Meissner is loving it in the Sunshine State

2007 U.S. champion enters Skate America with renewed confidence

A rejuvenated Kimmie Meissner hopes to defend her title from 2007 Skate America.
A rejuvenated Kimmie Meissner hopes to defend her title from 2007 Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/21/2008) - Training at incredible ICE, the home of the NHL's Florida Panthers, agrees with Kimmie Meissner.

Living alone for the first time, she's making new friends and sampling Coral Gables' beaches nearly every weekend. Under coach Richard Callaghan's guidance, she's starting to regain the confidence shattered by a seventh-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

The only problems are the things that go bump in the night.

"It was a pretty big change moving down to Florida," the 19-year-old Meissner said. "It took me a while to kind of get used to living on my own in an apartment. Pretty much every noise scared me, like the icemaker. I'd go check the locks 20 times and make sure I'd shut the garage door. Just a little paranoid."

Gremlins aside, Meissner's move from her family home in Bel Air, Md., may give the former world champion's career a new lease on life. According to the skater, working with Callaghan, who coached Todd Eldredge to a world title and six U.S. championships and Tara Lipinski to Olympic gold, was just what the doctor ordered.

"I really enjoy working with Mr. Callaghan. He's very professional, and he notices a lot of little things," Meissner said. "I have a lot of fun with him on the ice. He makes me get my work done, which is great. You always need someone to push and motivate you."

Ask Meissner what uprooted her from the University of Delaware arena, where she trained with Pam Gregory for five years, and she'd answer necessity. After gaining fame in 2005 by becoming only the second American woman to land a triple Axel, she captured the world title in 2006 and the U.S. title in 2007.

Her confidence began crumbling at last season's Skate America. She won gold there, but triple-triple combinations that she had once gotten credit for were downgraded. On top of that, her triple flip became a liability when new rules required judges to deduct points for incorrect outside-edge entrances.

After a disheartening free skate at the 2008 U.S. Championships that included three falls, she decided a change was in order. On her Stars on Ice buddy Eldredge's advice, her family contacted Callaghan, who guided her to a respectable seventh-place finish at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

"It's not so much Mr. Callaghan's philosophy that's different, I guess it's the way he tells it to me," Meissner said. "You can hear something one way, then hear it a different way that makes more sense. It think it's the way he's telling me to do a certain jump that's really clicking with me. I'm like, 'Okay, that's so much better.' It makes sense to me."

Callaghan, who is known as a stern taskmaster, shocked Meissner with his athletic approach to coaching.

"He usually has his skates on, and he's out on the ice zooming around, going all over the place," she said. "That was a big shock; at first, it was, 'Why are you following me?' I really like it now."

Eldredge, who assists Callaghan with some of his pupils, is a key part of the package.

"Todd has basically been through just about everything," she said. "He can say, 'I've done this myself; it's going to be fine.' He knows exactly what I'm feeling."

When asked what areas of her skating her coaches are focusing on, Meissner replied, "Everything." Callaghan is re-working the entrance to her flip, while Eldredge seeks to improve her edges by having her practice figures, the old-fashioned tracings eliminated from international competition in 1990.

"If he had his way, he would work on figures with me forever," Meissner laughed. "I'll ask, 'Can we do some triple Axels or triple-triples now?' I've never had to do figures, and it took me a while. I looked at him like he was crazy."

Meissner hopes to show off her growing confidence at Skate America this week with two new programs: a short to Alain Lefevre's "Un Ange Passe (An Angel Passes)" and a free to Albionini's "Adagio in G Minor." Both were created with long-time choreographer Lori Nichol.

"My short program is essentially a piano piece, which is very different because, for a while there, I was pretty close-minded about skating to piano music," Meissner said. "My long program is very dramatic; it sums up all my feelings from last year and lets it all out."

While Meissner is hopeful, she is careful to manage expectations. Yes, she is working on her technique, but it's only been a few months. She loves her programs, but it will take time to grow into them.

"Mainly, I just want to come out and be consistent at every competition and get my confidence back in competing," she said. "Obviously it would be great to have awesome skates at nationals and make the world team again. Every competition I'm going to, I have different goals. I'm trying to take it one step at a time."

Back to those noises. Meissner, the youngest child and only daughter of a close-knit family, still struggles with homesickness.

"My mom comes down when she can, but I really miss having my family with me," she admitted. "It hasn't impacted my skating as much, because I basically just go there and train, but when I go back home, I don't have anyone to talk to. I love Bel Air, and I miss that, but I'm making friends down here too."