When Kimmie Meissner filled out her first job application recently, she paused when she reached the line that asked for her employment history. She finally wrote: Team USA, 2002 to present.
But the here and now is an unsettled place. Since last summer, the former world and national figure skating champion has been on the shelf, recovering from an injured right kneecap dislocated in a training mishap.
She missed the Grand Prix season, the U.S. championships and, most importantly, a shot at competing at the Olympics next month - perhaps her last shot.
No longer a teenager and drawing her first nonskating paycheck, Meissner will soon have to decide whether to leave competition behind or try a comeback. There are hints that the itch to compete remains strong.
"I miss going out and being Kimmie Meissner," she says, smiling self-consciously as she draws air quotes around her name with her fingers.
Meissner pauses and then continues, "I would like to go back and compete at least at one more nationals and skate to the best of my ability. ... I miss competing in a big way. Maybe I didn't understand it then, but I understand it now."
She skates almost every day. With coach Chris Conte, Meissner has rebuilt her jumping technique to be more efficient, adding rotation to her takeoffs and stability to her landings. And she watched somewhat wistfully last weekend as the skaters she grew up with and competed against made their bids for the Olympic team.
Off ice, she's building a life, working at the Churchville office of Agape Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation as an aide, assisting patients in pool therapy, and taking science courses at Harford Community College for credits that she will transfer to the University of Delaware.
Meissner spent the past decade working her way to the elite level and trying to stay there. She won the U.S. novice and juniors titles before catapulting to prominence in 2005 by taking the bronze medal at the U.S. Championships and becoming only the second American woman to land a triple axel in competition. A year later, she finished second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team - its youngest member.
Returning from Turin, where she finished sixth, Meiss- ner stunned the field by landing seven triple jumps and winning the world championships. She added the national title the next year.
Then it all unraveled. A seventh-place finish at nationals in 2008 was followed by an identical finish at worlds.
A new coach and a move to Florida failed to change her fortune. She battled injuries: ankle, hip and knee.
Meissner moved back to Maryland last fall, just after her 20th birthday.
"I think it made me grow up a lot," she says of her year in Florida. "I started missing home too much. I'm a Maryland girl."
About three months ago, Conte agreed to choreograph Meissner's ice show programs. Then, the two of them began working on her jumps, once her strongest suit that turned into a liability.
"The first couple of sessions we went four hours straight. It just flew by," he says. "We both love being on the ice."
They meet two days a week at Ice World in Abingdon, where Conte says he has taught her "to work smarter. It's not how many jumps you throw in a day, it's how many you do right."
Meissner explains that she has learned to begin rotating into her jumps earlier and faster and focus on keeping her knee over her landing skate. She watches video of her own jumps and jumps of other elite skaters.
"It's pretty amazing to me that I could do the jumps I did as well as I did," she says. "Watching the video opened my eyes."
Conte, who lives in Baltimore, has worked with 2006 Olympians Sasha Cohen and Emily Hughes, as well as Tim Goebel, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist nicknamed the "Quad King." More recently, Conte helped Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion and only woman to complete a quadruple jump in competition.
"The crisis of injury presented Kimmie with an opportunity. A lot of skaters find it very difficult to change what they've always done. She's remarkably resilient and open to change," he says. "When the skills are rebuilt and she has total confidence, I think she'll be in a good place to make a decision about the next season and the rest of her career."
The work in progress is showing signs of turning the corner. The salchow and toe jumps are back, and Meissner is working the lutz. Last year's short and long programs were seen by only a few.
The next step must be pain-free, she insists, because "right now, it's important for me to come back healthy."
Yet Meissner remains under the same spell that pulled Cohen from ice shows and acting back to competition after four years, and enticed Hughes to put her Harvard education on hold for one more spin in the spotlight.
"If you're one of the super-competitive people, like me, like Sasha, you have to have that adrenaline rush ... it's a completely different feeling than doing a show where it's, 'I'm out here to perform,' " Meissner says. "A competition is all about 'I'm out here to get this job done and to do what I want to do.' I love that. I really miss that."
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