It has been a whirlwind year on and off the ice for Kimmie Meissner, who gained a title and lost a title while establishing herself as one of the world's elite figure skaters.
Yesterday, the season that began with a silver medal at Skate America ended with Meissner, the U.S. champion, finishing fourth as she tried to defend her title at the World Figure Skating Championships.
Asian skaters swept the podium in what most certainly will help set the scene for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The event was won by Miki Ando of Japan. Second went to her countrywoman, Mao Asada, with South Korea's Yu Na Kim in third.
Meissner gave herself only "a seven or eight" on a scale of 10 for this season because of a lack of consistency.
"I'd go to a competition and have either a good short and a shaky long or a shaky short and a good long. But this season for me was all about trying out new styles, [to see] if they worked for me.
"Because it was the post-Olympic year, I had time to do this," she said. "It could have been better, but I did get the national title and the Four Continents [Championship]."
Meissner's competitive season is over, but she won't be packing away her skates. She will perform in several exhibitions this spring, including the Marshall's Figure Skating Showcase in Reading, Pa., on April 6, and return to Japan next month as a member of the U.S. team at the Japan Open.
Another chapter of her life will close on May 31 when she graduates from Fallston High School.
This summer, she said, will be spent overhauling all aspects of her competitive resume, including both programs, the music and her costumes.
Beginning last spring, Meissner, her family and coach Pam Gregory insisted this season would be about more than just piling up the hardware. Meissner, 17, used her post-Olympic time to have some fun, experiment with her programs, make some money and leverage her fame to help others.
"We wanted Kimmie to enjoy some of the opportunities open to her," said her mother, Judy. "We knew it would be hectic, but we didn't want her to miss anything she really wanted to do."
If you ask Meissner what has meant the most to her, she might mention last year's worlds gold medal, but she almost always shifts gears to talk about her work for the Cool Kids Campaign that provides comfort and support for young cancer patients at Baltimore-area hospitals.
It is her fame, she said, that gives her a platform to raise money and awareness for the Belanger-Federico-Pitterich Foundation, which funds the Cool Kids Campaign.
Her training and competition schedule forced her to cut back on hospital visits, but she still makes time to edit and write for Cool Kids Connection, the newsletter that is delivered to more than 200 pediatric oncology programs nationwide.
In the days just before leaving for Japan, Meissner wrote a note of encouragement to those getting treatment, urging them to reach out and try new things. She concluded: "My hope for all of you as you read this edition of Cool Kids Connection, is that together we take the time to explore all that the universe has to offer, for whatever time we have on this planet, let our dreams blossom!"
It is a message Meissner has tried to live after placing sixth at last year's Winter Olympics.
After her win at Nationals in January, Meissner signed endorsement deals with Baltimore-based Under Armour, Visa and the Subway sandwich chain.
On the ice, she adopted more sophisticated programs and temporarily shelved the triple axel, the 3 1/2 -revolution jump performed by just one other U.S. woman. That jump had announced Meissner's entrance into the elite world at the 2005 U.S. Championships.
Only two of 24 skaters yesterday had the triple axel on their programs, and neither Asada nor Yukari Nakano landed it cleanly. But it's clear that more skaters will be considering it.
"I'd like to put it back in," Meissner said. "The Japanese do them, and I want to do them, too."
Choreographer Lori Nichol, who has worked with Meissner for several years, said the skater will have to find melodies that "inspire the body and the mind," both of which are still maturing.
Then there are the tricks within those programs. This season, Meissner and coach Pam Gregory worked on "the second mark," the artistry score that has lagged behind the skater's technical proficiency.
Skaters such as Kim and Asada are able to draw the judges and audience into their performances with expressive faces and fluid arm movements. Meissner has improved, but has a ways to go if she is to lead the U.S. team to the Winter Olympics in 2010.
Spins and spirals will need higher degrees of execution. And Meissner will have to rediscover consistency on the triple lutz, a jump that used to be as routine as stepping off a curb and one she still lands every day in practice.
The rest of the world won't be standing still. Asada and Kim, both 16, proved at their first worlds that they'll be forces to reckon with for many years. Coming up fast on the U.S. team are the 13-year-old wunderkids - Caroline Zhang, the Junior Worlds champion, and Mirai Nagasu, the Junior Worlds silver medalist.
With all that on her plate, Meissner has one more goal this summer - to finally get around to acquiring a driver's license.
"Oh, my gosh, it's so high on the list," she said, grinning. "I really want to get it because I really want to get a car. If I don't get the license, how can I get the car? It would be very difficult."
Like the rest of her list isn't?