SITTING DOWN with Rosalynn Sumners in her cozy shop on downtown Kirkland's Lake Street, you quickly get a sense for the energy and commitment that propelled her to a silver medal in the 1984 Winter Olympics figure skating competition.
A vision with her long, slightly wavy blond locks and wearing a gray sweater, blue jeans and boots, she looks thinner than when she was competing, but still comes across as forceful – and absolutely driven.
“I was never in it for the bright lights,” she says. “Sometimes I miss the entertaining. I lived that life from 7 to 40 – I have no regrets, not at all. I never loved it for the spotlight. I just loved what I did.
“I do need to work hard.”
And now she’s facing another huge challenge that, she admits, has brought with it some tears: becoming a success in retail during “the Great Recession” with her adjacent boutique shops . The first is a young children’s apparel and toy shop right on the corner of Lake Street and Kirkland Avenue –“Bambini.” Next door is her home decor shop, Tesori, filled with art, rugs, fine furniture, lamps, crystal and other furnishings.
“I love everything about being in retail except what the economy has done to us,” Sumners says. “I hate the feeling of not being as good as I can be. I have to learn that this situation is not within my control.”
Married to Bob Kain, the former CEO of the high-profile sports and entertainment management firm IMG, Sumners divides her time between the Northwest and Palm Springs. But she has called Kirkland home since moving here in the 1980s from Edmonds, where she grew up.
“Two years before the Olympics I found a little place in Kirkland and kind of fell in love. I just love being close to the water. I love the small town feel. I’ll always have a home here.”
She won the U.S. championship for women’s figure skating in 1982, ’83 and ’84, after years of hard, daily training and competition. She won the world title in 1983. Her last Stars on Ice tour ended in 1999, and she continued skating for four more years.
But she will be best remembered for her intense competition with Katarina Witt, then of East Germany, in the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo.
Heading into the free skate, which is worth 50 percent of the score, Sumners and Witt held the top two spots. The cool ice diva Witt landed three triple jumps, but the judges left just enough room for Sumners to win. She missed by one-tenth of a point on one judge’s scorecard.
Sumners says she has no regrets. But listening to her talk about it, her disappointment is palpable.
“I didn’t skate my best,” she acknowledges. “I felt like I let everyone down, my family, my coach, the United States. It was a tenth of a point, a slight little bobble in the short program. Katarina had a gun to her head. The East Germans made her skate two more years. I was exhausted at that point. It was the last competition of the Olympics. Everybody else was done and partying it up, and I had to hold it together. I was fried.
“But, oh my God, my memories are great.”
SHE'S ONLY A BIT less driven today. She desperately wants to make her shops a success. But it’s a tough business in a tough economy.
In 2007 she was stopped at the light at the intersection of Kirkland Avenue and Lake Street when she saw a “For Sale” sign on the shop that was a Kirkland fixture for decades, Betty’s Apparel.
“I literally sat at that light, saw the sun, saw it was for sale, that was it,” she says. “I always loved home decor and pretty things.”
Her first year, business was great. But by 2009, unemployment was rocketing, home prices plummeting and chaos reigned in the financial markets.
“People want to shop, but they’re hanging on to their money. My mom says, ‘Let go of your pride.’ I’ve lived in Kirkland for 20 years and I love it here. My husband is tired of seeing me depressed. I cry for a couple days, and then I come back all fired up. I’m fortunate this isn’t my living.”
It’s not all gloom. One sunny recent Saturday she attempted to accommodate a reporter. But she was having a 50-percent-off sale, and customers kept coming in--and walking out with not just a little merchandise.
The interview never got off the ground. But it was instructive watching Sumners float around the shop, answering questions for sometimes demanding customers–always with a smile--and always followed by her shaggy little pooch, Skeeter.
“When I’m away, I tell my husband ‘I love you honey,’ but I really miss my dog!” she says while flitting non-stop from one corner of the shop to another.
Rosalynn Diane Sumners, you discover, has one direction: forward. And one speed: high. So it is surprising to learn that she doesn't exercise much anymore. She’ll be 47 in April and looks as sharp as the blade of a skate. But she hasn’t skated in six years and has no plans to put a pair back on.
She does play tennis when she’s down south and she hops on her bicycle occasionally.
“Right now, I'm not as fit. I’m in the physical lazy stage of my life. But I discovered the low-carb thing. And I think my metabolism helps. At 40, I looked up and literally was done (skating), and I swore there would never be anything again that would consume me.”
Perhaps not to the extent her skating career did. However, Sumners notes that her mother now lives in the Napa Valley of California, where she would love to someday open another shop, and she’s not finished with downtown Kirkland just yet, despite difficulties sometimes paying the rent.
“I’m just a fighter and I don’t want to give it up. I’m here for another year.”