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Kim's new gig: skating, backpacking through Europe


Usually, when a successful athlete retires from competition, he or she might dance with the stars, play a little golf, be a television color commentator, find 10 percent of a team to own or otherwise enjoy the sunset and a pina colada from their seaside villa.

"I'm backpacking my way through Europe," said Kim Navarro, a 1999 El Molino grad, world-class ice skater who is in the middle of a eight-month ice-show tour across that continent. (Navarro's responses in this column were taken from her blog, e-mail exchanges and some intermittent cell phones conversations from her hotel room in Germany).

It's a nice gig if you can get it, ice skating four months in Germany, four months in France, last winter in Sun Valley, Idaho, an NBC television shoot in the fall, all of it sounding so dramatic and adventurous. Which of course is what Navarro keeps telling herself now that she and partner Brent Bommentre no longer are competing for a spot on the U.S. Winter Olympic team.

"When I think about choosing not to compete anymore," Navarro said through her blog, "I feel content. When I think about what I am doing now for a large chunk of my life, I feel hesitant. I am unsure if I found the perfect fit, the idea of committing to this tour life for years on end is overwhelming. But when I think of it as &‘backpacking through Europe,' it feels perfect."

All athletes, great and small, must come to grips with a life after competition. It can bring sadness, depression, confusion, feelings of displacement, among other things. For Navarro — who along with Bommentre won a bronze medal in Championship Dance at both the 2008 and 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships — the change was dramatic. For starters, she is sharing the ice now with skating humans dressed in monkey and pig costumes. Yep, Bucky, this isn't the Olympics, where Navarro and Bommentre were America's first alternates in Championship Dance at both the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.

"In the show world," Navarro said, "not every performance is special. (In competition) each performance feels pretty important. A few shows feel good, a few bad, and most just right in the middle. I swear I skated out there sometimes and thought, &‘What are these people doing here. It is just a Sunday afternoon in Cologne. I wish they would stop looking at me. I am tired'. Whereas, during competition, I knew why they were looking at me. I was competing at Nationals."

Imagine Navarro's confusion — Are they clapping for me or for the monkey? But as is her nature, Navarro is inclined to see the glass half full rather than half empty. So it is backpacking across Europe in a "Holiday On Ice" tour bus, staying in "Holiday on Ice" hotels, working in a job in which the heaviest things she lifts are people's spirits. Like I said, not a bad gig.

"I have a job while backpacking through Europe," said Navarro, 29. "That's pretty cool. And you know what my job entails? People clapping for me. Yep, that's right — people clap for me as I backpack through Europe."

This is the Kim Navarro talking who always wanted to see a world outside of ice skating. She never wanted to be a one-trick pony who only saw life through the prism of an ice rink. On the other hand, there is a Kim Navarro who knows she'll never again experience the rush of excitement she did at elite ice skating events.

"The competition, the judges, the importance of that one moment, that makes it stressful," Navarro said. And oddly, enjoyable at the same time. Until it wasn't enjoyable anymore. That moment came last year.

"I am not in mourning," Navarro said. "The show stresses entertainment a lot more. We wear theater/stage makeup. For one number, we wear wigs, sunglasses with blinking lights and LED packs on our skirts (or tops for guys). Brent wear eye-liner which he now calls &‘guy-liner.' Things are more over-the-top."

But Navarro is doing the same thing now that she did as a competitor — entertaining. All athletes are entertainers, amusement operators to be more specific, doing something to take the audience away from their life, their troubles. In that there is a lot of to be said about sequins and fountains and bicycles and just about everything you would see at a circus except the elephants, that animal historically having a tough time on skates.

"I think our shows are very similar to the opening and closing Olympics ceremonies," Navarro said.

Which might be, unintentionally, the best thing anyone could say about an ice show. And the worst thing might be the movie "Blades of Glory" starring Will Ferrell.

"Where he is in an ice show, drunk and ends up throwing up in his costume head," Navarro said. "I guess that movie didn't paint a great picture of ice shows.'

But It seems the school of thought is that any publicity for skating is good. Honestly, the worst might be better, Skating was never more popular after the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding incident.

"I think many people, specifically skaters, have the idea that you go into shows if you can't cut in competition," Navarro said. "Maybe there is some truth to that but I have to say even I am shocked at the new-found respect I have for show skaters."

Such endurance: Navarro and Bommentre do 10 shows a week, three of them on Saturday. Such adaptability: There are small rinks and large rinks, shows with so many animals around you, Navarro could feel like she's in a petting zoo. Skaters get injured or sick. She may be in France for four months but it's hardly out of the same hotel room, as she'll be performing in 13 cities. In some very basic life skills, Navarro is more of a professional than she ever was.

"My problem is," she said, "is that I love to skate. I do have a fear that some day I will end up in a sub-par ice show in Las Vegas with a bad wig and tangled false eye-lashes and someone will literally have to drag me off the ice and say, &‘I think it is time to stop, ma'am.'"

When that day comes, or if she quits before that, Navarro said she will come home to Santa Rosa to spend the rest of her life. It may be as a skating teacher. She's not stressing too much about what it'll be like to be 60. Rather, just getting to 29 has padded her passport considerably. Her talents have taken Navarro to Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Japan, Austria, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Italy and Estonia.

And even if she can't stop until the hook appears to take her off-stage, Navarro will hardly look back with regret.

"This job makes people feel obligated to clap," Navarro said. "Regardless of opinion at the end of the show people will clap. They just will. So I get paid to make people clap for me. I feel pretty lucky about that. If I worked at a bank, I am pretty sure no one would clap for me when I deposited their check."

Unless she was in sequins.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.