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This week in Cleveland, Melissa Telecky is taking time during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships for small talk, souvenirs and filling up her digital camera's memory card.
The 21-year-old Bowling Green native doesn't want to take any moment of the event for granted.
After battling injuries for two years, Telecky is performing her short program tonight in the senior ladies' division at Quicken Loans Arena. She previously skated at nationals in the junior division in 2004 and 2005.
"I wanted to make it back one more year," Telecky said. "My last nationals didn't go the way I planned. I didn't enjoy the experience and was too uptight about it and put too much pressure on myself.
"I wanted one more shot to handle this experience the right way."
A sophomore at Oakland University, Telecky is one of several from the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., competing in nationals, including fellow BG native Alissa Czisny. Telecky is one of the older members of the group of 20-plus skaters on the ice tonight, but one of her coaches, Jodie Tasich, believes she has what it takes to achieve one of the best scores in the field.
"She's a very technically sound skater," Tasich said. "She's very aesthetically pleasing to watch. Her jumping is beautiful. She doesn't have the content of some, but what she does, she does well."
Skating since before elementary school, Telecky always hoped one day she would make it to the top level of national competition. Her initial climb was rapid, but four years ago shortly after her second trip to nationals, she hit a major speed bump.
In February, 2005, Telecky suffered a neck injury when she fell on a jump, sustaining severe whiplash that wasn't diagnosed correctly for several months. She recovered enough to compete in one regional event that year but hadn't put in enough training time to move on. The 2006 competition season was a complete wash for Telecky when she developed chronic tendinitis in both Achilles.
Graduating from Bowling Green High School that year and pondering which direction she should take her life, Telecky didn't know how much more frustration she could endure.
"I definitely questioned myself, should I be done?" Telecky said.
While she stayed off the ice, Telecky continued to stay in shape. She then joined a synchronized skating team. Tasich believes the synchronized skating is what kept Telecky in the sport.
"The skaters are usually not as technical, and they don't jump," Tasich said. "It's a great team atmosphere. She still got to be part of a huge competitive experience and learned a lot through that. It motivated her."
In 2007, Telecky began her return to figure skating. She worked with a personal trainer, underwent the challenge of re-learning her jumps and spins and adjusted to a new scoring system that was put in place while she was out. She had mentally prepared herself to be re-immersed, with an end game in mind.
"I didn't want to end things the way I ended them," Telecky said. "I knew I was more capable than what I had done. I wanted to give it my all one more time so at least I knew I put forth everything."
Telecky competed for the first time in more than a year in the summer of 2007. Last fall, she set out to try for another trip to nationals.
In October she placed second at the Eastern Great Lakes regional championships in Midland, Mich., which qualified her for the Midwestern sectional championships in Houston in November. After hearing a few of the top skaters in that sectional had dropped out, her confidence grew, and she placed second there to advance to senior nationals.
Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt and Caroline Zhang are among the favorites to win Telecky's division, which includes a long program skate on Saturday. If there's one thing Tasich has learned about her pupil, though, it's to not count her out.
"She didn't expect to make it here coming into this season," Tasich said. "It's icing on the cake. She's excited to be around those girls. She does a lot of things as good as those girls, so who knows what will happen."
Telecky doesn't know how long she'll continue to skate after this year. So in front of a group of more than a dozen friends and family, she hopes she can perform to her potential.
"I just want to skate the best that I can to show how hard I've been working," Telecky said. "Have fun and enjoy the moment and stay in the moment. Placement is just kind of a bonus."
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