Mirai Nagasu, the American figure skater from San Diego, CA, started her career a tad bit earlier than the traditional pin-pusher. May 17, 2016 marked my interview with the talent, which took place at South Suburban Ice Rink in Centennial, CO.
It was a special trip for Nagasu who lives in the Springs where she trains with one of the best coaches in the business Tom Zakrajsek at the World Arena.
Although I would have loved to see Nagasu in her natural habitat, the infamous Broadmoor World Arena, a location that is constantly circulating with elite skaters, I was elated to get to see her at all. Nothing can replace the addicting smell of freshly cut ice and the pounding of music, so anything besides the comfort of a rink really wouldn’t have been quite as satisfying for this sort of event.
Passion, it is what separates an occupation from a lifestyle. Passion is what drives us to do great things. Nagasu started out this way, with a lot of love for the sport, which developed into an intense passion, one that is still expanding to this day.
At the young age of five, Nagasu never knew she would have turned her love into a career; she just wanted to have fun. But she had a lot of success early on and at the age of thirteen she won the Junior title for the United States, and that is when things started to get more serious.
Skating really transformed from an extra-circular activity to an occupation for Nagasu her Junior Year of high school, which happened also to be an Olympic year. Up until that point, she was a full time student, but to make her dreams a reality Nagasu took online classes so that should could get optimal ice time.
Starting out young and making academic accommodations are standard in the world of figure skating. In 2010 Nagasu represented the United States at the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and just missed the podium receiving fourth place overall.
Now-a-days Nagasu is a college student at the University of Colorado and has to manage her time accordingly. Luckily she is able to take morning classes till eleven and then head over to the rink where they segregate the sessions very thoroughly by level, which really is a God-sent since the ice can get pretty dangerous if skaters are not comparable in level.
A typical training day consists of two to three 45-minute freestyle sessions with time in-between each to warm-up off the ice, cool down with stretching and also take a break, which of course includes re-fueling with a snack.
“Its harder as I get older for my muscles to fire up as easily so I need more time in between sessions,” says Nagasu about her practice plan.
Twice a week Nagasu receives two twenty-minute lessons on the ice working on jumping and spinning elements, choreography, as well as sections and full run throughs of her planned programs. A program is constructed to win a skater the most points possible; with what they are capable of by using perfectly timed elements to a set piece of music.
It is also essential to have dance and off-ice workouts to be successful on the ice. Figure skating is a sport that dangles on the fence between elegance and pure athleticism, so a certain type of muscle mass and skill set is required.
Nagasu takes a choreography lesson weekly off the ice that goes over the choreography in both her short and long programs. She also likes to attend Pilates three times a week, as well as group dance lessons once a week.
USFSA, United Skates Figure Skating Association, is a specific organization that requires all of its skaters to test into levels that then set you up for different levels of competition. For all levels you must first test “Moves in the Field,” which is a type of testing that revolves around edge work before you can test its corresponding level of free skating. A free skate test is a program with designated elements with increasing amount of allotted time.
Each level contains a test of each, so that your jumps and spins do not surpass your skating ability. The levels are as follows: Pre-Preliminary, Preliminary, Pre-Juvenile, Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, Senior.
On average a skater will take a full year to just work on developing a specific level of “Moves in the Field,” to give you a rough estimate of how rigorous and time consuming this process is.
Of course, all Olympic skaters are at the Senior level. But you can still be successful at the levels surrounding Senior and get substantial rewards from doing so.
For example Team USA has four branches on its team. A, B, C, and a secondary branch of C. Lower level skaters (starting at the intermediate level) who show potential get grouped into the secondary branch of Team C. When Nagasu was at the Junior level and won her first national title, she got placed directly into Team B.
The higher ranking of teams, and better placements at competitions will allow for higher money allocations. Figure skating, a sport of glamour and heart-ache, comes at no small price, literally. So when a skater finally makes it to Team USA, most of their training, and costuming is paid for by USFSA.
However, this just means that you are not in the red anymore, figure skating even at the highest level doesn’t provide much of a living. That is where sponsorships, and performing in shows in the off season comes in.
“We don’t receive prize money if we go to the Olympics, only if we win. But I know in Russia if you get a gold metal, they give you a Mercedes.”
Skating is a labor of love, and it takes and army. Nagasu has an agent to handle all of her non-competitive skating relations, and her dogs Lincoln and Liberty help her keep her sanity when she gets home.
As being apart of Team USA Nagasu can get access to the best nutritionists, but she likes to be able to choose for herself what she eats or else she would as she says “go crazy.”
It is also helpful to have a sports psychologist in your back pocket in any competitive sport. Nagasu works with one for visualization and has figured out a successful plan that can calm her down before she goes out on the ice to compete.
Nagasu is most proud of making the world team this past season, and is training to keep making teams and will hopefully compete in the next Olympics in 2018, as she missed making the Olympic team in 2014 due to only two spots being available that year. She continues to be a huge inspiration in my life and although I might never have quite the success she has had, we will always be able to share that passion for the sport that we love.