Drew Meekins: “Pairs skating is ready for a rebrand”

On first sight, you could almost mistake Drew Meekins for a current competitor in pairs skating (especially these days!). Fit and youthful at 36, Meekins retains an energetic passion for the sport of figure skating. It’s this drive that inspired him throughout his competitive career with pairs partner Julia Vlassov and culminated in the 2006 World Junior pairs title. Indeed, the former champion admits that the idea of competition still crosses his mind at times.

Today, though, Drew Meekins’s focus is on making his mark on the other side of the boards. For over a decade since his retirement, he has worked with top national and international skaters as both a coach and choreographer. Now, he’s fulfilling a longtime personal goal by launching his own pairs skating group in Colorado Springs, CO. Meekins hopes to help grow and reshape the discipline of pairs skating in the United States. 

Recently, Meekins took some time to chat with me about his competitive skating career, his development as a coach and choreographer, current trends and challenges in pairs skating, and what he hopes to accomplish with his new pairs skating group. 

Competitive career & Junior World pairs title

Meekins grew up in Massachusetts, where he started skating pairs with Julia Vlassov in the early 2000s. The duo competed together for five seasons, winning several Junior Grand Prix medals and the Junior World title in 2006. Vlassov and Meekins split in 2007, due in part to injury. Meekins relocated to Colorado Springs and continued competing for a short time with another partner, then ended his career in 2009 at age 24.

Q:  So I understand you grew up in the Boston area?

M:  Yes, I grew up outside of Boston, in Wellesley. I trained all over the Boston area for most of my skating career. 

Q:  Which rinks did you train at in Boston?

M:  I started skating at Babson College, in Wellesley. My first real training rink was at the Colonial Figure Skating Club, at Nashoba Valley. Once I started doing pairs, we [trained] at a few different rinks. We were at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough for a while. My coach [Alexander Vlassov] liked keeping his camp kind of separate. So we trained in Haverhill for a bit, which was just a [small] city-run rink. The benefit was that we really had the ice all day, and had it to ourselves. I would spend a lot of time at the Skating Club of Boston, at the original location [in Brighton, MA]. I’d go there for some freestyle work, and honestly, just to skate for fun. I loved going there. I was very familiar with that place. 

Q:  It’s hard to believe that the Skating Club of Boston is in a different place now (Norwood, MA).

M:  I know. I’m so curious to go see the new location. I haven’t been [yet], largely because of the pandemic. I didn’t really go home at all last year. The facility looks gorgeous. It’s strange, though, because the original [rink] was such an iconic place in the skating world, certainly in the Boston area.

Q:  As mentioned, you skated pairs with Julia Vlassov for many years. You were World Junior  champions in 2006, and had quite a successful career. Tell me what it was like being a pairs skater back then, and winning Junior Worlds.

M:  I always wanted to be a pairs skater. From the moment I realized that skating was something you could compete in, I really wanted to be a pairs skater. That’s unique in a way. Some find their way into [pairs] because they have tried singles and then become interested in pairs at a later point. For me, it was from Day 1. It was always what I wanted to do. 

Julia and I were a really great match for each other. We met when we were both really young, and we skated together for a long time. I think our biggest strength was our ability to really work hard. I wasn’t the most talented skater, but I might have been the hardest worker. That was the thing that I could control; so it was the thing that I focused on. We had a really good career. U.S. pairs, internationally, have struggled more than they’ve thrived, if I’m being honest. It was a goal for Julia and myself to try to showcase what U.S. pairs had to offer. We won our first Junior Grand Prix [event] that we ever entered. We got a silver medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final. We won the World Junior title. And had success at the senior level, too, medaling internationally at Oberstdorf and competing in Grand Prix events. I think we were ranked top 10 in the world for a while, with our ISU World Standing. So it was a pretty good run. [Laughs] It was, of course, a lot of fun. It’s part of my life that almost feels like a separate life now.

Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Q:  The peak of your career coincided with the beginning of IJS (the ISU or International Judging System, which came into effect in 2004-2005). When you look back on it, did that impact you? What are your thoughts on how it affected the sport?

M:  I think of it as being fortunate, in a lot of ways. Our partnership was formed with the mindset of 6.0, where there was a lot of stress on quality and individuality and creativity. And IJS of course stresses those things, but adds a really high technical incentive as well. So we kind of got schooling from both eras. You know, they tested IJS at the Junior Grand Prix before they took it to the senior ranks. So our first JGP was [one of] the first events ever that was judged in IJS. We didn’t even really know what was happening. The scores and stuff were really confusing, and sort of meaningless to us. 

