Interview with Denney/Frazier

In April 2015, Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier were at a high point in their career. The young American pair had just won a silver medal at U.S. Nationals and competed at their first World Championships. They were already determined to make the World team again the next year. But then, disaster struck. Haven sustained a serious injury to her right knee on April 22, 2015. Surgery followed. It was seven long months before Haven was cleared to even do single jumps. And Haven & Brandon lost an entire season of competition.

What is it really like for an athlete to come back from such a serious injury? In this interview, Haven & Brandon talk in depth about their journey back to world-level competition. We also discuss their early career, their recent coaching switch, their plans for the upcoming season, and more.

What a pleasure it was to chat with this appealing young team! Despite their youth, Haven & Brandon have been together a long time already; you can tell by the way they finish each other’s thoughts and sentences when speaking. There was a lot of laughter as Haven & Brandon recalled moments from their younger days. Although Brandon tends to serve as the team’s spokesperson, Haven followed up every comment with a strong, affirmative “Yes,” indicating her agreement. Haven & Brandon may be a young pair still, but there is a great sense of dedication & maturity in their approach to the sport. I hope everyone enjoys getting to know Haven & Brandon a little bit better in this interview!

Q: Haven & Brandon, you’re unusual among U.S. pairs in that you’ve been together, off and on, for over 10 years. Plus, you started as roller skaters. Can you tell me how you first teamed up, when you were kids?

Haven: It is a long story. (Laughs) When Brandon and I were babies—pretty young—we started out as roller skaters [in 2002]. We roller-skated together, as a pairs team.

Brandon: We were both [doing] singles in roller skating. And Haven and I, we were talking about pairs skating. [So] they just had us start skating together. At the time, we were very young, and it was for fun. We both loved it, and our parents let us skate together. Haven’s older sister Caydee [Denney] was doing pairs [roller skating] too, so that was the big motivation for Haven. We did a couple years in pairs [roller skating]. I couldn’t tell you exactly what year we swapped to ice.

Haven: I was 7, going on 8.

Brandon: And I was 10, going on 11.

Haven: And we switched over to ice, and skated together for–

Brandon: —2 to 3 years, on ice. We did Juvenile for 2 years [2005-07], and then we did Intermediate for 1 year [2008]. And then we actually weren’t skating together. Haven was in Florida, and I was training in Colorado, and we were apart for about 4 years. And it wasn’t until 2011-12, when Haven came out to Colorado, [that] we teamed up again, and started in Juniors.

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Baby Haven & Brandon  (Back in their coloring days!)

Q: Why did you guys split up?

Haven: We were both living in Colorado–

Brandon: –During our last year in Intermediate.

Haven: And my family was split up. My dad was in Florida, and it was me, my sister, and my mom in Colorado. And I think at that time, we needed to go back home to Florida. So we moved back to Florida, and Brandon stayed in Colorado.

Q: So family needs took priority?

Brandon: Basically, yeah. We were still really young at the time. Haven and I always loved skating together. We never really had any issues, ever, getting along. But we were still at a young age, and we were training in different states. Skating was obviously always in our lives. But it wasn’t until we teamed up in 2011-12 that it really became the start of our “professional” career.

Q: How did you guys wind up getting back together?

Brandon: It was a combination of things. Haven and I simultaneously broke up with our partners. When I say that, I don’t mean we broke up with them; it was like our partnerships ended. When I heard that Haven’s partnership had ended as well, we started talking to each other. And our coaches were in communication. I said to my coach, “I would love for my first tryout to be Haven. I think it would be a great step to go and do a tryout again.” I think that was the same philosophy for Haven. And then we had a tryout. Haven came back to Colorado for a week, and it worked out really well. There wasn’t really much discussion. After the third day, we knew it was going to work. And it was just getting Haven to Colorado, and we started training.

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Haven & Brandon in August 2011, after reuniting as partners

Q: It’s great that you guys had still kept up a positive relationship, so that you were able to restart your partnership.

Brandon: I don’t think there’s ever been a point in the timeline when our relationship was off. Haven and I have always gotten along very well. Even when we weren’t skating together. When we would see each other at competitions.… It was always a very natural relationship. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know Haven.

Haven: Our families were so close–are so close–that it’s beyond skating. We’re a part of each other’s lives.

Brandon: And that just transitioned into the tryout. When we started skating together again, at that level in Juniors, it was like that official step: “This is where we’re meant to be. This is the start of our real career.”

Q: I love the videos you’ve put on Facebook of your competitions when you were younger.

