He was 7, 8, maybe, a skinny boy in Baltimore with dishwater blond hair brushing shaggy against his collar, and he was in love with Peggy.
Peggy, with the spread-eagle, double-axel combo, with the lush, dark hair and diamond blue eyes. She’d won gold in the 1968 Olympics a few years before (in that high-necked chartreuse thing sewn by her mother), and now, in the early 1970s, she was on tour with the Ice Capades. She came to Baltimore. She was a vision. Mickey Bolek waited until after her performance, and he gave her a rose.
That was when he knew. That was when he knew he was destined to become an ice skater.
But he didn’t.
He became a hairdresser.
Who are we kidding. Childhood fantasies cannot keep pace with the realities of adulthood, the unsettling realizations of one’s own physical limitations, the acceptance of practical career paths, fixed-rate mortgages, respectable leisure activities, weak ankles.
Bolek got married. He opened up his own salon, Michael Anthony, on Capitol Hill. He had a son. He turned 38, 39. He acquired the gentlest of paunches — barely a slope — and a Hip Dad haircut — layered, streaked, as blond as the blond of his childhood.
Then he became an ice skater.
On Friday, Bolek, who is now 46 and who could not so much as manage a toe pick seven years ago, will compete nationally for the first time in the 2012 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.
“I’ll say he’s enthusiastic,” says his coach, Barbara Walker. “He wants to learn. What else can I say? Of all my students, he has the most fun.”
“Be cheesier,” she barks to Bolek, as he slides past her at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which is on the top floor of the Ballston Common Mall. It is Monday morning, a few hours before he will get on a plane for Chicago and the championships.
Be cheesier. How much cheesier can he be? He considered wearing a Richard Simmons costume for his Light Entertainment Skate. He ultimately didn’t. He’s sticking with black pants, sparkly top. He glides past Walker and winks. He glides past again and shimmies. He prepares for a jump. It’s a little jump — no double-axels here — but both of his feet leave the ground, and both of them land again, slicing through the ice, and Bolek is smiling as only the truly fulfilled can, smiling with the audacity of a middle-aged man on skates.
* * *
In figure skating, the people who are going to be famous get the sense that they’re going to be famous a long time before they become famous. A sport for lithe, light bodies, skating is best learned as a child, before cellulite. The proteges go to the Olympics.
Everyone else goes to the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships.
This is one of the biggest competitions in the country for people who are probably never going to be famous — this year it has 485 adult skaters — but who cannot help but love Peggy Fleming.
“And Denise Biellmann. She’s the one they named the Biellmann Spin after, that one where they’re spinning . . . and it looks like a teardrop. When I first saw her do it, I was just insane.”