Unorthodox Champions: The Carmel And Ed Bodel Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"We took the International Bronze and Silver Dance Tests at Sutro's Ice Rink in San Francisco in June. It was quite an interesting experience as the grouping of the dances is different from the USFSA Tests, and also we went right through the tests without pause or music warm-up between dances - it took us about two hours. The lower test must be completed by each candidate before he may go to the higher test and all dances are soloed - actually each of us skated 24 times - European Waltz, Fourteenstep and International Foxtrot for the Bronze; and Blues, Kilian, Tango, American Waltz and Rocker Fox for the Silver. Fortunately the rules prescribe the number of revolutions around the rink for solo and pair, so you don't find yourself going through six or seven sequences of the dance, then having the referee tell you he forgot to give the signal! We enjoyed taking the tests and as a few years have elapsed since we last took a dance test, it was a challenge. Actually the judges were very good to us and we prepared well for the test, so everything went smoothly. The ISU Gold Dance Test is our next goal." - Carmel and Ed Bodel, "Skating" magazine, 1954

In the fifties, the majority of America's top figure skaters were the children of doctors, lawyers and Ivy League professors. They came from 'the right sort of families' who could afford to send their children to the best colleges and universities and foot the bill for one of the most expensive sports out there. They also had youth on their sides. However, one of the top American ice dance teams of this period didn't fit that mould whatsoever. Carmel and Ed Bodel weren't youngsters and they certainly didn't come from wealthy backgrounds. That didn't stop them though.

Carmel Maybelle Waterbury was born on August 11, 1912 in Carmel, California. She was the second youngest of Gertrude (Marhoff) and Irving Waterbury's four children. Her father worked as an electrician on a dredger in nearby Hammonton. Growing up, Carmel and her siblings had to take jobs to supplement the family income. Carmel and her sister worked as child's nurses; her brother did yard work for neighbours. Though Carmel's childhood wasn't one of privilege, it was a happy one... and one that almost didn't happen. A couple of hours after her parents' wedding, they hailed a taxi to take them to a nearby train station, where they were to go on their honeymoon. The taxi was involved in a serious head-on collision and her parents were lucky to escape with their lives.

Edward 'Ed' Lee Bodel Jr. was born eight years after Carmel, on May 21, 1920. He was the only son of Thelma (Rogers) and Edward Bodel. He grew up in San Francisco with his parents and grandmother and, like Carmel, did not come from a well-to-do background. His father worked as a machinist, janitor and elevator operator at a theatre to keep the family afloat.

Neither Ed or Carmel took up ice dancing socially at the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club at a young age. He was eighteen when he started; she was thirty. They didn't form a partnership on the ice until 1945, because Ed was serving as a pilot with the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. When they did team up, Carmel was still married to her first husband Jared Waldo Hawkins Jr., an accountant at the company where she worked. Romance blossomed between Carmel and Ed on the ice, and not long after they teamed up, she and Jared got divorced.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Within months of teaming up, Carmel and Ed won their first of many gold medals at the Pacific Coast Championships. Ed also won the bronze medal in the junior men's event that year in Seattle, and though neither continued to compete in singles, they employed an unorthodox training strategy that few dance teams would have dared to do at the time - they continued to practice figures and free skating in addition to dancing, so that competitions didn't interrupt their usual training routines. They won the bronze medal at the U.S. Championships and were among the first dozen skaters in America to pass the new USFSA Gold Dance test, but dropped to fourth at the 1947 and 1948 U.S. Championships. They returned to the podium in third place in 1949, the same year they walked down the aisle on Valentine's Day.

Carmel and Ed's competitive career lasted over a decade and was full of more ups and downs than any other ice dance team of that era. In 1950, they made history as one of the first American teams to compete at the international ice dancing competition at the World Championships and in 1951, they won the Grand Slam of the Pacific Coast, U.S. and North American titles. Then came a two-year slump that saw them drop down to third at the U.S. and North American Championships and from fourth at the first official World Championships in 1952 to seventh in 1953. Through hard work and the determination to improve their free dancing, they reclaimed their U.S. and North American titles and won the bronze medal at the 1954 World Championships. By 1957, they'd dropped all the way down to fourth at the U.S. Championships, fifth at North Americans and seventh at Worlds. What made Carmel and Ed's roller coaster skating career particularly compelling was the fact they were Gold Dance Judges while they were still competing. The USFSA appointed them as Honorary National Judges in 1955, making them the first ice dancers to receive such a distinction when they were still active as competitors. When they retired from competition, he was thirty-six and she was forty-four.

Ed Bodel, Carmel Bodel, Barbara Jean Stein and Ray Sato at the 1955 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Throughout their entire skating career, Carmel worked as a secretary to the Executive Vice-President of Durkee Foods in Berkeley. Ed worked in the construction business. In their spare time, they enjoyed photography, mountain climbing, hiking, hunting and swimming. Carmel played golf; Ed collected guns and enjoyed rifle shooting. They stuck with their day jobs after retiring from skating, retiring in Lake Almanor, where Carmel established herself as an artist of note, specializing in textile work, watercolors and decoupage. After Ed's death at the age of eighty-seven on May 17, 2008, Carmel settled in Chico, where she passed away on October 12, 2013 at the age of one hundred and one.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":