|espnW.com: Athlete's Life|
This is the second installment of our semimonthly series following the life of 2010 U.S. figure skating champion and 2010 Vancouver Olympian Rachael Flatt, focusing on her adjustment to college and the pursuit of her career.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Rachael Flatt pulls up on her bike, basket on the front, skates in the basket. She's running a little late after her morning training session and she didn't want to leave her skates in the car.
"I don't want them to get stolen," Flatt said, looking slightly frazzled.
Yes, Flatt is frazzled. It's about that time for the 2010 U.S. figure skating champion, as her worlds as a Stanford freshman and a skater begin to collide.
"I'm definitely tired," Flatt said, a day after a very long flight home from Boston following her appearance at a charity skating show. But she's still smiling.
She'll be crossing the continent on a jetliner again Wednesday, heading to the Toronto area for Skate Canada. This international competition is part of the ISU Grand Prix series, which will conclude with the ISU Grand Prix final in Quebec City in early December.
Skate Canada will be the official start to Flatt's skating season, her first major competition since beginning college and changing to a new coach and rink with the move from Colorado to California. It also marks the drive to perfect her programs, en route to the U.S. nationals in San Jose, Calif., in January, where Flatt hopes to win the title for a second time.
The field at Skate Canada isn't the deepest, but still is stocked with good skaters such as Americans Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu, Germany's Sarah Hecken and Canada's Cynthia Phaneuf.
All eyes will likely be on Flatt, to see how her skating has progressed -- or regressed -- since she started at Stanford and changed her training.
So yes, there is pressure. But there is also school pressure, as her midterms are also looming.
Traveling and studying, as Flatt has found, can be complicated. Flatt left for Boston on Oct. 15 for her charity skating appearance, on a Friday at 6 a.m. It was her first charity skate since June, and she thought it was perfectly timed.
"I don't have classes on Friday, so that worked out," Flatt said.
She participated in a youth skating clinic on Saturday before her performance. Her flight home on Monday morning was more than she bargained for. The plane made an unscheduled stop in Salt Lake City to refuel and the trip took eight hours. She spent four of those eight working on her first midterm paper for her Introduction to Humanities class and missed her Monday class.
"I was nervous when I pressed that 'Submit' button, but I think it's a good paper and a couple of people who read it told me they thought it was a good paper," Flatt said.
Flatt has had only a week to bask in the glow of the accomplishment and wait for her grade before taking off again. She will be gone from Wednesday through late Sunday for Skate Canada, which will be contested in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. She will compete on Friday and Saturday.
She is performing the same short program, set to "East of Eden" and choreographed by Lori Nichol, that she has used since January. Her long program, set to Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird," was developed over the summer and will debut at Skate Canada. And when she's got some free time, she'll study for her midterm in calculus, which she'll have to take the day after she gets back.
"That will be interesting," Flatt said with a smile. "There should be some time to study and get some work done."
Flatt said homework is actually a welcome distraction.
"It keeps my mind off the skating," she said.
Flatt and coach Justin Dillon have been working together for only eight weeks. Dillon said he and Flatt are finally "figuring it all out."
"She's got her courses selected, we've got our training schedule and we've been able to play with some things and make some changes," Dillon said. "This isn't something I would recommend for everyone. It works for Rachael because she is organized and brilliant. I ask myself if I could handle something like this and I think, no.
"This is a unique situation for a unique individual."
Dillon said Flatt has thus far approached her challenges with a positive attitude and has not let the stresses of her life get the better of her.
"She's embraced it instead of resisting it," he said.
Flatt said she is still enjoying the early days of college, attending football games, soccer games and water polo matches. She's settling in with roommate Jasmine Camp of the women's basketball team, making friends on her floor and becoming popular with a group of young men thanks to her skating connections.
While in Boston, she procured a couple of signed programs featuring the autograph of 2010 Vancouver Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu-Na.
She brought them home to some very grateful dorm mates.
"I'm having fun. It's nice to get out and see things -- everything is so localized and so close," Flatt said. "I am really enjoying myself."