Karen Chen on her break from skating, challenges of balancing classes at Cornell and elite skating
Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. national champion and 2018 Olympian, didn’t compete this season. But while she was away from the ice, she polished her college applications and committed to Cornell University in the fall, where she’ll be on a pre-med track.
She spoke with NBCSports.com/figure-skating about how she came to that decisions, her plans to continue skating despite her coach being across the country, and what music she selected for this season.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What did you learn about yourself during this break from competitive skating?
It was a while. I think a lot of it was coming back from the Olympics and then being on tour for Stars on Ice. My season right off of the bat was already a little later than what I normally would start. So, I was just like, kind of hustling a little bit and trying to get ready as soon as I could. Then I had my stress fracture in my right foot so then I was off for a month. I think two months?
Then, slowly building back up again. By that time, I just realized I want to let myself fully heal before trying to push myself again. The last thing I want is to reinjure it and having to be off for longer, kind of going through that injury cycle.
Was there ever a time during that period where you said, ‘you know what, I’m going to college in the fall. Is it time to hang up the skates?’
I knew that I wanted to keep going. If anything, being injured and away from the ice made me want to get back on. I wanted to compete and feel that thrill of competing again. I knew that that’s what I wanted.
But yes, during my break I was working on college apps. I spent a lot of time polishing that. I knew that college was in the future but I want to stay with skating for as long as I can.
How did you know that you wanted to be at Cornell?
It was definitely one of my top choices as I was going through college applications. After I visited for Cornell Days, I just really loved the campus. It was new and definitely a little terrifying being on campus and seeing all the students. It was definitely scary but it was also very exciting. Going to the rink, it was just a lot of fun. I am excited to step into a new part of my life.
What did you think of the rink?
It was really nice. I got to skate for a little bit. The ice was good. The whole building is red, which I believe red is my lucky color. So I was like, ‘this is the rink!’
What do you plan to study?
I got into the School of Human Ecology and my major is Human Biology, Health and Society. I’m definitely going pre-med. I do know I definitely think my first semester there will be chemistry and biology. I’m planning on doing a summer chemistry course or something to get my mind prepared for what’s to come. I remember in high school chemistry being something I absolutely hated. [laughter]
I talked to Nathan Chen and he said that you spoke a little bit about how to balance school and skating.
Yeah. We’re really good friends and we are doing a seminar together in Portland, Oregon [in a few weeks]. I can really rack his brains and try to see what his experiences are and what he found was helpful and any tips he had to give me.
Is it still your plan to compete on the Grand Prix series in your first semester at Cornell?
Yes, that’s my plan.
Have you looked at your semester schedule or where your fall break might be?
I’m not quite sure yet. I only recently said, ‘OK, I’m committing.’ Then going to housing and dining. I’m only just starting into that whole phase. For sure. The problem with Grand Prixes is I don’t get to pick which one I get. So in a way, it’s kind of random. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll get the one that falls during Thanksgiving break because that would be ideal. Then I don’t have to worry about missing classes that week, or something.
Your coach, Tammy Gambill, will be on the other side of the country. What conversations have you had about that?
We did briefly talk about it and definitely during my breaks I will come back to Colorado Springs and train. She offered that she could fly out there and coach me for a little bit. In the meantime, I think there’s just gonna be a lot of FaceTime and me putting my phone on the boards recording my jump and whatever feedback she has to give me.
Will you put in a lot of work on your programs this summer, then?
Yeah. My plan is to get everything done and be pretty prepared early on so that by the time I go to Cornell it’s more maintaining and picking on the details and stuff.
I have my short done already. And my long is not done yet but, music decided and started. I think the long should be done by the end of next week.
What are you skating to?
My short is to “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. And my long is “Illumination” from The Secret Garden.
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