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Autumn Classic blog: The tales of Sean Rabbitt

California-based competitor takes to international ice for first time in career
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It was quite the triumphant week for Sean Rabbitt, who got to share a podium with the reigning Olympic champion and the reigning Canadian champion. -Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk

Team USA's Sean Rabbitt is competing at the 2015 Skate Canada Autumn Classic International this week. He is keeping a blog for icenetwork.

Thursday, Oct. 16

The morning began with what has become Team USA's daily ritual here: Some of us head off to early practice while the rest of us go to breakfast in our sweats and hang out for a bit, eating and talking. It's an awesome way to start the day.

At practice today, my teammate, Alex Johnson, and I were in the second warmup, which consisted of the top six men. This included Yuzuru Hanyu and Nam Nguyen. Hanyu Mania was back and even stronger than it was in the days prior. More fans, more media, more people from the competition that was next door, all squeezing in to get a glimpse of Hanyu.

When you are on the ice, you don't notice the hysteria too much. However, when you skate by the one corner where all the media is gathered, you hear the loud "click click click click" sound of the shutters going off at 100 miles per hour. It's something you have to be aware of when you are out on the ice trying to focus.

The ladies were the first to compete their free skate. Amber [Glenn], Tyler [Pierce] and Angela [Wang] did their best and represented the Red, White and Blue proudly. Angela walked away with the bronze medal.

Both of our pairs teams did great and finished on the podium: Marissa [Castelli] and Mervin [Tran] won silver, and Jessica [Pfund] and Josh [Santillan] took bronze. Our dancers did awesome, too, with Karina Manta and Joe Johnson coming away with the silver.

As the men were the last to skate, Alex and I stayed back at the hotel to rest. When it was time to head over, we went down to the lobby together. He opted to walk to the rink, whereas my coach and I decided to wait for the shuttle...which never showed! We waited 30 minutes before finally calling a cab...which also didn't come! At that point, we weren't sure what to do.

Thankfully, the Tran family pulled up to drop off Mervin. They took us to the rink, and we made it there just in time for me to begin my off-ice warm-up.

With Alex and I sitting in fifth and fourth, respectively, we would need to pull up to finish in the medals...and we were going to have to bring it. And I can proudly say, we both had very respectable free skates. I was able to climb into third and clinch the bronze, and he improved to fourth. 

The crowning moment was the medal ceremony, when I was standing on the podium with the Olympic champion and silver medalist Nam Nguyen. This was my first international ever, and I went in thinking that I wanted to take in every experience I could, make memories and just enjoy myself. From practices to competition to the medal ceremony -- where Yuzuru was kind enough to help walk me through what to do out there -- I can say I did all of that and more.

The whole week was just fantastic. The skating, the team, the competition and everything in between -- I am so grateful and couldn't ask for a better first-time international experience. This was one competition I will never forget.

I want to thank our amazing team keader, Kevin [Rosenstein], and our assistant team leader, Hal [Marron]. They were at the rink all day long and were always so friendly, enthusiastic and full of energy. Thank you to the awesome team of skaters I got to travel with...I had such a blast hanging out with you all. And thank you U.S. Figure Skating for this was truly amazing.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

Competition day 

The day of competition can be an interesting one. Sometimes you can't sleep the night before; other times you wake up early due to excitement or anxiety, and still other times it feels just like any other day.

I met up with most of the team for breakfast, and after we all talked, it's safe to assume that we all had a good night's sleep. (Marissa [Castelli] told us about her dream, which involved a T-Rex and Velociraptor.) For some, including myself, it didn't even feel like we were at a competition. In my opinion, that can be a good thing!

USA, ready to play

The ladies were the first to take the ice for the competition. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be there for it, but thanks to the live stream, I watched it from the hotel. My roommate, Josh Santillan, and I sat in the room cheering on Amber [Glenn], Tyler [Pierce] and Angela [Wang]. Our ladies looked great, with Angela leading the group.

After watching the ladies, I was feeling a little stir crazy...cabin fever is a real thing, people! I left the room to walk around the hotel and get a little energy out before I had to start preparing to leave the hotel. Upon returning to the room, I caught the international debut of U.S. ice dance team Karina Manta and Joe Johnson. They had a strong showing and looked extremely happy with what they did. Congratulations, guys! 