Brandon: Oh right, young Haven and Brandon. (Laughs.) Sometimes I watch those videos and go: “Wow. This was a totally different skater.”

Haven: It’s like–we really did that? (Laughs.)

Q: So you guys restarted your partnership in 2011-12 and competed in Juniors. And you achieved success really quickly. The next year in 2013, you won Junior Worlds.

Brandon: The first year we skated together, we won the U.S. Junior title, in 2012. And then the season after, we won Junior Worlds, in 2013.

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Winning Junior Worlds in 2013

Q: As you look back on it, what did that victory mean to you–winning Junior Worlds?

Brandon: That success at that competition meant many things to us. For me, it was a sense of accomplishment [that] I never thought we would be able to do. I always believed Haven and I could achieve greatness. But when we won Junior Worlds, it wasn’t so much like, “Oh my gosh, we did it.” It showed us our potential. It was a big reward. Haven and I worked really hard those two seasons. When we started out [in] our first season together, our Junior Grand Prixs didn’t go as strong as we hoped. And we did some competitions where we just didn’t show the best of us. So when we were able to go to a competition at that high level [at Junior Worlds]…. It just opened my eyes and showed me that if we keep working hard and pushing as hard as we do, it’ll pay off one day. Also, it was a big launch to our career. It was probably one of the happiest moments I can ever take [from skating]. It meant a lot.

Q: You turned senior the next season. And the year after that—your second senior season in 2014-15–you had a breakout year. You won a Challenger Series event, and took silver at Skate America and U.S. Nationals. And you got people’s attention with your Lion King program, which was really popular. So when you look back on the 2014-15 season overall, are you happy with it?

Haven: Umm, yes. That season was a fun season. We had some good competitions, and I think The Lion King program was a big hit. It was something a little bit out of the box. We enjoyed doing that program so much, and it really showed, I hope. We had some good competitions under us, and making the World team at the end of it was awesome. It was our first time at Worlds. So it was a good season, I would say, all in all.

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Performing their Lion King program  (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brandon: I think what made it such a big season, and a successful season for Haven and me…. It was the first season we were performing on a higher level. We had some ups—some great ups—and then some downs. The Lion King was, by far, one of my favorite programs we’ve ever done. Every time we went out and competed it, I loved doing it. It was just a very fun performance. Whenever you have a program that you love and enjoy skating to–

Haven: –You want to do it that much better.

Brandon: Yeah, it just makes the whole experience better. And it kind of got us acclimated to the whole senior circuit. I think medaling at a Grand Prix got us motivated…. It pushed us. And I think it was definitely a good step in the right direction we want, overall, for our career. And of course, just having the privilege to medal in Seniors [at U.S. Nationals] and make a World team. That was a huge goal for us. Once it happened, it was great to be able to experience it. I remember coming back from Worlds, prior to the injury, Haven and I were so motivated. I mean, we always are motivated, but it was just so exciting to be at Worlds.

Haven: I know. When we got back from Worlds, we had a little goal list, of elements that we wanted to accomplish. And I think by the end of the first week, or week and a half, we had checked off–

Brandon: Yeah, we were checking off element goals. We were just almost too excited for the [next] season to start. I couldn’t wait to make another World team, so we could go back. It was just really exciting for us.

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Skating in Shanghai at Worlds

Q: So things were looking great for you. But then, unfortunately, Haven, you suffered a knee injury in April 2015, while training a throw jump on the floor.

Haven: Yes, that’s correct. We were just warming up off ice, and doing something super-simple, just walking through a throw. And when I landed, my foot stayed, but my body kept rotating. So, it was very unfortunate that that happened.

[Pause]

Brandon: Yeah, it’s definitely not a memory we love to look back at. But it happened, and….

Haven: I think how we’re choosing to come back from this … It was a negative thing that happened. But I think our character is really proven by how we can turn it into a positive. Just how we’re going about everything since [the injury].

Q: You guys spent a couple months apart while Haven was doing rehab and Brandon was working in Canton, MI. How did you stay connected and in sync during that time?

Brandon: Texting, phone calls. I went to Florida twice. And Haven and I met a few times, and caught up on things and talked about planning. It was a very low-key time. We were all just processing what had happened. It was organizing our plans for the future. And our federation did a great job helping us through everything.

Haven: Yes. Absolutely.

Q: Did they help arrange your rehab, and the doctors you were working with?

