Before coming to MIT, I had no idea if I wanted to continue skating, training, and competing. Before committing to MIT, I accepted the fact that, as a
full-time student as a full-time MIT student, there was the all-to-plausible possibility that I wouldn’t have the time, energy, or resources to continue to pursue the sport.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, how I would adapt and adjust to the rigor and intensity of the course load, if I would have any free time at all outside classes, if it was worth it at all, that pursuing skating and MIT meant I would be subpar in both, not able to fully dedicate myself to one or the other.
I expected the worst, and accepted the fact that in my 12-year long stint as a figure skater, I had had a fulfilling-enough career, and if choosing MIT meant that I had to give up the sport, that would be just all right, that I would move on and pursue another dream — and whatever else the Institute would have in store for me.
And yet, here I am, in my third year, still skating, training, and competing. What if I could make both work?
Since coming to MIT, I’ve been fortunate enough to compete nationally and internationally the past two skating seasons. Still Juniors-age eligible, I competed on the international Junior Grand Prix Circuit in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2015 and Ostrava, Czech Republic, last fall. Freshmen year, I was the repeat US Junior Men’s silver medalist, and this past year I secured a spot at the Senior Nationals with a win at the Eastern Sectionals.
I love to compete, and its what drives me through hell weeks on and off the ice. I’ve even had the opportunity to perform in shows and exhibitions at Harvard and Dartmouth — and even the Rockefeller Center.
But I constantly am reminded by the opportunity cost of training and competing full-time. Exams and psets I don’t have enough time to study for or complete. Classes I don’t take because they don’t fit with ice time. Study abroad and exchange programs that don’t have access to ice rinks and coaches. UROPs that are cool but not viable with my training schedule. Internship opportunities at inconvenient locations and inflexible work hours. MISTI, GTL, and other IAP and summer opportunities that conflict with competitions and training. Spring Break trips with friends.
I’ve spent the past two Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Years, and Winter Breaks in Boston, away from home, training. The skating season is year-round, no breaks, hardly any room for vacation or free time. Not even time to visit family. Prior to this summer, I went back home just once since I left for college.
On the other end, I don’t have enough time to train 6 hours a day, 6 days a week like my other competitors. I have to selectively choose competitions that work with the school calendar. I have to be as ruthless and efficient as I can on the ice just because I don’t have the luxury of training all that I need to do. Some days I’m only on the ice for 40 minutes and rushing back to campus, picking up lunch and eating it while speed-walking to class.
More often than not, I sacrifice my diet as well just because there aren’t many good convenient food options nearby campus. When I’m injured, I don’t always have time to get proper treatment and have to nurse it on my own.
And then there’s the expense of it all. Nothing in the sport is cheap. Each trip to the rink not only is a 25 min commute, but add in the cost of the ride, ice time, and coaching fees. Multiply that by 5 days a week, 52 weeks in a year. Cap that off with the cost of skates, costumes, choreography, travel, competition expenses, physical therapy, and the bills pile up every month.
As a Team USA athlete the past 3 seasons, I’ve received stipends that cover only a fraction of the costs. At one point during freshmen year, I had 3 part-time jobs to help pay for it all. Fortunately, I’ve also been supported by a few scholarships, including the Helen M. McLoraine Figure Skating Scholarship Program and the US Figure Skating Memorial Fund to help defray a portion of my training and tuition.
Mentally, it’s exhausting to try to keep up with everything. I never have enough time to train or study or do other extracurriculars or anything for that matter. By nature of the sport in the US, I get no funding, resources, or support from the school or sponsors unlike other varsity or professional athletes.
I’m constantly psetting on the road and my schedule is always packed. I have loads of lectures, assignments, labs, and psets to catch up on while on the road when I’m away for week-long training camps and competitions, and exams to make-up when I’m back. I don’t get any additional extensions or support. I’m on my own here. Classes don’t stop for anything.
Some days I do want to give up. Some days I question why I still want to continue all this madness. Some days I fall behind, in skating or school. Training is hardly enjoyable physically or mentally. School is hard enough on its own. More of often than not, both my mind and body are equally drained, on the verge of burnout. It’s lonely to do this all on my own. But every night I collapse in bed, sleep as much as I can, and wake up the next morning to do it all again.
I still love what I do. I wouldn’t keep it up otherwise. My parents think I’m mad trying to juggle everything. There are still goals I want to accomplish before I hang up my skates. A career in skating is short-lived. I want to make the most of it while I still can.
The relentless sacrifice, though, has been well worth it. I’ve met so many talented and amazing individuals through the sport. I’ve traveled all around the US and the world. I love the challenge and the process of training and competing. I love to perform in large arenas and audiences. I’m never bored. There’s always something to work on, another challenge to tackle. It’s a constant learning experience.
Skating forces me to ruthlessly prioritize, structure my time, and stay on top of my work, making the most of every hour of every day. Skating gives me an outlet, a break from the hustle and bustle and the daily grind of MIT — though, it’s in itself an equally-demanding workout. MIT works my brain muscles; skating, physical. When I’m on the ice, I focus solely on the training. When I’m on campus, I focus on my schoolwork. It keeps me physically and mentally fit. The two separate spheres I enter in and out of several times a week balance each other out.
A perk about training on my own is that I get to form my own schedule. I’m not tied to a 5-7pm training schedule every day. If one week is especially rough class-wise, I can take it lighter on the ice. My coaches are also flexible and understanding, and work around my schedule as well. But if a competition is coming up, then I sacrifice time towards my classes and cram in as much training as I can. Some days when I can’t make the hour round-trip commute to and from my main training facility, then I try my best to squeeze in ice time at MIT’s own rink on campus.