Soon it was time for me to get ready, go through my checklist to make sure I had everything I needed...and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the peanut butter, jelly and bread that I snuck out from breakfast. (I also snuck out a small box of Fruit Loops, hehe...skaters are always good at getting some food for later from the breakfast buffet.)

I met my coach in the lobby and off we went to the rink. When we arrived, we saw that the pairs event was just about to wrap up and my event, the men's short program, was next. I was the last skater in the group, so even with the event starting, I had plenty of time to get ready.

The first warmup breezed by, and soon it was time to take the ice for my six-minute warmup. I made a few mistakes but nothing big. I was feeling good, but now I had to sit through the five skaters before me.

Before I knew it, it was time to take the ice. They were playing music in between each skater, and when I went out to get my feet under me, they were playing one of my current favorite was then I knew this would be my lucky night! After a few single jumps, a back scratch spin and some edges, it was time, the moment I have waited so many years for: "Representing the United States of America, please welcome, Sean Rabbitt!"

I have heard that so many times in my head, dreaming of what it would be like in real life, how would I handle the situation. Right before they called my name, my coach Justin [Dillon] told me to remember how I got here. I remembered the hard days and practice, the fun days at practice, the tears, the smiles -- all the things I have faced and overcome to get to this point. As they called my name, my face lit up with a huge smile that was impossible to hide. The moment could have overwhelmed me, but instead, I felt empowered.

My short was anything and everything that I could imagine. I had a strong combo jump, fought to hang onto my axel and had a strong lutz. The only thing that makes me a little angry is that I got a Level 2 on one of my spins, and spinning is something that is usually a strong point for me; I rarely miss my levels...grrrrr. That aside, I was so happy with the result. I am sitting in fourth after the short, only 0.2 points out of third. My friend and teammate, Alex Johnson, who also skated great, is right behind me in fifth.

Team USA had a great day, and I, myself, am so happy with how it all turned out. I can't wait to get back out there for the long tomorrow, and I hope everyone has an awesome skate. 

I am beat, so off to bed I go...hello, pillow!

Tuesday, Oct. 13

There I was, standing in a line, surrounded by a mob of people, all of them waiting for their golden opportunity, their time to shine when they finally got to meet....their first plate of pancakes!

Yes, friends, that's right, I was in line at the breakfast buffet. Skaters wearing their team uniforms, coaches, officials, parents, on-lookers -- everyone was there getting their morning fuel. Although a foodie, I am not the biggest fan of breakfast, so I tend to stick to the basics and not get too adventurous. It was eggs, fruit and oatmeal for me.

I sat down at a table that included training mate Tyler Pierce and...drum roll...Amber Glenn and her coach! THEY MADE IT! Knowing that we had the final piece of the Team USA puzzle -- and the added bonus of freshly poured coffee -- made me feel whole and that the morning was starting off on a good note.

From breakfast, we headed to the venue. The facility is big, hosting two rinks; both include ample seating for event viewing, a pool, a gym and multiple recreation rooms. There is also a wall that displays giant collages of pictures of skaters who have trained there. As I was admiring these pictures and playing "Where's Waldo" by trying to spot skaters I knew, an older gentleman approached me and informed me that he had taken a large percentage of the pictures. He is quite the photographer and also was a pleasure to talk with.

Not all of the ladies showed up for their morning practice, so the three U.S. ladies were able to have their own private session. Team USA was looking strong, and definitely is here with its A-game. Good job today, ladies!

After watching the ladies practice, I left the rink and went looking for lunch. I walked past my hotel and down another block, and ran right into a Tim Hortons...check that one off the list! (Note to readers: They have a great Italian sandwich.) The staff members were extremely friendly, and when I had told them it was my first time visiting a Tim Hortons, they gave me a free bag of Timbits (donut holes). 

I returned to my room to relax for a bit, and soon it was time to head back to the rink for my practice.

One of the other competitors in this event is the 2014 Olympic gold medalist, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Being that this is my very first international, I did my best to brace myself for "Hanyu Mania," which is one of those things that no matter how well prepared you think you are for it, you just can never anticipate what it's really like. Japanese media was everywhere. Skating fans from Japan (Japanese speaking skills initiate!) were snapping countless pictures of Yuzu with their phones and cameras. At first sight, walking into the rink and being in the middle of this flurry of activity can be quite overwhelming -- and for a few minutes, it was. But I didn't let it get to me; instead, I took advantage of the opportunity and let it all soak in. I took a moment to think how cool it was to experience something like this at my first international.

