Olympic Dreams At UCI

Classical music fills the frigid air as Karen Zhou begins her performance at one of her numerous figure skating competitions. Before entering the ice she is nervous, replaying the many strokes and jumps she must articulate. But when her skates are tied and the music begins, the previous thoughts dissolve into pure joy. As she gains speed her fervor grows, lifting her up into a flawless triple axel that leaves the audience in awe. With a slight grin on her face, Zhou ends her performance with a satisfied audience and fulfilled heart.

Eighteen year-old Karen Zhou is a multi-talented figure skater that leaves others baffled by her performance on and off the rink. She is the perfect example of a successful athlete: zealous and determined. Managing school as a business administrative major at UC Irvine as well as her personal life, Zhou plans to pursue her skating career and participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Her journey can be described in three words: practice, practice, practice. Her philosophy has led to much success, including a gold medal in the prestigious Gardena Spring Trophy two years ago, Other U.S. luminaries to have won the competition held in Italy include Sasha Cohen in 1999 and Michelle Kwan in 1993.

“I want to participate in the Olympics in four years but that requires a lot of training and consistency. I have been told I want things too much but this, this is something I have always wanted,” Zhou said.

With the new judging criteria similar to gymnastics, Zhou has a lot more to worry about than simply landing her jumps. The new technical panel will now not only evaluate the rotation of the jumps and spins but also the format and presentation. She has to meticulously maneuver her difficult jumps while engaging the audience in this graceful and artistic type of dance.

Luckily for Zhou, this intense training has left her with zero injuries. Unlike many other athletes with injuries that can deter their performances, affecting their precision, Zhou has been able to avoid such complications and hopes to be this fortunate in the future. This clear past allows her to be an even better candidate for the upcoming Olympics.

But juggling practice, school and her personal life can be hard.

“In order to continue to ice skate at a high performance level, I have to defer my fall and sometimes winter quarters at UC Irvine. I love school but during the summer and fall, I have to train to keep up with the new competition.” Zhou said.

Trying to keep up with units while balancing skating can be quite a chore but Zhou finds peace by simplifying her schedule. During her off-season, she loads up on courses Tuesdays and Thursdays, while practicing at least five days a week. This strategy allows her to focus only on school on those days while skating the days she is off from school. Although an arduous task, she continues to enjoy this hectic schedule.

“When I’m at UC Irvine, I get to focus on just the school stuff. For example on Thursdays I am here from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Yes, it is tiring. But when I’m here, all I have to worry about is learning the material and not about skating after class,” Zhou said.

With skating and school, it is hard to find time to relax and socialize with friends but Zhou manages to even do that. Whenever she gets a chance between her two very intense activities, Zhou calls up a friend to chat or schedules a hang out.

“They understand that I am busy and we work around my schedule to hang out. I also have a lot of friends who are former skaters or who still skate so we are able to relate when it comes to that,” Zhou said.

It is obvious Zhou is grateful to still have a social life even through skating. But skating is not all she has done. Having traditional Chinese parents, Zhou was enrolled in numerous activities as a child, from piano to gymnastics and dance and of course, skating. But through the years, skating was the only one to continue to appeal to her. It shone out to her like a blinding light.

“My parents enrolled my sister and I in a whole ton of activities to see what we liked. After doing all of them, my sister chose dance but I was still having trouble deciding,” Zhou said.

Her dilemma soon came to an end as her piano teacher insisted she play for a whole five minutes, causing Zhou to be stubborn and unwilling, a side of Zhou her mother had not seen.

“I said no, that I would rather be skating than playing piano. My mother soon realized I wouldn’t budge and allowed me to drop piano and continue skating. That is when I knew skating was right for me,” Zhou said.

As an overly active child, piano and other activities did not allow her to fully use up her energy the way she wanted to. Zhou recalls how she wanted to jump, not sit and play the piano. It was her way to express herself and that exhilaration has taken her far.

“I was done with sitting around and playing the piano — often getting up numerous times to just run around the room. Skating is what I wanted to do. It had jumps, it had speed, and it was what I wanted,” Zhou said.

Zhou’s passion have taken her far. With numerous awards and recognition, Zhou displays her love for skating on the ice every time she performs. She hopes to bring that sense of pride to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But for now, she is looking forward to practicing and being a proud Anteater.