Nikki Metzger: Ups and downs in a serious skating career

and | Staff Writers

Last winter, while most Washington University students who visited the Forest Park skating rink bundled up in layers upon layers of clothing in anticipation of various falls and awkward limb flailing, sophomore Nikki Metzger was gliding around the rink with such grace that a random passerby inquired if she was Olympics-bound.

Though Metzger’s injuries caused her to abandon her competitive skating career in high school, she can still skate loops around everyone else at the rink.

Metzger began skating at the age of 3. By the time she hit kindergarten, her sport had taken on a more serious tone. While other children were sleeping in and eating breakfast, Metzger was at the rink training.

It all started when a coach approached her mom after spotting Metzger while she was taking a beginner’s skating class. He thought she had real potential. He wanted to be her coach. She was 4 years old.

Her routine intensified. In fact, she skated before, during and after school. By the age of 8, she was competing on a national level.

Her specialty was synchronized skating, rather than the freestyle with which most people are familiar. This subset of the sport consists of 16 girls performing an intricate routine and has a lesser emphasis on jumps and spins.

Lest you think she had a stage mom pushing her, it was in fact Metzger who felt the urge to skate. Nothing could keep her off the ice—not even injuries.

The first injury came when she was in fourth grade. Her tendon had separated from the bone in her lower leg, but doctors thought it was a chipped tibia. She skated through the pain. Eventually, when she was properly diagnosed, she was convinced to take some time off.

In seventh grade, it wasn’t so easy. While practicing a double loop combo, she fell, breaking her foot and tearing ligaments in her ankle.

“But this was one month before regionals and two months before nationals,” Metzger said. “I went to the doctor and he said that as long as I could handle the pain, I could skate through it, and it wouldn’t get worse.”

Worried about letting down the other 15 members of her team, she competed at nationals that year. When she left the ice, she couldn’t put weight on her ankle. She just hopped on one foot around the arena.

“My coach wouldn’t let me use crutches because she didn’t want to psych out the other girls and feel that they had to be cautious around me because it would mess up their skating,” she said.

Finally, though, something gave. In ninth grade, those around her finally concluded it was the last straw.

After falling during a double salchow, Metzger damaged the nerves in her spine that were connected to her right hand.

“I remember describing the feeling as if someone was sawing off my fingers with a dull, dusty knife or saw,” she said.

Metzger gave up the competitive aspect of the sport and switched to a more low-key team for the rest of high school.

Wash. U. doesn’t have any skating groups, but Metzger takes every chance to skate around—even though Forest Park is a bit removed from an Olympic rink.

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