I got on the ice, and it felt amazing; it was so good to finally get out there and skate! The energy was great, and I was joined by teammate Alex Johnson and Mr. Hanyu. Alex and I both put out two solid programs. Post practice, we all headed to the draw. Alex drew fourth, and I drew 12th (last in the event). 

After a quick stop at the hotel, I headed back to the rink to watch the junior men's event. I sat with a group of skaters from many different countries, including Team USA's Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran (who had a great practice, too), Spain's Sonia Lafuente, Nam Nguyen of Canada, and world champions Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel, just to name a few. The juniors were great, and it really made me more excited to skate tomorrow.

So, the starting orders have been drawn, and the skaters have practiced. The next time I check in with you, all of Team USA will have skated their short programs. Wish us luck...go Team USA!

Monday, Oct. 12

Hey! And delay...

My name is Sean Rabbitt, and I am writing to you as your icenetwork athlete blogger from the 2015 Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario. Before I get started, I want to take a moment to introduce myself. I am from Yorba Linda, California, the home of President Richard Nixon. I have red hair, freckles and speak fluent Japanese (threw you for a curveball with that last one!). I am also a BIG foodie: I love cooking, eating and taking food pics. (Yes, I am one of those guys.) I am a senior men's competitor, and this is my first time representing Team USA!

Now that you know a little about me, let me introduce my fellow teammates. Also competing in the men's event is Alex Johnson. In ladies, we have Amber Glenn, Angela Wang and my training mate, Tyler Pierce. The U.S. pairs in Barrie are Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran, and Jessica Pfund and Josh Santillan. Rounding out the squad are ice dance teams Karina Manta and Joe Johnson, and Danielle Thomas and Daniel Eaton.

Now that you know a little bit about us, it's time we begin our adventure together!

The day began early for us West Coasters. Tyler and I were at Los Angeles International (LAX) at 5 a.m. for our scheduled 7 a.m. departure. Once through security, we were met by our coach, Justin Dillon. From there, we visited the Air Canada Lounge, a special little surprise for Tyler, as it is her birthday today. Talk about VIP treatment! The lounge had everything: big squishy chairs and couches, charging stations with more plugs than you know what to do with and a huge breakfast buffet. It was heavenly.

After filling up, we headed down to the gate to board our flight. As we started lining up, we were informed that we were going to be delayed 10 minutes due to a small issue with an on-board smoke detector. Ten turned into 30, 30 turned into an hour, and an hour turned into two hours. I must give Air Canada credit because they kept us updated and shared a good amount of details so we didn't feel completely in the dark about the delay. (Side note: Around this same time, Amber and her coach were also delayed in Texas!) 

Finally, two hours later, we were able to board our plane to Toronto. I spent the flight watching movies and enjoying a nice Air Canada lunch. They offer what seems like a chapter book menu of food and snacks in all different price ranges. I made my selection and accompanied my meal with some movies; I watched Spy and Kingsman and was about to watch Mission: Impossible but ran out of time. (As I type this, I realize these are all secret agent movies.) 

Upon arrival, we were met by our team leader, Kevin Rosenstein, as well as Marissa and Mervin. We boarded a van and were off to Barrie.

Once in Barrie, we checked into our rooms, dropped off our luggage and headed to the hotel restaurant. There, we were met by most of Team USA and had a good time eating dinner and either introducing ourselves to one another or catching up with skaters we haven't seen in a while.

Then it was time for our team meeting. This was a really cool moment because (with the exception of Amber, who was still on her way) everyone on the team was all in the same place at one time. Kevin is really energetic and positive, and I think he is going to be a fantastic leader for our team. His energy was great and much-needed after a long day of travel, given all the delays we faced.

Things really get underway Tuesday with official practices. Now, it's off to bed. G'night!

Random stuff

  • Canadian currency does not smell like maple syrup.
  • I have been told to visit my local Tim Hortons. (There is one within walking distance of the hotel.)
  • Today is Columbus Day in the U.S. (Happy Columbus Day!)
  • Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. (Happy Thanksgiving!)
  • I am making it a goal to try "real" maple syrup and also the famed poutine.
  • As I type this, Amber is still not here...