Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Scimeca, Knierim's travel travails

U.S. pairs silver medalists survive untimely passport, boot problems
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Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were separated by a passport mishap in Beijing. -Getty Images

The award for "Most Interesting Grand Prix Season" has strong contenders in Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim.

The 2013 U.S. silver medalists headed to Beijing for their first Grand Prix event of the season (Cup of China) with Knierim still recovering from a broken fibula, which he sustained in July.

"I think it's affected more the mental aspect, rather than physical," Knierim said. "Everyone who has a serious injury knows that coming back into competition is mentally pretty tough."

The flight to China was delayed; once there, both skaters and their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, had trouble with the 12-hour time difference.

"We would wake up at 3:30 and all text each other," Scimeca said.

Knierim, usually very calm, admitted to nerves before the free skate.

"It was the first time that I'd ever been really nervous," he said. "I wasn't my usual self. Usually, I'm a lot more calm going into a long, but this time I wasn't into the ice, not into our skating."

"We were not too thrilled with our performances there," Scimeca said. "It was the first event that I was more relaxed going into the long than Chris."

Maybe their off feelings were a premonition; in any case, the end of the trip was where the trouble really started. Knierim has a long-standing habit of giving his wallet, passport and phone to Sappenfield to hang onto while he competes. She returned everything after the competition was over; at least, she thought she did.

On Sunday, Nov. 3, Sappenfield flew home to the U.S. while Scimeca and Knierim stayed to skate in the gala. On Monday morning, the team got on the bus to the airport for the flight home.

"I thought my passport was in my skating bag, but it wasn't," Knierim said. "I opened up my suitcase, tore through all my clothes, went back to my room, looked under the couch, in the bed, couldn't find it."

In desperation, the team leader called Sappenfield in the U.S., and she found Knierim's passport in the bottom of her bag.

"At least it wasn't stolen!" Knierim joked. "We decided to go to the airport and see if I could get on the flight with my picture ID."

The officials at the airport wouldn't let Knierim leave without his passport and exit visa, so the team leader stayed with him while the rest of the team flew home. After making some phone calls, they decided the best plan was to go to the U.S. embassy the next day. There, Knierim was told that, although he could get a new passport the same day, it would take from four days to three weeks to get a new exit visa.

Did we mention that this happened on his 26th birthday?

"On top of all that, my passport had my Russian visa in it, and there were less than two weeks before we were supposed to go to Russia," Knierim said. "So, my parents sent my passport to me as fast as possible."

Luckily -- and he had earned some luck at this point -- Evan Bates was staying on in China for a few days. Madison Chock and Bates' coach, Igor Shpilband, had a team competing at the NHK Trophy the next week, so they all decided to go directly from China to Japan. Knierim was able to stay with Bates at the hotel in Beijing, and he planned to get on the ice with Shpilband's skaters and train while he was waiting for his passport.

"On Wednesday, I skated for 45 minutes, and then I found out that my boot had ripped -- the eyelet ripped right out," he said. "So, I couldn't even train while I was there."

Meanwhile, Scimeca, who is Knierim's girlfriend as well as his partner, was at home fretting.

"It was hard because communication was cut off a little bit, and you're waiting every day wondering what's happening," she said. "So, I was a little nervous for him, and I was bummed because it was his birthday. I wanted to be with Chris because we're together all the time."

The peripatetic passport arrived at the hotel on Thursday, and Knierim jumped in a taxi and headed to the airport. He finally got on a 5:40 flight, thanks to a kind airline employee who took care of him, checked all his bags and didn't even charge a change fee. Knierim made it back to Colorado Springs, Colo., around midnight on Thursday -- but the bag holding his skates didn't.

"Friday morning, Dalilah wanted us to skate, and I had a new pair of boots that I had worn for 20 minutes," Knierim said. "We skated three sessions a day from Friday to Monday and then left for Russia."

His old boots eventually arrived, still needing to be repaired, but by then, Knierim had gotten used to the new boots and he never went back to the old ones.

"After China and having the boot issue, we tried not to put any pressure on ourselves [at Rostelecom Cup]," Knierim said. "We got there without any problems, and we skated much better than China. We're happy with how we skated. It was a tough competition, but I think everything worked out in the end."

"We already climbed the mountain with Chris's injury in the summer, so we decided we just want to move forward," Scimeca said. "For the month of December, we're just going to train hard. Our goal is to put out two solid programs in Boston, and we believe if we do that we'll get the results we're hoping for." 

Help for the Philippines

As the people of the Philippines tried to recover from deadly Typhoon Haiyan, skaters with connections to that country have watched and worried. Maverick Eguia competes as a senior singles skater for the Philippines, where his parents are from, and he has a lot of relatives in the country.

"It was just devastating," Eguia told us. "When the storm was approaching, my dad was in the Philippines, but he flew back three days before. That was my immediate worry. After, it was just worrying about my friends and family, watching the progress of the storm."

On Nov. 16, Eguia decided to organize a benefit skate for the Red Cross in Anaheim, Calif., where he trains with Rafael Arutunian. On Nov. 22 -- Eguia's 21st birthday -- the public was invited to skate for two hours with several famous guests, including Ashley Wagner, Adam Rippon, hip-hop star JDrew, R & B artist Nevaeh, and singer Jasmine Villegas.

"Ashley and I had a blast," Rippon said. "It was such an easy and fun way to help out the people hurt by the typhoon."

"We had a bunch of people come in to see Adam and Ashley," Eguia said. "We interacted with a bunch of people. The three of us started spinning in the middle of the ice, and then we got in trouble because we were supposed to keep the flow of the public skate. It was fun, lots of smiles. We had a decent turnout for only five days [notice]."

Eguia added that if anyone wants to make a donation after the fact, they should contact him on Twitter @maverickeguia. He is still talking to the Red Cross about possible events in the future. The Apl Foundation, founded by Apl.d.ap, a Filipino-born member of the hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas, has contacted him.

"We want to do something in the future for the Philippines," Eguia said. "I was talking with people about doing another event, maybe before Christmas."

Eguia last competed in Australia in August. Since then, he has been dealing with a groin injury, which caused him to miss the Philippine championships last month.

"I took a few months off for rehab, and I'm slowly getting back into skating," he said. "I'll be going to Four Continents."

We hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew!

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