I’ve also found a tight-knit community with my coaches and other skaters who train under the Mitchell Johansson Method. I didn’t choose MIT because of skating, but it just so turned out that it was one of the best places to do just that. My coaches are world-renowned, and the skaters I train with compete at the highest elite level as well, a training atmosphere I didn’t even have back home growing up. The Skating Club of Boston, the local club I represent, is one of the oldest in the country, producing dozens of National, World and Olympic Champions throughout the years.
And I’m also part of the MIT Figure Skating Club, yet another intimate community. For one, the club is immensely welcoming and supportive. I’ve had the opportunity to meet other passionate undergrads, grads, and alums, some who’ve just picked up the sport since coming to MIT and taking one of the skating PE classes, to those who competed competitively back in their respective hometowns — and continue to skate purely for the love of it, for the club, for the community, and for themselves. Every weekend, there are several hours of instruction and coaching, free for club members. And it’s a great way to stay in shape, Team Captain Ananya N. ’19 reminds me.
Skating at MIT is not just competitive. Each semester the club puts on an exhibition open to the MIT community and the public. Skaters from all levels perform individual routines and group numbers choreographed by fellow club members. We invite all our friends, classmates, professors, advisors, and family to come out and watch — and even join us on the ice afterwards to learn to skate. It’s a fun and relaxed environment to share our love for the sport.
But we also do compete on the intercollegiate level as a team representing MIT, a separate domain from my professional career. This past winter, MIT hosted one of the three qualifiers in the Eastern Conference right here at Johnson Arena, the MIT Intercollegiate Competition. Schools from all over the East Coast, from University of Virginia to our neighbor Boston University, brought contingents as large as 30 skaters to compete for a spot at the Intercollegiate National Championships.
School teams are ranked and given the final prize. Each school accumulates points based on placement in each division, and consequently the point system favors schools with large teams of varying skill levels. From beginner to elite, any student can compete. All other competitions I do professionally are solely based on individual placements. Collegiate skating was the first time I’ve been able to contribute to a team effort, and I’ve definitely enjoyed the more casual, relaxed, and fun competitive format.
At our MIT Intercollegiate, we finished 7th overall, despite having a team a fraction of the size of other schools’. But the hometown advantage did help — we had a great showing of the MIT community supporting our skaters. The entire competition is run by the school’s club team, and the amount of time and energy everyone put in to organizing and running the event was incredible.
By hosting these events — we will again this coming winter — even as a non-varsity sport, our Club President Diane Z. ’19 points out that we secure enough funding to sponsor skaters to the other intercollegiate competitions, covering their travel, lodging, and registration expenses. This coming season, NYU and University of Delaware are hosting the other two competitions.
The traveling aspect is what my teammates, including Ananya N. ’19 and Diane Z. ’19, reflect most fondly on when talking about their experiences in the club. It’s the late night group psetting sessions and last-minute submissions at the airpot before 5am flights, to visiting schools all over the East and meeting other skaters, to karaoke and ice cream runs after the final event, to cheering on and skating through your teammates’ programs that you’ve memorized on the sidelines as they perform.
And finally it’s the community within the club that is the most treasured above all. Undergrads, grads, and alums of all backgrounds and interests come together every morning at 8am, bonded by a common passion and alma mater, to practice and dedicate their time to do what they love.
These close friendships that extend beyond the rink, in and out of the classroom, offer a social component to an otherwise often lonely, individual sport.
Over the summer, I took part in the 2017 Collegiate National Championships hosted at Adrian College — yet another separate domain from the intercollegiate realm and professional skating. This time around, the format is centered on the traditional, individual-based competition structure, with each skater representing their school. Top placements in the Championship division earn a monetary scholarship award as well.
I took two days off of my UROP to experience Michigan and Collegiates for the first time. One of my training mates at Mitchell Johansson Method, starting her freshmen year at Boston University, also competed, in addition to another MIT teammate, Shannen W. ’21. Without a car or Uber or Lyft, I hitched rides with her and other gracious skaters from schools all around the country to get to and from the hotel and rink and feed myself. I had sprained my ankle the week before, and wasn’t sure how much I would be able to perform at the competition. But I was able to squeeze out nearly two clean performances and bring back the title for MIT.
This past weekend, I competed at the 2018 Eastern Sectional Championships to attempt to earn a spot at the 2018 US Championships in San Jose, CA. Luckily, the competition took place in Boxborough, MA, around 45-minutes outside Boston. I competed Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and didn’t have to miss a class. A group of my friends from the MIT Figure Skating Club drove over to watch on Saturday and cheer me on. I pulled up from 3rd to 2nd overall, and qualified for a spot! They graciously drove me back, and we stopped by for some all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ to celebrate.
This Winter Break, though, I will again have to spend here in Boston, alone, but training as hard as I can. No complaints here, as I will have a chance to visit home when I’m in San Jose.
At the beginning of the season, I envisioned that this would be my last. That I would finally wrap it up, and purse my other aspirations here at MIT. But there is much that I still have yet to accomplish for myself. I still love to train, to compete, to perform.
As long as my mind and body stay with it, I have a feeling that I might just keep at it for one more year. I can’t imagine skating without life at MIT, and life at this school without the sport.
At most of my competitions, the announcer starts with: “Representing the Skating Club of Boston…,” and sometimes, “Representing United States of America…” But at Intercollegiates and Collegiates, I like the ring to, “Representing Massachusetts Institute of Technology… here is Kevin S.”
I feel right at home.