Rhode Lee Michelson, born in 1943 in Long Beach, California, was the daughter of Arthur and Martha (“Marty”) Michelson. Rhode first began speed skating, along with her father and younger brother Mike, at the Iceland rink in Paramount, California; but by age eleven she lived for nothing but figure skating. Rhode trained with Jean Westwood in 1955 and then with Bill Kipp at Iceland. For several summers she trained with Bill in Lake Placid. Representing the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club, she made her first trip to the Pacific Coast Championships in 1957, and the following year she became the 1958 U.S. novice ladies champion in Minnesota. In 1959, she won the U.S. junior ladies bronze medal, and the following year she won the U.S. junior ladies silver medal.
Rhode was considered the most powerful female free skater of her time. Her signature moves were a traveling camel spin and clean, double axels. More than anything else, Rhode, who still competed in a few speed skating races for fun, skated with tremendous speed. At the 1961 Nationals, she pulled up from fifth in figures to third place and earned a berth on the 1961 U.S. World Team. She had to withdraw from the 1961 North Americans due to an injury. Rhode had often skated when injured, but when doctors warned her that she might be off the ice for several months if she didn’t listen to them, she obeyed. She was determined to go to Prague and compete at the 1961 World Championships.