Haven: Yes, they did almost all of it. When we [first] got injured, there was a limit to the amount of things that I could actually do. They said the best thing would be to stay home [in Florida] and do the beginning of my rehab [there]. And then, when I was able to do more physical things, that’s when they sent us to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where more of the real rehab training started to kick in. So, yes, they organized all of that. And we’re very thankful.

Brandon: Once we went to Colorado, it was the beginning of our comeback to that goal of getting back on the ice 100%. And our USFSA senior director of figure skating, Mitch Moyer, did a great job managing us and making sure we were getting everything we needed. The Olympic Training Center had many great resources, and we had a great off-ice trainer/coach. It was a long process. And I think accepting that was one of the hardest things we did. But, looking back at it now, I think I wouldn’t have done it any other way. It was a slow process, but it was exactly what we needed, to come back healthy.

Q: I know missing the whole season probably wasn’t what you had hoped for. But maybe it was the best way, overall, for you to come back healthy?

Brandon: Yes. When they first cleared Haven to get back on the ice, there was still talk of doing Nationals, and trying to get a second half of the season. We knew after the surgery that the Grand Prix season, the senior Bs—we were going to have to miss those. But I remember in our minds, Nationals was such a huge thing still. We were thinking about it. But once we got to Colorado…. Haven and I were bummed, as it is, missing any competitions. But she and I just had to understand that missing the whole season would do much more good and [lead to] a bigger positive outcome than trying to rush things just to get to Nationals. And I think that was a big challenge for us to accept. But once we did, now it makes sense. We really took it slow. We worked on things that we never really focused on [before], and we gave the time that you need for an injury this severe.

Q: When you started back on the ice, were you just doing stroking and footwork for a while?

Haven: Yes. For the first three months or so.

Brandon: For 12 weeks, it was all stroking, and walk-throughs of patterns. For 2 ½ months, we just skated into throws, and talked about, “Well, when we start throws, this is where we’ll want to do it.” And trying to walk through twist patterns. Because we couldn’t really even spin, either. Haven needed time to be able to spin fully. And then the death spirals…. When we were cleared to do death spirals, we did a lot of death spirals. (Laughs.)

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One of Haven’s first days back on the ice  (U.S. Figure Skating Association)

Q: And how long was it until you guys started back into doing jumps and throws?

Haven: I think I was cleared to jump baby jumps—singles and stuff—in November 2015.

Brandon: Yes. Mid-November, she was cleared to do singles. And when I say singles, I mean baby waltz jumps and little single Salchows. And she did that for a while.

Haven: I would say really starting to jump—in the harness and on my own—was maybe like January 2016.

Q: Once you guys started back into doing difficult elements, which elements were the easiest to get back, and which took longer? Or did they all come at the same time?

Brandon: Oh, no. They all came at different times. (Laughs.) Our lifts came back the fastest. We were able to lift off-ice—that was the big element that we were cleared to do first. And when we started lifting, it actually was great. It almost didn’t feel like we had lost any time. I loved it. When they told me, “Okay, you guys can lift, at least off-ice,” I got very excited. Did a lot of lifts. When we went on the ice, it maybe took 2 to 3 weeks, and we were able to do all [of] our old lifts at a good quality. And after that, we started doing twists again. Twists took a little while. It got back, though. Obviously, the jumps and throws probably took the longest. We really felt the time off from that. Because they’re time-temperamental elements. And that’s what probably took the longest to get feeling good again.

Q: Brandon, had you kept up practicing side-by-side jumps on your own?

Brandon: Oh yeah, absolutely. [But] when I was jumping on my own, when Haven was injured…. I’m not going to lie. I’ve told Haven, I’ve pretty much told anyone this: It always felt very different for me. I worked. But I always had this thought in my head: “I just really wish I was doing these side-by-side.” It’s different. I tried doing everything I can to work on the weaknesses that I have. When Haven and I were able to jump together side-by-side [again], it felt way more motivating. It almost felt easier. Even though you can jump on your own…. When your other half is not jumping with you, it feels weird. Off-balance.

Q: Brandon, did you ever compete as a singles skater?

Brandon: I did. I made Junior Nationals as a Juvenile.

Haven: And he’s proud of it! (Laughs.)

Brandon: I’m very proud of it. It’s something I’ll ride for the rest of my life. (Laughs.) I remember to this day, I was at Regionals [that year], and I had the skate of my life. They took the top 4 guys—and I think the guy who should have been fourth had a rough day—and I snuck in there. And it’s just something that happened. I don’t know how. I really don’t.

Haven: His highest moment as a singles skater. (Laughs)

Brandon: Yes, it was our first Junior Nationals, when we did Juvenile pairs. I did Juvenile singles as well. I was on Cloud 9!

