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Keiser's Challenge Cup blog: Rollin' in The Hague

14-year-old Californian blogs from International Challenge Cup

Leah Keiser (left) smiles with American teammate Alissa Czisny in The Hague.
Leah Keiser (left) smiles with American teammate Alissa Czisny in The Hague. (Tamie Campbell)

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By Leah Keiser, special to icenetwork.com
(03/08/2012) - Junior competitor Leah Keiser will be sharing her thoughts from the International Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands. Follow along as she adds entries throughout the event.

Saturday, March 10

We finished competition today! Everyone did very well, and I am very proud to be a part of it. Two golds, one silver and one bronze. This was a great experience for me, and it is all due to the great people that have spent time organizing the event and making it very special.

I have learned many lessons throughout the course of this competition. I only had three 30-minute sessions in the four days that I was here, and I didn't get any warm-up before I competed both for the short and the free. The lesson that I learned from the lack of practices is that nothing will ever be perfect, and that I always need to be prepared for any situation. Also, I learned many things about international travel, and the best way to prepare for competition abroad.

After the competition was over, there was a victory ceremony. When I was called to the ice, as "Leah Keiser of the USA," and when the national anthem played, I realized the true meaning of figure skating and the purpose of sports. Figure skating is more than just what I can do for myself -- it is what I can do to represent my country and make it proud. I am going to go home and work harder, so that I can see that flag flying high up on top of that podium again.

I haven't said much about my other teammates for this competition, so I would like describe what I've learned about them during these few days.

My roommate, Jessica [Pfund], had trouble in her morning warm-up before the free skate, when she slammed into the boards on a throw. She was in pain, and we were worried that she would be unable to make it to the competition. She didn't just show up but took the gold along with her partner, A.J. [Reiss]. She was also a great person to share a room with; she was supportive and very considerate.

A.J. was the life of the team. He was positive and energetic, and was helpful to others. When we first came, he helped everyone who couldn't lift their luggage by dragging their bags up several flights of stairs without complaining. Congratulations to A.J. and Jessica for taking the gold in junior pairs!

I've always enjoyed Jeremy Abbott's skating. I am glad I got to see him prepare for competition, and to get to know him a little bit. He is polite, disciplined and focused. Great job earning the silver medal, and good luck at worlds!

I have always really admired Alissa Czisny as a skater and as a person, and looked up to her as a role model. I enjoy watching her skating, and the way that she carries herself on and off the ice. I can see that she has been working very hard for worlds, and good luck to her there!

I want to thank U.S. Figure Skating for this great opportunity, and for giving me the chance to learn valuable lessons. Thank you, Tamie Campbell, for being a great team leader and being there for me. Thanks to my great coaches, especially Christa Fassi and Frank Carroll, for the great training. And most of all, thank you to all out there who really supported me.

Best wishes from The Hague!

Friday, March 9

Today was my short program. This was the first time I competed without a warm-up; under the circumstances, I skated well. It felt strange, and I didn't get in my triple-triple combination, but the rest of program was great. I'm really happy I got all my spin and footwork levels.

I am getting ready for my free skate tomorrow. I had an official practice for my free skate today. There is no warm-up tomorrow before the long, so I'll do the best I can to adjust and be ready.

Today, the rest of Team USA competed their short programs, too. I watched Jessica and A.J. do their program, but unfortunately, due to my practice schedule, I missed Alissa and Jeremy. Tomorrow, the juniors and seniors finish competing, which means I can watch and cheer on everyone else.

The biggest difference about this competition for me was that I didn't know the people I competed against. Most often, I know the people I am up against. I'm competing with people from all around the world, and from different countries. I'm not just representing myself and my club -- I represent the USA. This is an entirely different experience for me, and one that I take very seriously. I love the feeling of competing for something bigger then myself.

I didn't have as much time to walk around today because of my competition and practice times. I did learn today that ice skating originated in Holland, so I find it cool that I am skating where it all started. I can't wait until tomorrow, when I do my long program.

Day 2 -- Thursday, March 8

Today was the first day of practice. Each practice session was 29 minutes, and I had two practices. Everyone got two practices except for junior pairs, who just got one. The practice rink sits in the middle of a huge speedskating oval, but the rink is still big enough for practice. I saw the rock-climbing walls and the go-karting today, and I definitely want to try them before I leave.

Tomorrow I am going to compete my short program without a practice session, and then I have my only practice for the free skate after the competition, which is something different for me. All of Team USA, which includes junior pairs, senior men and senior ladies (and me, of course!), will compete tomorrow. I can't wait to compete and cheer the rest of the team on!

It stopped raining here, so we were able to walk around the city more. We walked past the Queen's Palace, which is very close to the hotel. The hotel is in the center of the city, so it is close to everything, except for the rink. It's a 10-minute walk to the bus stop, and then a 40-minute bus ride to the rink. The small city streets are lined with little shops and restaurants.

Most people here walk, ride their bikes, or ride the train or the bus. The few people who do drive have smart cars, which is really not that surprising because of the price of gas here. It's about 1.79 Euro/liter, which turns out to be over $9 a gallon! You can hardly walk around without almost getting hit by a biker. There are several rail tracks constantly being used, and all of the train cars are completely full. It is amazing to see how the people here get around compared to what I'm used to.

So far, I really love everything about the city, the people and the rink. I can't wait for the competitions to start tomorrow, and to learn more about the different city and culture.

Day 1 -- Wednesday, March 7

My day started at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday in California. I woke up that early because I was so excited! This was the day that I finally got to travel to The Hague, Netherlands, for my first international competition, which will be my first trip to Europe. I've been eagerly preparing for this competition for a while now.

I got in a couple of hours of morning training. Then it was off to the airport with my coach, Christa, my sister, Emily, and my mom. After a few hours of dragging our luggage around, we finally made it to the plane. A.J., Jessica and Peter Oppegard were also on our flight, so it was fun to travel with my teammates.

Nine hours later, we landed in Europe and met the rest of the team, which was Jason Dungjen, Alissa and Jeremy. First we took a train to the bus station, then dragged our bags up two flights of stairs, and then took a bus to go check in at the competition rink. The rink was beautiful, and there were a lot of other things to do like go-karting, rock climbing and speedskating. After checking in at the rink, we took another bus to the hotel while A.J. was telling knock-knock jokes, trying not to fall asleep.

We had a team dinner, which was my first one. It was great, getting to chat with the other great people in Team USA. We ate at a little restaurant close to the hotel because it was raining in The Hague.

The city is filled with beautiful views. I saw the Queen's Palace and small gardens. There are many great things in this city, and I can't wait to explore more. I am so happy and honored to be a part of Team USA, along with such a great group of elite people. Everyone is really supportive of each other.

Now it is 9:00 p.m. in Amsterdam, while it is noon in L.A. I just got settled into the hotel and am looking forward to tomorrow. I can't wait for my first day of skating here and discovering more about everything!