Ivy Tech prof is one of the reasons ice dancing is an Olympic sport

Last week, I talked to Meshele Wyneken, an associate professor in hospitality administration who spent years dancing and teaching with the Fort Wayne Ballet. Today, we’re looking at another long-time faculty member and her past life–Mary Carbaugh, an assistant professor in therapeutic massage.

Mary went to the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France, but not to compete—she, and five other Americans, performed demonstrations in an effort to convince the judging committee to allow ice dancing as an Olympic sport. It was, in 1976.

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How did you get into ice dancing? I got into ice skating first at 5 years old because the doctor recommended it because I had flat feet, and my ankles were weak. And he said that skating would help strengthen my ankles. My mom took me. I didn’t want to go, and then, I loved it.

What’s the difference between ice skating and ice dancing? In ice skating, you have your freestyles, your jumps, and your spins. And ice dancing is more, dance as you do the fox trot, the waltz, like you do on the floor. The dances are the same, but you do it on the ice. It’s more set patterns and set techniques for specific dances. Where in freeskating, you have the music and you have to have so many techniques, but it doesn’t matter where you put them or how they are arranged.

Ice dancing is less (throws and jumps), but the moves are more intricate because you’re working with a partner, so you will have lifts by the partner. The spins are done with a partner. So my partner would hold my hand, and I’d be upside down and going around him in a circle. It’s called a death spiral.

The difference between that and pairs skating is, the pairs skating is a combination, the ice dance meets the freestyle. So you have more spins and jumps in the pairs than you would in the dancing. In ice dancing, you spin and throw at the same time. You have to have a body part connected. You can’t go more than 5 feet away from each other.

How did you start ice dancing competitively?  I started competing at 8 ½, 9 years old. You have to take tests in order to move up from novice into advanced (to further levels). Once you pass those tests, you can qualify to go into different competitions.

Tell me about the Olympics you attended. I was 18 when I did the demonstration. The judges all watch you, but the judges are (deciding), “Is this qualified to be an Olympic event?” The committee gets together after the Olympics are all done and decides which sports get approved to be entered into future Olympics. So you still get to practice with everybody, but you’re not competing against everybody.

We (Carbaugh and her dance partner, Eric Erickson) went to World’s Competition, and then at World’s, they picked out the ones they wanted to represent the United States to demonstrate. I came in fourth in the world in 1968 in Denver, Colo. Team-wise for ice dance, there were 69 different teams from about 20 countries. You have to place third or better to get into the World’s.

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Tell me a favorite memory from Grenoble. Some (athletes) were able to go out and look at the sites. Others (weren’t allowed to leave their chaperone’s) sight, and they couldn’t talk to these other people because they’re from another country. If anyone walked by (the Russian ice dancers’) door, the KGB agents would look at them, put their hand on their gun, and ask them who they were and why they were there.

The hotels had the old metal, wrought iron fire escapes on the outside. We would have (the Russian ice dancers) come out of their bedroom window, out the fire escape, and come in through our bedroom window, and we’d party for a few hours, and they’d go back. And the KGB agents wouldn’t know it. We talked to each other (at the party), but they didn’t understand a lot of what we were saying. Not everyone could speak the same language. You picked up different words, and you’d say them, and they’d start laughing because you weren’t saying them correctly. But it was a lot of fun. You communicated without talking the same language.

Why did you stop ice dancing? Right after we did the demonstration—it was before we even left—my partner and I were trying a new technique. My partner had me up in the air, and he tripped, and I went down in the bleachers. I was laughing at the time, and I stood up, but I didn’t have any tendons or ligaments left in my knee. All of my tendons and ligaments were down around my ankle. My knee didn’t hurt because all of my nerves had slid down to my ankle, so I had this big bulge down there. I stood up, went down, and screamed. The doctors said I’d never walk again.

I was flown from a French hospital to Indianapolis after landing in California. I had four surgeries. Recovery was basically two years. I had to learn how to walk by looking at mirrors because I couldn’t feel my knee. I still don’t feel my left knee. I can feel above it and below it, but this area right here is dead. (She is pointing to the center of the kneecap.)

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Doctors were surprised when I started walking. My family physician would always say, every time I went in, “You can’t be doing that.” But I am doing that. So I had this cast, and it kept tending to break because I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing. Next time in Indianapolis, the doctors said, “We’re going to put a sports cast on you,” which is 200 pounds so you can’t move around as much. A group of my friends, we were over at the Coliseum. We got a hold of this drill. We drilled holes in the bottom of my cast, and we put a blade on my cast, and I got on the ice for the first time in a long time. They had to pull me around. I got in big trouble when we went to Indy the next time. The doctors said, “If you can do that, it’s time to get you out of that cast.”

But I couldn’t compete after that. I started teaching and filling in with Holiday on Ice, a traveling ice show like the Ice Capades or Disney on Ice. I couldn’t do as many of the things I used to be able to, so it wasn’t as much fun. I could skate and do spins and jump for maybe a half hour, and to do a show, you need three hours. So I said OK, I’ll teach. I taught ice dancing and freestyle. I even taught hockey to the peewee hockey league here in Fort Wayne.

Do you have any pain when you walk now? No. They said eventually as I got older that I’d have to have some more surgery, and then I’d probably have a brace, but so far, so good. My left knee goes backward. I’m kind of like a flamingo in that way.

How did you transition into massage? Because of all the therapy I had, I was so fascinated about how the body worked and what did help and what didn’t help. All the surgeries I had did not help half as much as all the different types of therapies I had as far as getting them to work normally. The medical part took care of the pain, but the therapy part took care of getting me back to my normal life. Because of my skating contacts, I was able to get into some (academic) programs that normally doctors have to wait in line to get into. I was able to have training in Sweden and got my master’s in sports medicine, and at that time, there were no sports med programs in the U.S. Having done that, I was able to do some lecturing, and the lecturing that I did traveling around is what got me into wanting to teach.

How long have you been at Ivy Tech? I’ve been here 19 years. I started as adjunct, and I’ve been full time for three or four years. I think my specialty for the students is, I can relate to different questions they have about family members or themselves, about what it’s like to come from people saying you can’t do something to saying, “Just watch me.” You don’t say you can’t—you find a way to do it. What can you do differently? You might have to go through the backdoor to get to what you want to get to. I figure everybody can succeed.  You just might have to go about it in a different way.

One thought on “Ivy Tech prof is one of the reasons ice dancing is an Olympic sport

  1. Wow, Mary sure has had an interesting life. I enjoyed learning about how she became an instructor. Thank you for sharing!

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