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Haven & Brandon in their Juvenile/Intermediate days

Haven: And after that, you were like, “I’m just going to stick to pairs.”

Brandon: Yeah. Some jumps, when I was younger, did not come easy for me. I mean, it took me forever just to do a double Lutz. And it took me years until double Axel.

Q: Haven, I found some old records of you competing in singles. But I hadn’t seen anything of Brandon, so I was curious.

Brandon: Yeah, I didn’t think they recorded it, because no one would want to go back and watch it! (Laughs)

Q: Haven, you were off the ice, obviously, for a long time with the injury. Did that time away change your outlook or perspective on skating?

Haven: Yes, absolutely. It made me appreciate skating so much more. And what we get to do every day. On the ice now, I have a new appreciation for skating, and not taking [it] for granted so much, and just being happy to be out on the ice. I was before, but it’s different now.

Q: And how does your knee feel now? Do you have to take special precautions with it, to prevent reinjury?

Haven: Well, when I first started [skating again], I had to wear a brace—a titanium brace—for a while. And now, I’m wearing a soft brace, and it helps a little bit with my fatigue. It’s 100%–the ligaments and everything are 100%. And I don’t get sore or feel it when I do stuff. Sometimes, if it does get sore, it’s nothing that some ice can’t help with. But other than that, it’s just as good, if not better than, my left leg. So it’s all good.

Q: When it first happened, did they give you a prognosis? Did you ever have any doubt if you’d be able to return from the injury?

Haven: They told me how long I was going to have to be off the ice. Non-weight-bearing for 6 weeks. And then, “You’ll be able to get back on the ice in XX time.” So they gave me time periods. And, as much as it killed me inside, I obviously had to follow exactly what they were telling me.

Brandon: But I don’t think they ever said anything like: “You won’t be back.” Ever.

Haven: No, no, they never said anything like that. So I just followed what the doctors told me, and kept up my rehab, and [did] my off-ice training consistently. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would be able to skate again. It was a testing time, definitely. But I think Brandon and I together, as a team…. We really became closer through [all] this. And got through it okay.

Q: Prior to the injury, you guys were training with Ingo Steuer as your main coach. Now you’ve switched to Rockne Brubaker and Stefania Berton in Chicago. Why did you decide to change coaches after the injury?

Brandon: When Haven and I made the change to Ingo Steuer, it was right after Nationals [2015]. We never set an official plan for the next seasons. I mean, he’s an excellent coach, and we loved working with him. But he also had his family in Germany. We were talking about working a little in Chemnitz [Germany], and then him coming to the States to work with us. After the injury happened, Ingo had to go back to Germany for the majority of the year. He knew we were going to be rehabbing at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. We kind of all came to the agreement that he would stay in Germany, and Haven and I would pursue different coaches. That’s how it happened. It was never that Haven and I don’t like Ingo, or it didn’t work out.

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With former coach Ingo Steuer

Haven: He’s been very supportive throughout the whole time [of the injury].

Brandon: Yes. He took care of us at the end of the [2014-15] season, and we were talking about a possible permanent situation with him. But when the injury happened, that put a pause. And then, he really needed to get [home] to Germany.

Q: So it was a matter of logistics, almost, as much as anything else?

Brandon: Sure. He has his son there, and we understood from Day 1, working with him, that that was going to be a very important factor.

Haven: We were his only team in the States.

Brandon: We were the only reason why he was in the States. So although he definitely did a lot for us, when the injury happened, we all came to a mutual agreement that Haven and I will go and look for new coaches. And he was very supportive with it. He has always kept the door open, that if we ever needed help from him, we were always welcome to work with him. So it all ended very well.

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With new coaches Rockne Brubaker & Stefania Berton

 

Q: And now you guys are training with Rockne and Stefania in Chicago. Are you all settled there now?

Brandon: Yes, I would say so. We’ve been here for 5 solid months now. We did some [coaching] tryouts. Mitch Moyer had us do some tryouts with some other [pairs] camps and stuff, to really get a feel of what we want. Basically, Haven and I found that Chicago fit our needs best. We have a lot of respect for Rockne and Stefania. They are great coaches, and they have a great facility here—lots of pros [skating professionals]. Plus, Haven and I like to work with Marina Zoueva from time to time, so she’s just a short drive away.

Q: Are you the only top-level pairs team there?

Brandon: We have another senior-level team with us—Narumi Takahashi/Ryo Shibata. They represent Japan. But Haven and I are the only senior team from the United States.

