By Rae Jefferson
Although the 2014 Winter Olympics have come to a close, the fascination with sports that have found a home in frigid temperatures has not.
Baylor’s own Courtney Lyons, the assistant director of student success and a lecturer of religion, spends her days in the academic world Monday through Friday, but when Saturday rolls around, she takes her place on a pair of blades fit for the Sochi games.
On July 4, 1992, Lyons set foot on the ice as a little girl who had witnessed Kristi Yamaguchi win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating at the 1992 Albertville, France, Winter Olympics.
Lyons said she grew up in the Dallas area and learned to skate at an ice rink in Fort Worth. Beginning with “learn to skate” classes, she learned the basics of skating and then participated in a beginners’ competition.
“I enjoyed it, and I did well, so I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
As Lyons grew older, her passion for skating increased. At the age of 12, she met her current coaches, husband and wife Peter and Darlene Cain. Peter competed as a pair skater in the 1980 Olympics, and he and his wife have trained nationally-competing athletes as well.
“Between them, they have a lot of expertise,” she said. “Peter is very good at teaching us not only how to be good at what we do, but he also trains us to become coaches.”
Lyons said she went to a high school that was conducive to her participation in the sport. Because classes were only held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she was free to practice all day Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, as well as any other afternoon when she had time.
“I competed until I graduated from high school,” Lyons said. “Between on-ice training, yoga, dance classes and conditioning, I was probably training 30 to 40 hours a week.”
Preparation for a single routine, or program, could take several months, Lyons said. An average program could take about five lessons to plan with a coach and choreographer, and successive lessons would be used to run through it, tweaking things that may need to be changed or refined.
“Now I skate in shows, and I can put together a program in about a month for a show, but if I were competing I would want much more time to prepare,” Lyons said.
Each Saturday, Lyons heads down to Dallas for a weekly time of skating and instructing. This summer will mark Lyons’ second year as a coach who mostly works with young children. Waco does not offer services for people interested in ice skating, and the closest rinks are not open for public skating.
“It’s inconvenient, for sure, but it has a Sabbath sort of rhythm to it,” she said.
Houston freshman Lucy Thompson has been able to catch a glimpse of this “Sabbath,” with Lyons inviting her to Dallas a few times this past semester.
“I hadn’t met anyone else at Baylor that actually skates,” Thompson said, referring to her first months at Baylor. “When I heard about this professor that did, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’ but I never thought we would actually go skate together.”
Thompson met Lyons through a friend who took Christian Heritage, a religion class, with Lyons this past semester.
Lyons said the ice has been her escape from stress ever since she was a child. Figure skating has given her a sense of stability in the face of life’s challenges, and the weekly trip she makes to Dallas allows her to be more productive during the week, she said.
“When I step out there, I don’t take any of my problems with me,” she said. “That is my place — my time. That is my sanctuary.”
Thompson said she thought coming to Baylor meant hanging up her skates because of the focus she would have to put into school, as well as the lack of access to a skating facility. Meeting Lyons showed her that she could still enjoy the “sanctuary” that Lyons spoke of.
“Courtney has helped me realize that skating will always be there, and it will always be a part of who I am,” she said.
Lyons also said she treasures an escape from the cerebral life she lives as a scholar and administrator at a university. Although she said she enjoys the work she does, having a community where intellect is not the primary focus is important to her.
Of all the years of skating, competitions, awards and medals Lyons has experienced, she said the most rewarding aspect of the sport has been sharing it with her 3-year-old son Stanley. The two even skated in a show together this past Christmas season.
“He started skating about a year and a half ago,” Lyons said. “He’s very much a beginner, but it’s so much fun for me to be on the ice with him.”
Lyons said some of the physical challenges of skating are due to the ever-changing nature of the human body. As children grow taller, or adults gain and lose weight, the skater’s center of gravity, which is essential to maintaining balance during jumps and spins, changes.
“You have to be incredibly adaptive and flexible,” she said. “It requires such a wide skill set — it’s not just brute strength. There’s also balance, coordination, grace. Skating is very hard.”
Thompson said the sport has taught her about the importance of perseverance.
“No matter how many times you fall, you get up again,” Thompson said. “It teaches you to never give up.”
Lyons also said figure skating has helped shape her character and work ethic.
“Figure skating has taught me how to take feedback, work well under pressure and prepare over a long period of time for evaluation,” she said.
Training the body for skating is a major challenge, but the reward of accomplishing those goals is worth the work, Lyons said.
“Honestly, it feels like flying,” she said. “It’s like you get to go on a roller coaster in your body.”
Lyons said she has plans to skate well into the future.
“As long as I’m able, I’ll continue to skate.”