by Eileen Viglione
When Larri Slippen, 80, acquired her married name almost 60 years ago, little did she know the irony of it. One might say it was prophetic, as 10 years later her “Yankee” husband, Stu, introduced her to the slippery world of ice, thus beginning her almost 50-year love affair with figure skating.
At the time, Larri and Stu were living in Decatur, Ga., raising their firstborn son. One day, as they were enjoying hamburgers in a restaurant, Larri noticed a flashing sign outdoors that read, “Ice Skating.” She pointed to the sign and told Stu that she had never gone ice skating. “He couldn’t believe that I had gotten to my 20s and had never been skating,” she says. “I told him, `Well, you Yankees could skate outdoors.’ So, he told me that we’d have to go.”
That was the extent of their conversation until 1968, when they moved to Pennsylvania. For Christmas that year, Stu gave Larri a pair of $9.99 J.C. Penney skates. “I thought they were the most beautiful thing,” says Larri. “I had house slippers that had more support, but I didn’t know any better.”
On Jan. 29, 1969, the couple traveled to the closest rink, 22 miles away — Melody Brook in Colmar, Penn. The facility was owned by two brothers, according to Larri, who was 31 years old at the time. “One of them told me that they were giving a free group lesson at 8:30 in the middle of the rink if I’d like to join,” she says, “Later, I asked him, `How do I get to the middle of the rink to take the lesson?’ He thought it was the funniest question. Years later, he told me, `I don’t think I’ll ever forget you and that comment!’
“When I took to the ice, I just loved the feeling. The blade held some type of fascination. I could be a ballerina on the ice.”
While her oldest son was in school, Larri would head to the rink with her middle son — a toddler at the time — in tow. She skated for almost a year and then was off ice for several years after the birth of her third son.
When the family moved to Dallas, Larri got back on the ice while her children were in school. She became friends with six other women and the group skated twice a day, three to four days a week.
On June 16, Larri celebrated her 80th birthday with friends on the ice at Dr Pepper StarCenter in McKinney, Texas, and she doesn’t have plans to slow down any time soon. A Freestyle 4 skater, she continues to practice three to four days a week and will compete in the 14th Annual ISI Open Competition at ICE at the Parks in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 16.
“She still has a nice waltz jump, toe loop and Salchow and can consistently center a spin better than any other skater I teach,” says Lilli Erickson, who has been coaching Larri for five years.
Larri credits Stu for his support over the years. “He’s been to every one of my competitions,” she says. “Everyone says, `Your husband is so sweet.’ I tell them, `Why do you think I keep him?’ He’s very proud of me.”
Larri also praises the ISI testing program and loves that most of the ISI judges are coaches and/or skaters/former skaters.
An ISI member since she started skating, she has fond memories of competing in numerous national ISI (then ISIA) competitions, most notably when her drill team took first place in the 1980s in Chicago. In 1996, she decided to discontinue participating in competitions because her nerves were getting to her. After eight years, however, she decided to begin competing again and participated in the ISI Winter Classic in Dallas because it was local. Her last national competition was ISI Holiday Challenge in 2015.
“When I look back now, I’m sorry I got out of competing because I wasn’t learning new choreography and I lost confidence,” she says.
Larry dreads the day, if ever, that she needs to hang up her “boots.” In anticipation of that day, she started tap dancing at age 50. “I don’t have the same passion for it as I have for skating but I love it and the women I dance with,” she says. “It’s fun.”
Still contemplating a future without ice, Larri quickly adds, “I just CAN’T get off the ice because of how it makes me feel. I can just lose myself on the ice — not that I need to lose myself. The whole world could come to an end, and I wouldn’t know it. I just love the way it makes me feel and the challenges. When you finally achieve a jump or maneuver, you feel so proud of yourself.
“I hate to be off ice at all because I start losing my confidence. I’m not anywhere where I used to be [in terms of skill level] and by the time I get off the ice, I will have come full circle. I just hope I have enough sense to know when it’s time to stop before I kill myself!”
Larri’s advice to adults just learning to skate:
“Learn the basic skating skills no matter how boring you think they are. Otherwise, you’ll be skating second best all your life.”
Funny moment at the rink:
“Years ago at the Mall of Memphis rink, a boy about 12 years old asked me, `Do you know Dorothy Hamilton?’ I didn’t correct him; just said yes. With that he remarked, `Well she skates better than you!’ I’m always reminded how humbling it is to be an adult skater, but I am so glad to have had this experience.”