Q: Do you have enough ice time at the facility?

Brandon: Yeah, it works out great. We train with other pairs teams, and also ice dance teams, and we have plenty of ice throughout the day. And Stefania and Rockne do a great job making sure the ice is not crowded. Everything kind of works like clockwork. We haven’t had a problem yet.

Q: So, as you guys prepare for this season, I wanted to ask some questions about technical elements. The triple twist has always been a really strong element for you, since your junior days. Which coaches were most helpful in learning your technique for the twist?

Brandon: We learned our twist from Dalilah [Sappenfield]. Of course, she has great technique; she did a good job building our twist. When we moved to Florida, we had a strong twist. And John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana did a great job making sure the twist kept growing, as Haven and I grew into seniors. And on top of that, when Ingo [Steuer] was working with us, he really brought our twist to another level, in the sense of consistently having a level 4 triple twist with positive GOE. He really showed us what the international judges are looking for when it comes to twists. We’ve always had good helping hands and great eyes with that element. So we’ve been very fortunate.

Haven: Yes. [Our coaches] have always had a good influence on it.

Q: In a recent IceNetwork article, Rockne talked about you guys potentially learning a quad twist, in future seasons. What are your thoughts on that?

Brandon: I mean, it’s exciting. When we talk about that—right now, we’re just talking. When we get to that level with the triple twist being at its peak of potential, then we [will] talk about what’s the next step. And I would say—you look at all the top senior teams, and they’re either doing a throw quad or a quad twist. And that’s the new generation of pairs skating. So we discuss it. All we’re doing now is getting our triple twist back to the level that we used to do it. It’s come a long way. Right now the plan–this season and next season—is to consistently get high GOEs and level 4 on our triple twist. And when we see how this season and next season goes, that’s going to be the perfect opportunity to start pushing the boundaries of a quad twist.

Q: What do you guys see as the key to constantly getting that level 4? Because it’s something that eludes a lot of pairs. A lot of teams are getting level 2 or 3…. But what’s the key to getting that consistent level 4?

Brandon: I think just the technique. The way Haven and I time [our triple twist]—we have an entry, arms, catch, split. [Note: Brandon is referring to the different features needed to get level 4.] What we work on is just making sure we’re 100% with our timing with each other. Our best twists–[when] all the features are there–[are] when we have significant timing together. That’s when the biggest twists come from us. The split’s clear, the steps are always there, and the catch and the arms happen naturally, typically. No matter what, [even] on maybe a twist that wasn’t as good as our best, we still get entry, we get arms, we get catch. I mean, the split [feature], I want to say is just as consistent as everything else. But if for any reason it’s slow, or it just wasn’t a perfectly timed twist … [maybe] we get level 3. Our goal is to never go below a level 3. But our goal is also to get a consistent level 4. So that’s pretty much where our standards are.

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Haven & Brandon perform a level 4 triple twist at Skate America 2014  (Getty Images)

Q: You’ve been using throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow as your throws for a few years now. Is that still the plan for this season?

Brandon: Yes. Although we work on throw triple flip from time to time. This season, for us…. I remember when Haven and I came back from Worlds [2015], prior to the injury, we got the throw triple flip in practice. And that’s a big goal of ours. When we were rehabbing, we spent a lot of time with the loop and the Salchow. They’re natural throws for us. And we’re trying to limit the “unnatural” parts of the working process. We’re trying to spend the majority of our time now training the elements that we do well consistently. And it’s come a long way. We’re at the point now where we feel like–at the end of this season, or at the end of our Grand Prixs—whenever we get a good time block—we’re going to–

Haven: We’re going to resume the flip.

Brandon: And Haven and I used to work on a throw quad Salchow and throw triple Axel. And they were very close to where they need to be. But after the injury, and coming back, we just haven’t had that room for risk. We really wanted to take this season just to get our legs back under us, get back into the competition scene, get back into doing what we are capable of doing, without overkilling our bodies. And then after this, we’ll take one or two of those elements and resume pushing.

Q: Will you start with the throw triple flip, and then move on to the other throws?

Brandon: I wouldn’t say we just get the [throw triple] flip. What we would do is train the exercises—the throw double flip, throw double Axel. And when we do our throw triple Salchows, making sure we feel like the takeoff is good for the quad. Typically, we wouldn’t just work on the flip until it’s there. We will sometimes do flip, and then if the flip is good, then the next day we’ll work on the Axel. And we’ll see which one is working and which one is the closest. We’ve found that working on all three of them kind of helps every [throw], in a way. As opposed to just putting 1000% into just one [throw] and trying to get it.

