I had a long telephone conversation with Michael Chack on March 10, 1996. Here is a summary of what he told me.
Michael confirmed the story about the injury that kept him out of Easterns this year. He said that he reinjured the scar tissue from the groin injury he had a couple of years ago, and when he was trying to keep skating through the injury for a while he started having problems with tendinitis as well. This happened back in October, and he says he's still not back up to 100% yet. He's just being patient about it and has been giving himself time to heal and has been slowly working himself back up to doing triples again.
He also confirmed the other rumor that I'd heard -- he *has* decided to make a coaching change, after 14 years with Peter Burrows and Mary Lynn Gelderman. Michael told me that he didn't feel that he was getting quite the kind of support or training environment he needed to continue to develop as a skater there. He said that he had pretty much come to this realization a year ago already, but that he was reluctant to uproot himself and it took him a while to decide it was really the right thing to do. He mentioned having been quite depressed about the situation for a while, but things didn't come to a head until fall when he injured himself and Burrows basically told him his season was over and that was that. Michael emphasized that making the choice to move on was a business decision on his part, not a personal one. It sounds like Gelderman is being understanding, Burrows is a bit grumpy, and Michael is doing his best to smooth things over. He said he didn't want to feel like he had to hide whenever he saw them at competitions.
So next month, Michael is going to pack up all his belongings and drive cross-country to start working with Frank Carroll. Michael told me that he will be Carroll's first "boy skater" since Christopher Bowman, and that Carroll actually prefers working with boys instead of girls and is very enthusiastic about having him as a student.
(I found Michael's choice of words here more than a little incongruous, given that everything else he was saying was about taking control of his destiny and making adult decisions about his career. Perhaps it says something about the psychology of the student/coach relationship that I, as a person who came to skating as an adult, can never truly fathom. But I digress.)
The good news for us fans is that Michael says he *is* planning to be back next season. He says he's not ready to give up or turn professional, that he doesn't feel that he's reached his full potential yet, and that since he's only 24 now he thinks he has at least another four or five years left as a competitive skater. He sounded a little apprehensive about making the transition from New York to LA, but he was obviously excited about his plans, said he was looking forward to competing at Pacific Coasts instead of Easterns, and was very enthusiastic in talking about the long program he had choreographed by Robin Cousins last summer, which he plans to keep for next season since he never had a chance to use it this year. He says it's to Patrick Doyle's music to "Frankenstein" and "Much Ado About Nothing", and has a Renaissance theme.
At last, the answer to the question that we've all been dying to ask Michael! He says he had no clue that he had been immortalized by Trudi Marrapodi's invention of the verb "to chack" until I told him about it. He's flattered that people remember him and are still talking about him, given that he's been almost completely invisible in the sport since 1993. He spoke a little about his frustrations in the last few years; for those who don't know the story, besides the groin injury that kept him out of competition this year and in 1994, at last year's Nationals in Providence he had the flu and was skating with a 102-degree fever. He says it hurt that the federation stopped supporting him, and that it hurts to see all the skating competitions on TV and not be part of it himself, but that he wants people to know that he's not giving up. He also mentioned that he thinks he's a better skater now than he was a few years ago and that he wants people to see that he has more to offer than just "jump jump jump".
A few other tidbits.... Michael was really very friendly, articulate, and well-spoken on the phone. (I hope I have not garbled what he said *too* badly.) He says he has been going to college on and off as his skating schedule allows it, and is a biology major and has thoughts of medical school -- he says he's going to have to find himself another school to enroll in when he moves.
Last of all, Michael mentioned that he, too, had tears in his eyes when he watched Rudy Galindo at Nationals on TV, finally skating the kind of performance that he'd had in his heart for years. (He brought this up himself without my asking him about it.) The unspoken thought was there that Michael also feels he has something to prove and is just waiting for things to come together like that for him, too. Let's hope we see it happen.
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