At an age when most girls are figuring out boys, algebra and personal fashion statements, Jin Baseman is doing all that -- and training to become one of the top figure skaters in the country. No small task for the girl from Brookline, Mass., but given the obstacles she's surmounted this far, no big deal either.
Baseman, who competes for the prestigious Skating Club of Boston, was born in China's southern province of Jiangxi. For reasons she'll never know, when she was an infant her biological parents left her in a box by the side of the road, not far from an orphanage. Exposed to the elements, she nearly froze to death. When her parents, Deanna and Karen Baseman, adopted her, their only thoughts were for her good health and happiness. That she would blossom into one of the most talented young skaters in the U.S. never crossed their mind.
When Jin was 5, her grandmother took her to a skating arena for the very first time. "I remember how much I loved the smell of the rink," said Baseman (no small irony, since most skaters complain of the Zamboni fumes and poor ventilation). "I knew right away I wanted to be a skater."
Though they knew nothing about the skating world, Deanna and Karen wanted to support their daughter's enthusiasm for the sport, so they enrolled her in the local Learn to Skate program. Baseman's quick improvement led to a few private lessons, competition medals and the eventual realization that skating could be more than just a weekend hobby. A few years ago, Baseman switched coaches to Peter Johansson, a Swedish national champion and coach of some of the sport's biggest stars. Under his tutelage, her skating has reached the next level, leading to her win in last fall's New England Regional Juvenile Girls Free Skate Championships.
"For me, that's been the highlight of my skating so far," said Baseman. "After all I'd been through in the last year, I was really happy with how I skated at regionals."
What Baseman went through is something many young athletes face -- just usually not all in the same year. It started with a hairline fracture in her foot last January. When that healed, she was on the ice practicing a new program when a collision with another skater resulted in a serious concussion, and more time away from the ice. "It was really scary," said mom Deanna. "She needed help in school; her ability to focus was gone. It took her weeks to get back to jumping on this ice."
Not long after she resumed normal practice, she slipped in the shower and bruised her femur, which required more time to heal. The final blow came after Baseman won regionals -- another broken ankle. "It happened in practice. I went to pick in for a double lutz, and my ankle rolled," said Baseman. And just like that, there went her shot at competing in this December's junior nationals.
Seeing Jin's determination to stick with skating despite one obstacle after another has reaffirmed for Deanna her daughter's true dedication to the sport. "When you have children, whether they have an aptitude for something or a disability, all you want to do is support them," she said. "You could see with Jin how much skating meant to her. Watching her move past the disappointment of not going to nationals -- I was really proud of the way she handled it."
After weeks of rest and then physical therapy, Baseman is back on the ice. "The hardest part about being injured was being afraid to push myself during practice," she said. "It felt a little like starting over at first." Pushing yourself, she explained, is a necessary part of improving in her sport. "Skating can be physically tough," she said. "You're practicing a lot of hours, and if you want to get better you have to keep going, even when your body gets tired."
A fine line
Pushing her limits as a skater means sometimes missing school (usually gym class) so her parents can drive her to on-ice sessions, and giving up a lot of after-school freedom that other kids her age enjoy. Baseman doesn't seem to mind, but it gives Deanna pause on occasion. "We work really hard to try and make sure she does things outside of skating -- spending time with friends, going to a public school, just living a normal life," Deanna said. "If it were up to Jin, she'd be at the rink all the time, but it's important to have some balance."
After all, she pointed out, despite Baseman's obvious natural talent, she's still only 12. "There are plenty of young, talented skaters who go on to do other things," Deanna said. "I just want Jin to be happy." For now, that means lacing up and cutting her edges on the ice.