, says, “Holly is just so genuine and friendly. She’s lots of fun to have around and fits in easily. There is no envy from the young people. They are all just so proud of her. Everyone is excited about her successes. And we’re touched when she bears her testimony about how she prays and feels that the Lord is with her.”
Holly has found that religious faith has given her something to talk about with skaters of other religions. And she finds the opportunity to bear her testimony. “I was talking to a Catholic skater one time when we got onto the subject of religion,” said Holly. “We were just talking and comparing what he thinks is true and what I think is true. It’s good to learn more about other religions and other people.”
Back to the scrapbooks. There’s a picture of Holly during her first time at Nationals. At 14, she was still competing in the junior division. Just like the picture when she was six, she’s standing on the riser in third place. But this time, her eyes are straight ahead. There is no sidelong glance at the first-place trophy. The smile is bright, and the look is still determined. She obviously knows she has done as well as she could and better than nearly everyone expected.
“My biggest goal,” said Holly, “is to skate my best at competitions, to show myself that I can do it. And if I do skate my best, then it will take me somewhere. Everybody wants to go to the Olympics. I don’t want to think about it because it puts too much pressure on people. When I push myself too much, that’s when I don’t do as well.”
One person who would have loved to watch this young woman develop her skill on the ice is Holly’s grandfather. He knew the lure of speed and grace on the slippery surface. He himself was a speed skater, and he taught his little girl, Holly’s mother, to skate. But he did not live to see his granddaughter follow in his blade marks.
Still Holly is influenced by him and the stories of him her mother has told her. “I hope that he has seen me skate. I think of him even though I didn’t know him. I think of how he used to skate, then my mom skated, and now I skate. And I wonder if my children and grandchildren will skate too. Sometimes I skate remembering my grandfather, and that encourages me.”
And the scrapbooks continue to be filled with clippings of triumphs on the ice and photographs of a young girl with a look of assurance that she is pursuing her talents and doing the best she can. But somewhere, lingering around the eyes, is the look that was once on the face of a six-year-old, a look of pure determination.