Sonoma veterinarian, Vallard Forsythe, 51, has booked his plane ticket and is on his way to compete in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships on April 11 and 12, in Scottsdale, Arizona. His free skate performance in Pasadena, at the 2012 Pacific Coast Adult Sectional Championship on March 8, earned him a gold medal and a chance at national gold. But, as wonderful as the seven medals hanging from the corners of his veterinarian certificates are, he’s in it for the sheer joy of figure skating.
Forsythe began figure skating when he was 11 and competed until college. Then life happened and he stopped skating. Three years ago his son, Magnus, found an old videotape of his dad skating, and bet him that he couldn’t do those tricks anymore. Forsythe’s sense of competition kicked in. In addition to proving it to himself, he wanted to show his son he still had it. So, at 47 he sharpened his blades and got back on the ice.
He spends two to three hours, two to three times a week in practice at the Redwood Empire Ice Rink, also known as “Snoopy’s Home Ice,” in Santa Rosa. He represents their figure skating club, a charter member of the United States Figure Skating Association, in competition. Coaches Paul Spruel, Beata Handra and Choaleen Loundagen assist in his training and help choreograph and refine the programs he creates.
For his long program in the Men’s Dramatic competition, Forsythe portrays a swashbuckling gypsy, and skates to uplifting music from the ballet “Paquita,” music that shows off his balletic skating style. He is the only one in the competition with classical ballet music. “A lot of male skaters have tried to bring out machismo and athletics. They are skating to rap. This music is beautiful and moving. It speaks to me.”
Which isn’t to say Forsythe isn’t athletic. In spite of two knee injuries, one that kept him out of skating for a year, he is blessed with excellent health. His routine incorporates jumps and spins, which are “crazy to be doing if you’re over 50. They say I should be ice dancing, but I love jumping and axels and flips and sit spins. I love to skate fast. There is a lot of risk involved. With a flying camel, you don’t know if you’re going to land on your butt. It’s exciting,” Not that Magnus is a poor sport, but Forsythe believes he’s always waiting for a good wipe out – something ending with a crash into the Zamboni.
Forsythe was a married veterinarian with two small children when he discovered he was gay and came out in the small town of Sonoma. “It was quite treacherous to even fathom doing that, but people have to live their truth. I embraced who I am as a human, fully out, without shame,” he said.
He went back to skating “out of the closet,” unapologetic and unashamed, so he is disheartened by the high level of homophobia in figure skating. He has a “gaydar,” which tunes him in to like-minded men. “There are a lot of closeted men taking discreet to a new level. If I were a soccer player, I wouldn’t find that startling,” he said.
He has maintained Altamira, a thriving veterinary practice and has seen his children go through school healthy and happy. He describes Sigrid, 20, and Magnus, 16, as “flourishing children that are demanding.” Magnus participates in mock trials. Sigrid is starting in Santa Rosa Junior College’s “Legally Blonde: The Musical” with Twiggy, the family’s English Bulldog, beginning on April 19. He is honored to be their dad.
Forsythe balances his busy life as veterinarian and father by having an incredibly supportive staff, and semi-understanding children, which makes it possible for him to pursue this one thing that is just for him. “Skating is cathartic. It flips the switch off. I’m in another world, another place. I have to focus on my experience on the ice. It’s meditation,” he said. “Private time for me.”
It was natural for Forsythe to re-embrace the thing that brought him joy as a child. “Living my authentic truth, gives me permission to be able to skate with joy and abandon.” His eyes tear up. “It’s pure joy that I can’t remember since I cut my daughter’s umbilical cord. It’s become almost magical,” he said. “It’s a gift. I have a well rounded life and this is love sprinkled on it.”