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Doing a throw triple loop at Worlds 2015

Q: Now, with side-by-side jumps, what layout are you using in the long program this year?

Brandon: Well, right now, what’s in our program is side-by-side triple Salchow/double toe and double Axels, for Bratislava. [Note: Their next competition is Ondrej Nepela in Bratislava, Slovakia.] Each competition [this summer], we’ve fiddled around a little bit. We work on triple toe loops. We work on double Axel-tap-double Axel [2A/2A sequence], triple toe/double toe, triple Salchow/double toe, we’ve even worked on 3S/2T/2T. We’ve kind of fiddled around with every one [of those jumps]. As one of our weaknesses—our jumps—we want to start pushing our jumps to that same level as some of our other elements, so we can really be competitive. And that’s two triples in the program. Right now, when we go to compete, our plan is to take what we have—triple Salchow/double toe and double Axel—and get them completed as well as we possibly can. To the point where we feel, “Okay, we need to up the challenge and put in the side-by-side triple toe loop.” I don’t want to say we’re easing into it. We’re just taking one challenge at a time, as opposed to putting 10 different challenges into our run-throughs, after this injury. We’re just trying to not bite off more than we can chew.

Haven and I are always messing around with different lifts. But we’ve already put in a whole new reverse lift this year that I would say is challenging and pushing our limits. And we love doing it. But although we want to put in even more things like that, our coaches say, “Okay, guys, try to compete this and get this to the highest quality. And then after this competition, then we can talk about taking it to another level by adding another intricate lift, or a new, harder jumping pass.”

Q: Speaking of lifts, that’s an element that always seems to be really strong and really reliable for you. I noticed this season, you’ve placed all 3 lifts toward the second half of the LP. How tough is it to perform 3 lifts together like that?

Haven: Well, we have one lift in the middle of the program. Then we have 2 lifts back-to-back toward the end. When we train them…. The new lift–the one that’s new for us this season–is toward the end of the program. So at first, it was a little challenging. But now, I think, we’ve been training those lifts back-to-back every day. So, it’s definitely getting stronger, and we feel pretty confident with how it’s laid out in the program. I think the lifts are one of our strongest elements, so we’re always pretty confident when it comes to lifts.

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A signature lift

Q: Let me ask a few questions about choreography/presentation. In the 2014-15 season, as we discussed, you guys had great success with The Lion King program. And it was a fan favorite; I think it even had a Twitter hashtag. Coming into this season, did you feel any pressure to top that program? And since Renee Roca choreographed it for you, did you consider going back to her for this year’s programs, or future programs?

Brandon: To answer the first question, I think we didn’t feel pressure; it’s more motivation. The Lion King was successful because it was definitely out of the ordinary of what you typically see. That’s something we like to do, is [be] a little bit different. But, we [also] know we need to up the maturity in our skating. And we love Renee; she did a great job. We even asked if she could help us out when Haven and I were still looking for coaches. We asked if she could help us start talking about music. But she was very busy. And so, although we love Renee, we kind of fell into the hands of Marina Zoueva [for this season’s programs]. Because I worked there for a few months, and we worked with Marina and Johnny Johns for a few weeks in Canton when we were still searching for coaches. When we made the permanent move to Chicago, even Rockne suggested that we have Marina [choreograph] some of the programs because she’s seen us skate, she knows a lot…. Marina is very good with pairs programs. I would love to have that same effect that The Lion King had—like, “Wow, this is a great program, I wouldn’t have imagined it being a good pairs program”–and adding that to another routine. I would say it’s more motivation.

Q: So tell me about the programs that Marina choreographed this season. The short program is to Don Juan.

Brandon: Yes. We like it. It’s very mature. It’s a favorite for me, because I like the melody. There’s a guy and a girl [singing]–they take turns. It’s an easier way to interpret and interact with one another. You know, it’s no secret that choreography and connection isn’t my strongest [point] in the world. But I think [that] the music plays a big role in these things. The Lion King played a big role in the way we skated it. So I think Marina did really well picking our pieces [according] to the way we’re going to skate it. When I heard Don Juan, and when Haven and I started skating to it … I think it’s a good connection program. We feel like we’re really going to be able to perform this well.

Q: And your long program is to Somewhere in Time. How do you feel about that program?