One thing that was funny ….Because of the timing, we were maybe the first team or person to be 2nd in the short [program] and 2nd in the free skate and win the event overall. In 6.0, if you were top 3 in the short and won the free skate, you won. That was how the factoring worked. But in IJS, it’s the points total. It happened that a team was fourth in the short program behind us, and then first in the free skate ahead of us. But we were way higher in the short, and really close in the free skate. So we won overall. I remember being so confused, because that couldn’t happen in 6.0. I was like: “How did we get 2nd and 2nd and win?” So that was a funny moment with experiencing IJS in the early days. It shaped the foundation of us as a team, and me as a skater, and even now, me as a coach. I’m glad that I was able to experience both judging systems. I think there’s something really foundational in the 6.0 system that is good for skaters now to be aware of. I try to impart that knowledge to my students.

Q:  I was looking back on some of your old programs, and noticed that you guys had some long spiral sequences in unison, which you just don’t see any more in IJS skating.

M:  The rules have changed so much. Even within IJS, they’ve changed so much. They added choreographic sequences, and made some tweaks and time limits. The early version of IJS looks really different, I think, than the current version we have now.

Q:  Yes, those programs from that time period, you can really see the transition happening. At first, it wasn’t that different. Then, it was.

M:  We were like guinea pigs. When we went to Junior Worlds our first time, we didn’t really understand levels. We’d do an element, and we were like, “Okay, I guess that counts as a difficult entry.” We didn’t know that we needed to try for that. We were just trying to innovate and be unique and interesting. And those things also gave you points. I think that’s a good perspective to have nowadays. A lot of coaches, choreographers, skaters, we get stuck with: “Well, we know this counts, so let’s do it.” That’s why you see, in a lot of IJS programs, not a ton of difference, or creativity. But there are things that can fulfill the requirements that are also special and unique and hold the interest of judges and fans.

Meekins/Vlassov perform a throw jump (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Q:  So you and Julia won that Junior World title, and competed for another year or so after that. And then, as you said, your partnership ended, and you teamed up briefly with Jessica Rose Paetsch. You wound up retiring kind of young, at 24. What led to that decision?

M:  It was really a shoulder injury. One that I’d originally gotten early in my career with Julia. The thing about shoulder dislocations–which was the issue I had–is that once you have a critical number of them, it’s really hard to regain the stability and strength that you once had without surgery. I was able to manage pretty well during my career with Julia. But it was a big factor in why we finished skating. One of the risks of getting together when you’re 11 and 15–whatever we were–and going to the senior elite level, is that you don’t know if you’re going to be a great match once you both become full adults. Our height difference wasn’t as significant as a lot of the senior teams. And I think that caused stress on my shoulder, which was already prone to injury. 

I tried to continue my career. But, among other obstacles, the shoulder was a really big one. I ultimately had surgery in 2011 to repair it. And I intended on making a return to competitive skating. But by that point, I felt like it was time to finish that chapter. It was a hard choice. I understand it, and I regret it, at the same time. I still could go either way every day. Because once you finish competing, you can’t do it again, right? It’s a very limited thing in an athlete’s life. But a lot of things were making the path to continue harder and harder every day. Ultimately, I hope it was the right choice. I think it was.

Q:  The last few years, we’ve heard from several retired skaters about the difficulty of stepping away.

M:  I would compare it to grieving a loss. It’s the loss of a part of you. A really large part of you, that you can remember fondly, but you can’t ever do again. It’s very much like grieving the loss of a person, in a lot of ways. I think that’s why we’ve seen some athletes really eloquently express the hardships of that. And that was something I faced as well. But sometimes the choices you need to make aren’t always easy ones–and we still have to make them.

Choreography and coaching

After Meekins ended his competitive career, he quickly moved into coaching and choreography work in Colorado Springs. As a choreographer, he has created programs for many top national and international competitors. This past season (2020-2021), he choreographed short programs for Karen Chen and Yelim Kim, both of whom placed top 5 in that segment at the 2021 World Figure Championships.  As a coach, he has worked with many high-level singles skaters, including Camden Pulkinen, Vincent Zhou, Ting Cui, and Kim. Meekins was also a member of Mirai Nagasu’s coaching team when she went to her second Olympic Games in 2018. Additionally, he helped coach lower-level pairs. 

Q:  So you made the decision to retire, and then transitioned into coaching and choreography pretty quickly. How did that happen?

