Injury fails to put teen's goals on ice

Skating: After being hurt in a BB gun accident, a Long Reach freshman returns to figure skating in `Nutcracker on Ice.'

December 05, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Jason Weisberg missed the television broadcast of the regional figure skating contest in Laurel, where he earned third place and advanced to the next level of competition.

The night it aired, he was in an ambulance on the way to an emergency room after being struck in the eye with a pellet from a BB gun.

The accident last month at a friend's house cost the 14-year-old his chance to compete against the best skaters at the U.S. Figure Skating Association's Eastern sectionals in Lake Placid, N.Y. It also sidelined him from skating for a month and threw into question a promising future that could include the Olympics.

But a successful operation Nov. 21 to replace the lens in his eye - and an unflappable attitude - put him back on his blades this week.

"Right now, I want to get back on the ice and get my jumps back," said Jason, a freshman at Long Reach High School. The injury "isn't that bad," he said. "I can still do active stuff."

His sight is a bit blurry, but he expects it will be fine in a few weeks. And he has been cleared by his doctor to glide, turn and do a few simple jumps in the Columbia Figure Skating Club's annual Nutcracker on Ice show, starting Sunday.

Jason will play the Prince - for the fifth year - in two performances Sunday at Columbia Ice Rink. Another skater will take the role in Columbia on Dec. 14, and the young men will do one show each Dec. 20 at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel.

Despite hundreds of spectators and a short practice time, Jason said the show, which includes beginners and seasoned competitors, will be fun. "It's much more relaxed [than competition]," he said.

His coach, Denise Cahill, director of the Chesapeake Skating School, is working to get him into a competition in Europe early next year.

"His nature is to be positive," said Cahill. "He has a great sense of humor. ... I think he has a great support system."

She said, "He has had a lot of setbacks and he keeps coming back."

Jason competed in the junior national championship three years ago. But shortly after, knee surgery kept him off the ice for a year.

Last year, he did not advance from the regional competition. But in October, he seemed to be on top of his game again, placing third and earning a trip to sectionals.

"We were all a little surprised," said Jason's father, Frank Weisberg, a special education teacher at Long Reach High School. "He just did a really great program."

On Nov. 7, two days before Jason was to leave for the sectional contest, he went to a friend's house in his neighborhood. The friend's sister was baby-sitting two children, one of whom picked up a BB gun, Jason said.

He was sitting at a table using a computer and even though he saw the 10-year-old with the gun, he said, he thought the safety was on and that the gun would not fire.

A pellet hit Jason's left eye and, he said, "It was the worst pain in the world."

He added, "The first thing I thought about was Easterns [the sectional contest]."

Howard County police investigated the shooting and ruled it an accident. No charges were filed, Jason's father said.

After a trip to the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Jason spent two weeks at home so the swelling could go down.

"At first, we thought he was going to lose his eye or lose his vision," Cahill said.

While his well-being was her first concern, she also realized his career on the ice was on the line because skating, and particularly spinning, creates a lot of pressure behind the eyes, she said.

But the family remained optimistic as Jason had an operation at the Wilmer institute that would repair damage in his eye and insert an artificial lens.

"He's been holding up well," said his mother, Rachelle Weisberg, the night before Jason's surgery. "He's grateful. ... It could have been worse."

"I'm still much younger than the other guys," Jason said this week. Many of his competitors are about 16 years old. And "I have this whole next year" to get ready for regional competition, which is in October, he said.

Jason started skating when he was 7. The BMX bike track near his home moved, and his mother suggested he try the ice rink. He skated onto the ice right away instead of holding on to the wall for support like most beginners, said his father.

"He's a very physical kid - he always has been," his father said. "He really likes a physical challenge."

Now Jason spends a couple of hours skating each day after school and additional time cross-training.

His sister, Shana, 12, started skating the same time Jason did. She is focusing on ice dancing and will also appear in The Nutcracker on Ice.

Rachelle Weisberg took a job at the ice rink, where she is now assistant manager. This allows her to spend time with her children and save money on ice time.

Cahill pointed out that male skaters hit their peak when they are older. "He's doing great," she said. "He's on track. ... I think he could really go far in this sport."

"If I make it to nationals next year, that will be the best achievement so far," Jason said.

As for the Olympics, he said, "I'm shooting for 2010, maybe."

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