For figure skater Alissa Czisny, every past season had ended in a winter of her discontent.
And that inevitably turned into a summer of equal unease.
After her first two podium finishes at senior nationals came dismal performances at worlds that lingered like a bad hangover the next season.
After her first national title came a devastatingly poor 10th-place showing at the ensuing U.S. Championships, when a spot on the 2010 Olympic team was at stake.
Now Czisny finally made a winter end gloriously enough she could enjoy the summer break from competition -- and a brief vacation biking and walking the beach on Florida's Sanibel Island -- with a sense of near total fulfillment from a season in the sun.
She won her second Grand Prix event gold medal -- and first since 2005. She won the Grand Prix Final. She skated in a Chrysler ad that aired during the Super Bowl. She won the national title.
And she finished a solid fifth at worlds, when only a fall on the opening jump in the free skate kept her from the podium, which previously had been light years away -- 11th in 2009, 15th in 2007. Even more significantly, Czisny rallied after the fall instead of having it undo the rest of her program as it would have routinely in other years.
"I didn't quite reach my goals, because I wanted to be on the podium at worlds," Czisny said last week via telephone. "But I left with no regrets because I had done everything I could, and I learned so much I was really able to leave the season with confidence and look at the new season that way."
How much confidence? A Czisny who previously had mainly hold-your-breath moments on most triple jumps has added triple-triple combinations to both her short and long programs this season. Not only that, they are triple lutz-triple toe, as demanding a triple combination as women attempt.
And, just to make the point even clearer, she will include a nemesis jump, the triple salchow, for the first time since her final competition of the winter of 2005. That means a planned seven triples in the long program -- quite a leap of faith for a skater who struggled to land three while winning her first U.S. title in 2009.
"Jumps weren't always my strongest growing up," she said. "But I think all of my jumps have gotten a lot better in this past year and one-half."
Czisny is sure that the transformation that started when she changed coaches after the 2010 season was not a one-season fluke.
"I feel like last season was a completely new me," she said. "This season can only build on that. It's not like I have to start over from the beginning again. I can grow, learn even more, get even better.
"My biggest goal is obviously the world championships again. We're adding harder content because I want to improve my personal best scores. And I want to improve the consistency of my performances at each competition."
Czisny, still just 24, intends to do the new jumps at both her first official competition, the Japan Open team event Oct. 1, and at her Grand Prix season debut, Skate America Oct. 21-23. This Saturday night, she comes to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates to skate
The artistic quality of Czisny's skating never has been an issue. With eye-catching spins and a gossamer ice presence, the one thing that held her back was erratic jumping.
So, as she continues work that began in July on the demanding new jumps, Czisny finds a comforting sense of sameness in the presentation of her new music: short program to the Edith Piaf love song, "La Vie en Rose," and long program to Sibelius' melancholic "Valse Triste," or "Sad Waltz," with its foreshadowing of death's arrival.
"We didn't want to step too far outside the box this year with the choreography," she said. "We wanted to keep it sort of the `Classic Alissa.'"