I get to do what I love, every day
To come as close as you possibly can to your dreams without achieving them is heartbreaking.
That's what happened to me in 2010. You may or may not have noticed me back then, but I was the first alternate to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. Going to the Olympics has always been my dream, ever since I watched Tara Lipinski win the 1998 Games.
When I just missed the team, it kind of made me re-evaluate whether I even wanted to keep skating at all, but I ultimately realized I wasn't done with the sport. I want to work as hard as I can so the next time I won't leave anything behind, and have no regrets.
I started skating when I was 5 years old. I was living in Alaska at the time -- one of many places we called home because my dad was in the Army -- and my little brother and I were cooped up in the house, challenging my mom as most kids do. She decided to take some action, so she signed us up for a Mommy and Me ice skating class. I loved it, but she hated it. My mom never got back on the rink again, but I never wanted to stop!
I just loved the feeling of skating. Even as we moved around a lot with my dad's job, my parents made sure there was a rink nearby wherever we were stationed. I was always in a new place with new people, but the ice was the one place I was comfortable and didn't have to readjust. I felt at home, and skating was like an old friend that had always been there for me.
I'm confident I have some talent, but I think the one thing that got me to the point where I am now is I'm a ridiculously hard worker. Everything I've accomplished as a skater is the result of a lot of blood, sweat and tears -- the old-fashioned way. I'm on the ice 20 to 25 hours a week depending on the season, and I spend an hour or two off-ice each day doing yoga, core weight training, swimming, running and circuit training.
I've made plenty of sacrifices along the way. In high school when my friends were going to a movie on Friday nights, I didn't go because I had practice early on Saturday. I completed my senior year of high school online because I had moved from Washington, D.C., to Delaware to train with a different coach. I'm 21, but not a normal college kid because I chose to move to California to train full time. Still, I get to do what I love more than anything else in the world, so I'm lucky.
Last year, all the sacrifices and training time paid off, as one of my biggest goals came true when I won the 2012 national title. I also became the Four Continents Champion; it was a great season, to put it mildly. Now, this pre-Olympic year is going to be crucial to prove to myself it was no fluke -- and it's important that I really make a name for myself and show people I'm one of the top skaters to watch. I don't like saying I want to win every competition, but I want to go out and perform to the best of my ability and keep getting stronger as a competitor.
Yes, there's a lot of pressure on me. Some people need to stay super-focused with no distractions to help cope with it all. I do better when I have a life outside the rink. When I have my skates on, I'm completely focused; but the second I leave the rink, I'm done for the day and on to other things -- taking classes at a local community college or going to the beach. I hang out with people who have nothing to do with figure skating, and that's so important to me.
I'm pretty happy with where I am technically after the summer's training, and going on tour with "Stars on Ice" last spring taught me a ton about how to perform and entertain an audience. Both of my programs this upcoming season are about telling a story, and go beyond simply doing the technical elements. I can't wait to see how everyone reacts to them this year.
It's been a while since a woman has defended the U.S. national title (Michelle Kwan was the last to do it in 2004-05), but I'm ready for the challenge. I'm off to the Japan Open this week for the first competition of the season, and then the Grand Prix series rolls around in mid-fall, with Skate America in Seattle and Trophee Bombard in Paris.
So, bring on the frequent flier miles! I'm good as long as I've got a ton of books, comfy clothes and my iPod. I'm just wrapping up "The Art of Racing in The Rain." Got any recommendations for what I should read next?