M:  I was coaching a little bit, even [during] the last five years of my competitive skating. When I made the choice to retire, part of it was that I was really motivated to get into coaching. I felt like I could affect the world of skating, and leave my mark on it, better as a coach at that point than I could as an athlete. So, one door closed, and the other one, I jumped through. Skated through, I guess. [Laughs]  

It was fortunate that I was at the Broadmoor World Arena, a U.S. Olympic training site. It’s a very lucky place to be as a young coach, because you have a lot of high-level athletes as potential clients, if you can work for, and earn, their business. In my mind, I had envisioned myself being a pairs coach and starting a pairs program. But when I started, there was a need for choreography at the rink, for whatever reason. The first few coaches who approached me to work with some of their higher-level kids needed help in choreography, skating skills, and off-ice movement. And I had studied dance in college a bit, and danced with a few professional companies. So I had experience in that, and loved it, and loved choreography. I felt like I was filling a strategic niche in the market, rather than: “Yes, this is what I always envisioned doing.” I didn’t really think of myself as someone who was going to become an Olympic choreographer. But it was my foot in the door, so I did it. 

Q:  It must have been a great learning experience, to work with so many high-level skaters and coaches in Colorado Springs.

M:  I’ve always valued learning very highly as a coach. My first few years, I thought: “What can I learn from the great coaches and choreographers in this sport?” When I was first coaching, I’d go home and write notes. Everything I’d heard from Tom Zakrajsek or Tom Dickson, or whomever I was collaborating with, I’d just take tons and tons of notes. I think that you can learn something from everyone. And you should. Whether you’re more experienced, less experienced–better, worse–like them, don’t like them–it doesn’t matter. They have something to teach you, whether it’s an encyclopedia’s worth or just one sentence. 

Q:  You’ve coached a lot of high-level singles skaters in Colorado Springs–among others, Mirai Nagasu and Camden Pulkinen. During your time with Mirai, she was working on triple Axels. And Camden was working on quads. As a former pairs skater, what was it like working with singles skaters on high-difficulty, or ultra-C, elements that you may not have performed yourself?

M:  Some of being a coach is about your personal experience. Some of it is not–it’s about what you learn through the process of coaching. That’s why you see someone like Eteri Tutberidze, who was largely an ice dancer, teaching the most difficult jumps in the world right now. The things I took from my career as an athlete were the approaches, and the mental and preparation aspects. And I put that into my coaching. 

I think my colleagues would describe me as very energetic in my coaching. I’m usually skating at full speed, chasing skaters around, banging on the walls, clapping at them. I feel that the more energy I put into it, the more I’m going to motivate and push them to also give their top level of energy. Before the last Olympics with Mirai–every morning, I’d go and we would run her long [program], and I’d chase her around the rink. She really thrived on that. She’s very competitive, very fiery.That style helped her push herself, to do more, to work harder. So with the experience from my competitive and coaching careers, and things I’ve learned and studied, I’m able to intersperse bits of wisdom to help the skater be more specific with their technique,  movement, or delivery. 

Meekins with Mirai Nagasu at 2018 Nationals (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Q:  I’m familiar with some of your choreography work with singles skaters. Have you choreographed for pairs skaters as well?

M:  Yes, I have choreographed for pairs at the international level. But it’s been mostly singles. If you’re a choreographer, that’s probably always going to be the case, because there’s just more singles skaters. In singles, I’ve choreographed for Vincent Zhou when he won Junior Worlds, and when he was U.S. silver medalist in seniors. And I choreographed for Camden [Pulkinen] when he was second at the Junior Grand Prix Final, as well as Karen Chen this year when she was 4th at Worlds, and also Yelim Kim, who was fifth in the short program [at Worlds]. It was kind of exciting this year to have two ladies that I’d choreographed for in the top 5 after the short program. That was really special. 

Q:  Which other choreographers’ work inspires you, or do you enjoy watching, or feel is innovative?

M:  I always looked up to Tom Dickson. He was one of my choreographers when I was competing. At the Broadmoor, he was sort of the lead choreographer. So I’m really inspired by his work, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him as a colleague and as a friend, a bit. The other person is Marina Zoueva, who was also one of my choreographers. She in particular inspires me because I admire how she has taken the role as a choreographer [to become] almost like an artistic director. She’s a primary coach whose role was more on the artistic side than the technical. That has been a large guide in my work. I’ve tried to think beyond as a choreographer, to how do I coach and teach the athlete to deliver a full package? It’s not just: “Make this look beautiful, inspiring, artistic.” It’s also, how do you do that and get the skater to land four quads? It’s great to have a vision. But if you can’t teach and train the athlete to execute the full package, then your vision is never realized. 

