Mariah Bell is sheltering in place in the family RV
Downsizing has its advantages, even if you’re sheltering in place due to the coronavirus.
Take Mariah Bell’s family, for example.
Bell, older sister Morgan, parents Kendra and Andrew, and Bell’s rabbit Gizmo are all practicing social distancing in the family’s 45-foot recreational vehicle (RV).
“When you see an RV driving down the street, you may not think about what it looks like in the inside,” Bell said. “It really is like a house.”
A few years ago, Kendra and Andrew confronted an empty nest. Mariah was training in Southern California in Rafael Arutunian’s group; Morgan had joined Disney on Ice. With Andrew working for a chemical company in Switzerland, and Kendra splitting her time between Switzerland and her parents’ home in Dallas, they just didn’t need their house in Colorado. So, they sold it and purchased an RV in November 2018.
“My parents can move it anywhere they like,” Bell said. “Right now, we’re in Palm Springs (California). We’ve been staying here the past few weeks and will be here through the end of April.”
Far from complaining of cabin fever, the skater considers her family more fortunate than millions of others holed up at home.
“We haven’t been able to spend this much time together in several years, so it’s been nice,” she said. “Maybe that’s the silver lining for everyone. If they are lucky enough, they can spend this time with their family.”
Bell’s longtime boyfriend, French skater Romain Ponsart, is waiting out the pandemic in his home country.
Passing April in Palm Springs – where it’s sunny most of the time and temperatures top out in the 80s – helps to cushion the blow of missing the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships, which were cancelled last month.
“I had the best, by far, season of my career and I’m obviously disappointed I didn’t get to end it with a big bang,” said Bell, who won two Grand Prix medals last fall and a silver medal at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.
“It just puts things in perspective. Figure skating is so small. What we are dealing with now is far more important. I’m very disappointed in my athlete’s brain that I didn’t get to do worlds, but I absolutely understand.”
After a show-stopping performance of her “Hallelujah” free skate at the U.S. Championships, Bell was poised to improve on her ninth-place finish at last season’s worlds. While she admits she doesn’t know how this long break will affect her jumps – “I guess we’ll see what happens when I get back on the ice” – she is positive about her 2020-21 campaign.
“I have this upcoming season and a season after that until the  Olympic Games, and this might be the perfect break I need, and maybe didn’t even know I needed,” she said. “I’m excited to build on the momentum I gained this past season.”
The Bells spend much of the day outside, where paddleboard, swimming and other outdoor activities are available. Mariah stays fit with a regimen provided by the Olympic Training Center (OTC); sometimes, Morgan and Andrew join in. In the evening, she and mom Kendra go for walks.
“The distance of the whole motor coach country club we’re at is about two miles, so I can run that or walk that,” Bell said. “People have golf carts, so they kind of drive around. Everybody in this community is very nice, but if they do stop and talk, everybody is very cautious of their spatial surroundings.”
Thus far, none of the Bells has been tempted to overdose on Netflix.
“Sometimes, we watch, but it’s honestly hard to stay inside the RV,” Mariah said. “My dad bought a VR (virtual reality gaming system) and I really enjoy watching my sister try to box, that’s really amazing for me.”
The RV has a bedroom, big enough for a king-sized bed, as well as a full kitchen, spacious living area and two bathrooms. Morgan sleeps on a pull-out couch, while Mariah has a cot. The lower portion of the vehicle is devoted to storage, with a laundry area and large freezer.
Most important, the kitchen table has a leaf, making it comfortable for all four Bells to sit down to family dinner.
“It’s been great in that respect for both Kendra and I,” said Andrew, who awakes at 2 or 3 a.m. to work remotely. “Usually, we only see the girls a couple of times a year, so to be able to spend time with them, work out with Mariah and Morgan, go paddle boarding – we can get out and do things we haven’t been able to do together in a long time.”
“Just the idea of sitting down together to have dinner, because we haven’t been together in so long, even something like that is different,” Mariah said. “Those moments are very special.”
Morgan’s career, too, was interrupted by coronavirus. For the past six years, she has portrayed the lead role of “Anna” in the Disney on Ice North American Frozen production. When the tour stopped in Ottawa, Ontario last month, cast members got word the remainder of the stops were cancelled.
“The show was scheduled to go to mid-May, so got sent home pretty early, but obviously we understood it was for the safety of everybody,” she said. “I was lucky enough to be able to come home and be able to spend time with my family and not be quarantined by myself.”
Morgan competed in three U.S. Championships before retiring from competition in 2013. She looks forward to resuming her Disney on Ice career as soon as possible after the coronavirus crisis ends.
“Skating is such a small thing, but at the same time it would be nice to get back to shows, because I feel shows offer a moment for families to step outside everything that is happening in the daily world, have fun and make a memory,” she said.
Amidst family time, staying fit and, perhaps, stargazing at Palm Springs’ famously beautiful night sky, Mariah is strategizing for the 2020-21 season. She’s sticking with the same choreographers: Adam Rippon for her short program, and Shae-Lynn Bourne for the free skate.
“We have in mind what I am going to use for my short, but we don’t have anything for the long yet,” she said. “With Adam, we figure it out further in advance. With Shae-Lynn, it’s (closer) to the time frame of doing the work, maybe a few days before. She is so great at understanding and relating to a skater and what they want.”
Great though it was, Bell is not tempted to use “Hallelujah” a free second season.
“The last time I performed that program at nationals is a great memory to have,” she said. “I could never foresee me doing any better than that.”
As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.
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