Updated: January 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm
BOSTON - She looks in the mirror and sees dark rings surrounding her eyes. Her ankles and knees ache, and she sometimes struggles to walk on her battered feet.
"Oh," Rachael Flatt said with a laugh, "it's gone."
Flatt is 21, but she talks as if she's an ancient relic. And in her chosen sport, teen-dominated women's figure skating, she is a reminder of yesterday. She earned the U.S. title in 2010 and claimed seventh place at the Vancouver Olympics, but these accomplishments seem, in the go-go world of skating, a long time ago.
She knows it's time to go.
On Saturday at the TD Garden on the edge of downtown, Flatt will bid farewell to her sport with one final free skate. She has no chance to earn an Olympic bid this time, but she's at peace with this truth. She's a junior at Stanford, plotting a career in medicine, and she looks forward to a new life that takes a gentler toll on her prematurely battered body.
"I am a grandma right now. One of the grandmas," Flatt said. "I shouldn't be feeling this old."
On Thursday night, 18-year-old Gracie Gold seized the hearts of the Garden crowd along with the admiration of the judges. Gold looks on her way to becoming the new American queen of skating.
And that's fine with Flatt, a Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate. She had her day. She's ready to begin a less frenzied life. Her routine at Stanford has been exciting, if brutal. She skates in the morning, attends classes during the day, socializes in the evening and finishes her filled-to-the-brim day by studying until 2 or 3 in the morning.
She starts the whole routine again after four or five hours of sleep. This foot-to-the-floor approach explains the dark rings around her eyes.
She came close, extremely close, to departing competitive skating over the summer. She had struggled with her health for two years, and she knew another trip to the Olympics ranked as an unlikely vision.
She decided to take one last skating ride to the finish.
"I was feeling good," she said, "and I thought, 'Why not give it a shot.' I'm really just out here to have fun and, you know, to have a blast. That's what keeps me going, just my love and passion for it.
"You know, I really do love it."
Flatt failed to reach the heights in Thursday's short program and finished the night in 20th - or next-to-last - place, but she's clearly at peace. She spent years in a dogged, obsessive pursuit of skating perfection, and she arrived close to her goal. She skated on the world's ultimate stage, and now she can direct her laser focus toward med school and beyond while resting her weary feet, legs and back.
"It's great to have had the career that I've had," Flatt said. "I'm so proud of what I've done. I've been able look back on things that I accomplished in the past. You know what? I've done some great things."
Yes, she has. On Saturday night, a creaky 21-year-old will make her icy farewell. She's looking forward to her retirement party.