When I worked with Karen Chen last year on her [short] program, it was fantastic from about the second day. People were like: “This is amazing, and she looks so good.” And I was flattered. But a lot of work [went into] getting it to the level that it was at the World Championships. It was a process of setting the choreography, breaking down movements, training it with jumps, making adaptations based on how she could perform the choreography and the jumps at the same time, re-doing different parts to optimize them, and then training and polishing that final version. And pushing it to the point of:  “How do we achieve the highest quality in everything?”  

Karen Chen performs her short program at 2021 Worlds (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Marina inspired that [approach] within me, working with her, and seeing how she worked with Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White], and Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir], who were my contemporaries in that time period. When I won Junior Worlds, Tessa and Scott won [in ice dance], and Meryl and Charlie were on the podium. So we kind of grew up together. Seeing Marina do the kind of work she did really shaped my coaching. I’ve worked with her as a coach, as well. Vincent and I worked with her in the summer before the 2018 Olympics. She’s been a big inspiration. 

Q:   I was watching a video that you posted on Instagram about doing choreography for Yelim Kim’s short program this year. As you were in your living room demonstrating choreography, you showed Yelim how to go from one pose to another, and how she had to gradually “pull into” the second pose, slowly shifting her weight. It was interesting how you showed not just one movement, or another, but how to transition beautifully between them.

M: My background in dance affects how I teach movement. Movement is also very technical. A lot of people think technique [is] jumps and spins. But there’s also the specific technique of how you move the body. Just as you have a very specific timing of a triple–you might cross the foot, slice the arm, engage the whatever–the same is true when you make a choreographic movement happen. My studies in dance composition and dance theory have inspired the way that I teach movement. It is technical. How do you engage certain muscles to show different energy qualities, to convey feelings? How do you do that, technically, properly? Skating should look effortless, graceful. You can achieve those things, but it’s through a lot of detailed and specific work. Technical work.

New pairs skating program & trends in pairs skating

With the support of U.S. Figure Skating and the Broadmoor World Arena, Meekins recently launched his own pairs skating group in Colorado Springs. Meekins talked about how the program got started and some of his new teams. He also addressed some current issues in pairs skating.

Q:  Now you’re working as a primary pairs skating coach, with your own group. Tell me how this began.

M:  Well, I had always envisioned myself coaching pairs. It’s always been part of the plan. So, it’s no surprise that things are evolving this way. It’s like rotations in medical school, right? Any coach who wants to be a primary coach should be knowledgeable about all aspects. Pairs technique, I’m knowledgeable about from my experience as an elite athlete and also as a pairs coach thus far. Singles technique, I’ve learned as a coach from working with Tom Zakrejsek and Tammy Gambill and Christy Krall, and others like Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson. And there’s the choreography aspect–artistry, skating skills. I think of [my career] so far as a bit like [doing] rotations. You need knowledge of everything to be successful. Now, I feel like my point of view is really thorough and well-rounded. 

Q:  Currently, you’re coaching Danny Neudecker and his new partner, Alexandra (Sasha) Fakhroutdinov, and also a new Australian pairs team, right?

M:  Yes. The Australian team is Campbell Young and Lachlan Lewer-Parr. Campbell Young had grown up in Colorado Springs, and she was looking for a new partner. We’re so lucky to have found Lachlan. He’s a wonderful young man to work with, and a really promising pairs skater. He’s pretty much gone from nothing to senior-level in just a few months, so that’s been a lot of work. But it’s a fun thing to be a part of. 

Meekins with new Australian team Young/Lewer-Parr (Photo courtesy of Drew Meekins)

Q:  Sasha Fakhroutdinov and Danny Neudecker teamed up shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit. So we’ve not had much opportunity to see them yet.

M:  Yes. Danny and I have worked together for a while. I was a choreographer for him and Nica [Digerness, his previous partner] for many years, and [their] assistant coach for a time. So I’ve had a good working relationship with Danny. Yes, he and Sasha paired up last season, in the midst of everything [the pandemic] hitting. So there were no competitions for them to get out to. This is like their first season. They’re a new team, but exciting. They both are incredibly strong skaters. The power and strength they’re able to deliver, just kind of naturally, is impressive and eye-catching. I think it makes their look unique. My goal is to help stabilize their technique and get them to a place where they can really perform as a full package. 

Note:  After our interview, Fakhroutdinov/Neudecker won the Broadmoor Open, their first full competition together, with a total combined score of 140.33.