Haven: I absolutely love that program. I love the music, and the story. I think Marina did a great job choreographing it, and it definitely brings out a new level of connection and maturity. We’ve never really had a program like this before, so it’s opening up a new level of our skating. We watched the movie. I loved, loved, loved the movie. It’s a really nice program. Obviously it still needs to grow and get better and better. But we enjoy doing it a lot.

Brandon: I think what Marina did is, she set the bar high for us. And she gave us a program that wasn’t just going to come overnight. It’s a program that [has] so many emotions in it. We love the choreography, and that’s great. But I think the way we skate it is going to make the difference of, is it a good program, or an incredible program. And that’s what Haven and I thrive on, is these challenges. It’s not that it’s just a good program–

Haven: –But [it’s] how we do it.

Brandon:When I train it, I hear the coaches say: “Hey, this section was good, but we’ve seen you do it better.” And you can see a significant difference when it’s performed a certain way. That’s going to be the biggest challenging thing for this free skate: Can we perform it to make the audience feel identically to how you feel when you watch the movie?

Q: I definitely think it has great potential. And it does give you an older, more mature look.

Brandon: Thank you. That’s really the impression we’re trying to give. One of the coaches in Colorado [who] helped us come back—Erik Schulz–made a great impact on us. He talked about how Haven and I were so fixated on trying to just come back to the way we were. And he told us: “Don’t strive to just come back to where you left off. Come back better than you would have been, and than you were.” So, with this program, we don’t just want to show people, “Hey, we’re back, and we’re going to try to do our best.” We want to show them that we actually took the time we had off and that we were productive with it. And, although we didn’t compete last season, we still constantly built ourselves [to be better].

Q: Brandon, you mentioned your own presentation skills. You spent time working on that with Marina Zoueva and her team. Do you feel an improvement in your presentation and your skating skills?

Brandon:Yes, absolutely. I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I always heard: “You have to emote more, you have to have better lines, better skating skills, nicer-looking crossovers.” And I always worked on it. But Marina’s camp has a way that just breaks that stuff down very clear in front of your eyes. I mean, she can take a person [who lacks] skating skills and make it natural for them. I spent a few months there. It was intimidating; in a good way, though. I got to work among some of the best ice dance teams in the world, and some of the best skating skills coaches in the world. And I learned–just by watching what it takes to have that certain flow on the ice, and the way they move, and where the balance needs to be at certain points. It completely altered the way I worked. I am so much more self-alert [now] when I’m on the ice. I can feel arm positions, or when I’m not completely over my edge. I can feel all those little things that I never felt in the past in run-throughs. I was very element-based. I was like, “Okay, after one element, get to the other one,” and I’d just get there. I was never really aware of my posture, the way I collected myself and pushed. I think Marina’s camp definitely showed me the feeling of what it needs to be like. That way, when I’m training, and even when I’m competing and the body gets tight, I’m aware of it. And I know, okay, it’s time to expand more.

I think I’ve improved, absolutely. I don’t think I’m where I want to be yet. To how I visualize myself, as a skater, and the way I hold myself on the ice. I really would love to be able to move and float from point A to point B as effortlessly as possible. And be able to present Haven in a way that I’m a strong foundation, but I almost move like water, and there’s no work to it. Overall, that’s how I train these days. And I wish I could tell baby Brandon, 4 or 5 years ago, to go back and do this. (Haven laughs.) But I’m very thankful for the opportunity I was given, and I just want to make the best of it now.

haven-brandon-pretty

Looking to raise the bar artistically

Q: Looking back, you guys have worked with some great coaches. But the constant in your career has really been each other, more than any coach. What makes the two of you work as a team?

Brandon: Yes, our coaches are very important to us. I think I’ve learned a lot from Haven. She has a great work ethic. I think we both do a good job on doing what’s expected from us—even if no one’s looking. We know how you need to train. [But] we’re not magicians. When we do an element or struggle on something, we need that other pair of eyes. We have to have coaches to manage us. I made a joke the other day with Haven that I definitely think our coaches do a lot more of pulling us back from what we want to do. Because Haven and I sometimes can get really…. We would love to just train element after element, or program after program. It’s kind of one of [our] strengths. But it also can become a weakness if it’s not properly managed. But I think Haven and I both have the exact same mindset into what our goals are, and we’ve always worked hard toward what we want to do in this sport. I don’t think we’ve ever had days where we come in and we’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” We’re always very motivated together.

Q: You guys have been together for a long time. Has your relationship changed over the years?

Brandon: Yes, in a good way. As we grow and mature…. Even on the tough days, we now know how to interact with each other. Or when things are going smoothly and everything’s effortless, we just know how to balance each other out well. And that comes with longevity.

