Kimmie Meissner has a message for her friends in Bel Air who haven't seen her since late January.
She's on her way home, and in a big way. The former world and U.S. champion will be performing tomorrow in Smucker's Stars on Ice at 1st Mariner Arena. The touring company features 2006 Olympic silver medalists Sasha Cohen, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto and two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek.
"I can't wait to do the Baltimore show and actually see all my friends. They've been messaging me, 'Are you ever coming home again?'" said Meissner, 18. "Is Thursday soon enough?"
She'll be at the Maryland Science Center at 4 p.m. today to view the new "Body Worlds 2" exhibit, with its "Excellence On Ice" figure skating display, and to sign autographs. But the former world and U.S. champion will probably skip the Orioles game afterward.
"I want to skate well for everyone in Baltimore, so I don't want to be wiped out," she said, pausing and taking a deep breath.
"It's been a weird year."
Actually, the weirdness lasted just six months, but it must have felt like forever. The season started with a Grand Prix gold medal and cratered at the national championships in January before finally stabilizing with a top-10 finish last month at the world championships.
Meissner acknowledged she thought about bowing out of worlds after the seventh-place performance at nationals that included three falls.
"I didn't really make it to worlds, didn't earn it," she said. "It was rough. I didn't know if I wanted to go and perform that program again. But when you get the opportunity ... you have to take it."
With about five weeks to go until worlds, she moved to Florida to work with Olympic veteran Richard Callaghan and Eldredge. They concentrated on restoring her confidence, tweaking her jumps and polishing her showmanship.
"It wasn't like boot camp," she said. "I was working harder than I ever had, but I was having fun."
Eldredge, who watched her suffer at nationals, agreed. "I saw a completely different skater. She was landing triple-triple [jumps] and triple axels. She was skating clean programs. She was Kimmie again. Before worlds, she needed more than four or five weeks of that. She needed a little bit more time. But the foundation is there."
Meissner hopes to retire everything from this season, including the short and long programs -- "Wouldn't you?" she quipped -- but has to wait until April 21, the day after the Japan Open.
Meissner, Lysacek, Eldredge and U.S. women's champion Mirai Nagasu will represent this continent against four-member teams from Japan and Europe. Meissner and Lysacek have been training together on the road to prepare for the competition.
Lysacek was forced to withdraw a week before what would have been his fourth worlds after the blade on his right skate snapped while landing a triple axel during training. He suffered a sprained rotator cuff and sprained ligaments in his left forearm, elbow and shoulder.
"She's in great shape already. I'm trying to get back into shape after two weeks off," Lysacek said. "It's intense. It's fun. We push each other."
For Meissner and Nagasu, it's a chance to compete against world champion Mao Asada. For Lysacek, it's the opportunity to go out a champion.
"I thought of the Japan Open as more of a show in the past," said Lysacek, 22. "But I'm really taking it seriously. It's my last competition of the season. For myself, God, I want this season to end on a high note."
Clearly, Meissner is doing a lot of growing up as she tries to find the formula to start next season on a high note.
For the first time, she is traveling without one of her parents along. Soon, she will decide whether to continue working with Callaghan and Eldredge -- which would mean relocating to Florida.
"That's the hardest part," she said. "I love Bel Air and I love Maryland. That's why being home now is so much fun."