GREENSBORO, N.C. – It has taken six seasons as a senior-level lady at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships but Amber Glenn is finally coming into her own – and learning to skate freely.
The 20-year-old was nearly unrecognizable Thursday night with a strong short program to Madilyn Bailey’s cover of the 2005 Papa Roach hit “Scars,” scoring 73.16 points to put her in fourth heading into Friday’s free skate.
Though a fourth-place finish would technically put her on the podium with a pewter medal, she is 0.06 away from Mariah Bell in third and 2.18 points from reigning national champion Alysa Liu’s second-place performance. Bradie Tennell leads with a 78.96.
And if Glenn’s free skate goes as trained, it should turn out better than her short program.
“I feel really confident, I actually shockingly feel more confident in my free skate than I did in my short coming into this,” Glenn said. “I did get a bit nervous beforehand, thinking, ‘Oh wait, I have to do a short before I compete my free skate,’ because I’ve been training the free really hard and focusing on it since the grand prix season.”
Glenn has never finished higher than seventh in her previous four appearances at senior nationals, which this year is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
With lyrics like “I tear myself open / I sew myself shut / My weakness is that I care too much / And my scars remind me that the past is real / I tear my heart open / Just to feel,” Glenn feels she has lived a version of the message behind her short program music, which was not initially popular with her camp.
“At first, the people around me didn’t really love it,” she shared. “It’s a cover and the original song is very punk-rock – not the most skate-able song. But I just loved it so much and I really connect my personal story with it so much: my mental health struggles, my perseverance through that. It’s a reminder to myself how strong I am.”
Since winning the junior national title in 2014 as a 14-year-old, Glenn has struggled mentally and, in turn, on the ice to discover who she is as a person and skater. It didn’t help that the two junior national champions just before her – Gracie Gold in 2012 and Polina Edmonds in 2013 – had each gone on to finish second as a senior the following season.
Told she had to do the same, Glenn struggled and was 13th at her first senior nationals in 2015, also held at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. She took part of the next season off to reevaluate before switching coaches, then placed eighth, eighth and seventh at the next three nationals.
“Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, this is the third junior champion in a row, she’s got to go get second at nationals this year,’” Glenn remembered. “I tried so hard to be that person and I just couldn’t, and I thought that’s it, I had to be that, there’s no other choice, and then I realized screw it, I’m just gonna do what I do and have fun with it and if it works out, great, if it doesn’t then at least I had fun.”
A lot has changed off the ice to help Glenn evolve into the skater she is this season, including her diagnosis of ADHD and coming out publicly as bisexual and pansexual just last month.
She has also realized she can be her own skater.
“I really got my priorities together, and I focused on not trying to be someone I’m not, not trying to be cookie-cutter. I’m not trying to fill anybody else’s shoes; I’m not trying to be the new Ashley (Wagner), I’m not trying to be the new Polina (Edmunds),” Glenn said, explaining she felt pressure placed on her in the past to do so.
“I’m just trying to be who I want to be and I want to be a good role model for anyone who’s starting skating. I kind of just used that mindset of what would I have liked to see, who would I have liked to train with when I was a kid. I’m trying to be that person and it shows in competition.”
Working with a sport psychologist has helped Glenn learn how to speak to herself and how to love herself.
“I need to not use, ‘Well you shouldn’t do’ or ‘You can’t do.’ I need to think, ‘OK, I need to do this, I can do this,’ just positive self-talk. They always say, ‘Talk to yourself like you would a loved one,’ and I’ve been really trying to use that and not beat myself down and rather raise myself up.”
Embracing the ADHD diagnosis has also improved Glenn’s time on the ice. She has learned to focus on where to breathe and what to think during each moment of her program in order to have a successful skate, as opposed to “I wonder who that person is with all the pins on their hat.”
Finally, coming out has also been key to her newfound sense of freedom.
“It’s brought a weight off my shoulders,” she said. “At first it was very scary because it wasn’t supposed to be as big as it was, but it made me feel like I wasn’t pretending to be someone anymore, I wasn’t trying to fit into that mold. I feel like that was the final step I needed to take to be able to really embrace myself.”