Rink Master

Written by Debra Steilen

It’s surprising, really. Frank Carroll ’60, the kid who walked through snow, ice and sleet as a dayhop at Holy Cross in the late 1950s, now lives in the desert.

Even more surprising, Carroll, who received his bachelor’s degree majoring in sociology from Holy Cross, is very different in person from the stoic guy you see on television. There, he stands behind the boards, always dressed in a jacket and tie, his face impassive as he shares a few final words with his skater. This desert Frank Carroll wears an open-collar shirt, immaculate blue jeans and expensive leather loafers (no socks). This Frank Carroll is all smiles and laughter and a million words a minute as he talks about himself, his career and his years on the Hill.

We caught him hours after he had returned from the NHK Grand Prix figure skating competition in Japan and just a few days before he left for another competition in China. He’s 72, for heaven’s sake, and flying 175,000 miles a year! Who does he think he is, Clint Eastwood? No, just a guy who loves what he does and is nowhere near retiring.

Just a few items in his home cover 50 years of skating history. Framed snapshots on an entry table portray Carroll the amateur skater and his legendary coach, Maribel Vinson Owen, who died in the Feb. 15, 1961, plane crash that killed the entire U.S. World Figure Skating team. In the hallway, watercolor sketches of 1960s-era skating costumes celebrate Carroll the professional skater, who learned the nuances of performing from four years with the Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies, a touring skating show and precursor to the Ice Capades. And in the bedroom, nestled on a small desk along with the computer, printer and fax machine, are photos of Carroll and Evan Lysacek, newly crowned 2010 Olympic gold medalist, both of them grinning like mad as they thrust their medals into the Vancouver air.

Frank Carroll: The Holy Cross Years

Holy Cross was the logical choice for Francis Michael Carroll in 1956, even though Owen (whom he had met at age 14), pushed him to go to Harvard. His uncle, the late Walter Mulvihill, M.D., ’26, was Holy Cross’ first national track champion, winning both the New England and National AAU 600-yard run in 1924. And Carroll came from a traditional Irish Catholic family. “Everyone in the Catholic community adored Holy Cross,” he recalls. “It just made all kinds of sense.”

Almost as important, really, was the fact that Holy Cross was within walking distance of the Carroll family home on Hitchcock Road. His father, also named Frank, was a teacher. He paid his son’s tuition, but it was up to young Frank to figure out how to pay for lessons, ice time and costumes. Living at home became part of the solution.

As a dayhop, Carroll never attended the daily Mass that was a requirement at the time for on-campus students. “I didn’t have time,” he says matter-of-factly. “I walked everywhere.” The future Olympic Coach of the Year trekked nearly two miles to Holy Cross for class. He walked to the Worcester Arena rink to practice, walked back to Dinand Library to study, then back home again to do homework—good weather and bad.

“I hate snow,” he says. “And I had to walk everywhere in the snow and sleet. I said to myself, ‘If I ever, ever get out of this white [stuff], I’ll never go near it again.”

Not surprisingly, Carroll’s obsession with skating left very little time for anything else except schoolwork. He rarely socialized with the other students (something he regrets now), estimating he visited friends in the residence halls maybe five times in his entire college career.

Luckily, studies came easy to him. “I was good about going to class and listening and taking notes,” he says. His favorite professor was S. Edward Flynn for French, the only one who had Carroll’s number. “He gave me a ‘D.’ I was horrified,” Carroll recalls. “I went to him and asked what I did wrong. ‘Frank, you’re a smart boy,’ Dr. Flynn said. ‘I can see right through you. You don’t do the outside reading. You don’t do a goddamn thing after class. You’re not going to cut it in my class unless you start working harder.’ I had to work my tail off from that point on, but I finally got an ‘A.’ To this day, I can go to France and speak French with a Parisian accent.”

Carroll credits his late coach for taking him to the next level in skating and teaching him that the sport was about academics as well as the arts. “It was all about axioms of movement,” he says, which made sense. His previous teacher had concentrated on “a feeling thing—you should feel this circle or this figure 8. And I wasn’t a feely kind of person.” Owen, on the other hand, taught him where his weight was supposed to be on the blade, how to pass his arms, how he should rotate in the air, how he could make turns occur by using his body in a certain way. He soon placed in his first national competition in Berkeley, Calif.

Owen also enhanced Carroll’s performing skills by exposing him to the arts. “I can remember Maribel taking me to see Broadway shows, the New York City ballet on the Boston Common, even Danny Kaye,” Carroll says. “ ‘You’re going to learn something from this,’ she said to me. ‘You’re going to see his timing, how he uses pauses. Everything is about timing.’ ”

Once he understood the basics of movement and the art of performing, the athletic, Worcester-born skater was on his way. “Figure skating included all the things that appealed to me,” he says, “ … the artistry, the coordination of music and movement. And the double axel was easy for me. So was spinning.” It seems Carroll had always been about jumping—his family often spoke of watching him jump over hurdles, fire hydrants, even the cracks in the sidewalk.

The other person who influenced Carroll’s skating was Rev. Joseph A. Glavin, S.J., dean of athletics at Holy Cross. Glavin was the administrator who made sure Holy Cross funded some of Carroll’s skating expenses so he could represent the College at the national championships. “It was very scary to go back to that Quonset hut each year and ask him to renew the donation,” Carroll recalls.

Fr. Glavin also talked to Carroll about being awarded an athletic letter from the school. “I didn’t want it,” Carroll says. “I felt like the other guys who played team sports deserved letters. I didn’t make that big a contribution to college sports.”