Q: Off the ice, would you guys describe yourselves as introverts or extroverts?

Haven: Hmm … I don’t want to speak for Brandon, but I think he’s more of an extrovert. And I’m more of an introvert. Until you get to know me better, and then I come out of my shell a little bit. (Says to Brandon🙂 I don’t know what you are.

Brandon: I don’t know.

Haven: Maybe you’re an introvert.

Brandon: I’m a goofball. (Laughs) Haven is great about always taking everything with a grain of salt and being level-headed. If something happens, you will hear something come out of my mouth before you hear from Haven. I’m always the one to comment on everything. Not in a bad way. But I think that’s how Haven and I get along really well, is we balance each other out.

Q: Which of you is more emotional after a good or bad skate?

Brandon: I think we both have had our moments. There are probably times when I guess I can be a little more over the top.

Haven: Of course, at competitions, you’re going to be a little more emotional than you would on a normal daily basis when you’re doing a run-through. Because it has a little bit more meaning behind it at that point. But you know…. On our good skates, of course we’re going to be happy, and if it’s not a good skate, of course we’re going to be upset. But, the next day, you move on from it. It’s not like it’s something you will hold onto for a long time.

Brandon: As far as training goes, I think it’s easier to read me emotionally. If I’m stressed out about something, you can probably tell within minutes. Haven’s a lot more even… She’ll keep one concentrated emotion throughout the entire training day.

Haven-Brandon-Chicago.jpg

Haven & Brandon in Chicago recently

Q: Some skaters are very active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’ve noticed that you guys post a little bit on Facebook, but don’t do too much on Twitter or Instagram. What are your thoughts on social media?

Haven: Oh, man. I have a Facebook and an Instagram. And I might have 6 posts on Instagram. (Laughs) I don’t know. I want to post more stuff, especially of skating … I’m just not really on it that much, though.

Brandon: Facebook, for me, is definitely the best way to keep in touch with my friends and family. It’s the easiest way for me to know what everyone’s doing. Twitter…. I really would only tweet if I’m at a competition. Skating-related stuff. Maybe every now and then, I’ll say, “Hey, just arrived, and it’s great to be here.” Instagram…. I was never into Instagram until Alex Shibutani convinced me to get one. Because I’m a Chipotle fan. I love Chipotle. And he convinced me that I should get an Instagram and dedicate it to taking selfies with my burritos. (Laughter.) So it kind of started that way. And now every photo, every time I post—I don’t post a lot, I post maybe once a month on Instagram—Sometimes it’ll be of a burrito, and sometimes it’s just something I would like to do. I don’t do too much skating posting on Instagram. (“No,” agrees Haven.) It’s really more what I’m doing in my life. I know, it’s funny. It’s weird.

Q: So, you’re not worried about Chipotle at all? No bad food experiences?

Brandon: Nope. I love Chipotle. You know, people have had experiences, and I totally respect that. But I think it’s a thriving way to put a smile on everyone’s day-to-day activities. It has a good impact on the universe. (Laughter.)

Q: Chipotle Forever?

Brandon: Chipotle Forever.

Q: Back to skating…. You have a busy couple of weeks of competition coming up. First you have Ondrej Nepela, then Skate America and Skate Canada. Do you feel ready for your fall events? Is training where you hoped it would be at this point in time?

Haven: Yes. We’re definitely starting to kick it up a notch. The biggest thing for us now is just consistency in our practices. I feel like the more prepared and confident we feel in our daily practices, the more confident we’ll feel when we go out to compete.

Brandon: I would say we’re as prepared as we would have hoped, given the circumstances. I mean, we’re definitely still working on things that need to get adjusted. But Haven and I can safely say we feel very prepared to go into these competitions. We feel well-trained physically. And then it’s just more getting the job done on that day. And I think we’ve already done well with that in our earlier competitions this season. I mean, they’ve just been summer comps. But I don’t think we’re going to go into these Grand Prixs or Senior Bs thinking, “Oh, this is the real one, we have to do this.” We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing in our day-to-day stuff. And that’s really all we can do for this season. We’re not looking at it like, “Oh, where do we wind up in the ranking of things?” We’re just trying to put out good performances for us this season.

Q: Well, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. And good luck with your season!

Haven/Brandon: Thanks!

Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take just a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.

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3 Responses to Interview with Denney/Frazier

  1. Pingback: Skating Articles for Wednesday, September 21, 2016 | BLAZING BLADES II

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