Q:  It sounds like they have a different style than Nica and Danny.

M:  Yes. Nica and Danny had some lovely qualities and such a nice look on the ice. Sasha and Danny do as well, but Sasha brings out a different side of Danny’s skating. I think it’s very mature, very senior. Of course, he’s grown up since he was a junior pairs skater. 

Q:  As you’re developing this new pairs group, have you had any issue getting ice time specifically for your pairs? Or has that been readily available?

M:  The Broadmoor World Arena, as a U.S. Olympic training site, has been very supportive of a pairs program. When the opportunity came up to lead the charge [on that] over the last year and a half, I met with the director, Allan Long. We came up with a plan to offer pairs skaters the ice time and training to create an elite pairs program. I’m extremely pleased with how the rink has supported my ability to do that during a global epidemic. There are five teams training with us, and some other skaters as well, who are still looking for partners. The facility wants to lead in all disciplines. They’ve been a leader in women’s and men’s singles skating, and we have a thriving, developing ice dance program. Now, we’re starting to put ourselves out there as a pairs program. The intention is to continue building. The facility [has] been clear–as I have–that this is something we are going to do. I think it’s made the place attractive to pairs skaters. We have every resource at their disposal to be in a training center where they can thrive.

Q:  Has the federation [U.S. Figure Skating] also supported the effort to start your program?

M:  Oh, certainly. A big benefit of being in Colorado Springs is that we are at such close proximity to headquarters. We see members of the High Performance department often, and we have communications about our athletes and initiatives. I think U.S. Figure Skating is broadly supportive of all programs, as they should be, and certainly ours is no exception. But we’re extra lucky to have them live and in person to see what we’re doing and give little tidbits about how we can do better. It’s a big benefit of our proximity and relationship with them. 

Q: These days, we’re seeing a lot of top-level pairs skaters competing longer and longer. Skaters like Aljona Savchenko, Eric Radford, Vanessa James, Zoe Jones, and Hao Zhang are competing into their mid- to late thirties, and even beyond in Jones’s case. What do you think is driving this trend?

M:  I think it’s probably lots of different things. There’s opportunity for people [to continue] in skating at an older age, especially in the discipline of pairs, where the body is used in a way that is a bit different than, say, in ladies singles skating. Also, the technology and technique of injury prevention and maintaining one’s body is improving constantly. So the natural progression is that it allows an athlete to compete at a higher level [for] longer. But it’s interesting, because in pairs skating, the [current] World champions, Mishina/Galliamov, are 2019 Junior World champions.  

Q:  Do Mishina/Galliamov represent the start of a trend of younger pairs champions, in your opinion?

M:  Only time will tell. Certainly, their promise has already been proven. I fully expect them to continue at the level that they’re at for quite some time.

Meekins with Fakhroutdinov/Neudecker at 2021 Broadmoor Open (Photo courtesy of Drew Meekins)

Q:  You mentioned the challenges that U.S. pairs have faced in moving to the top level of international pairs skating. How can American pairs continue to progress?

M:  That’s a great question. It’s something I’m very passionate about, and is central to why I’m doing this. Pairs skating, I think, is ready for a rebrand. I mentioned my inspiration from Marina Zoueva … We saw Marina do that with ice dancing. She was one of the coaches who took ice dance to the look [and level] of a Virtue/Moir and a Davis/White. And we’ve seen that continue with some great coaches in Montreal–Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. I think there are a lot of pairs coaches now, myself included, who are interested in the idea of: What can pairs skating be in 2022? How can we make this discipline thrive? How can we make it dynamic, fresh, and innovative? It’s about changing the game a bit. That’s where I want to take my program. 

Q:  Where would you like to see pairs skating go?

M:  There’s many ways we could rethink how we’re doing things in pairs. That can mean stylistic and artistic changes. It can also mean how we approach elements and, to some degree, what they look like. A lot of elements in pairs look similar. I think there are ways to innovate and be creative with the rules and constraints and work toward something new, fresh, and different. I know those are abstract terms, but I think it’s going to be abstract until somebody does it. Of course, [there are] these technical element warhorses that we have, that all the teams need. But it’s like, how do we innovate those things? 

Q:  As an observer, I’ve felt a bit dissatisfied since they reduced the duration of pairs free skates from 4:30 to 4:00 minutes. I feel like there’s a loss of choreography, of time to set a theme. Do you see the program time change as being part of the problem, or not?

M:  I think that you might be perceiving [stagnation] as a result of that change. But I’m not sure that it has to be. It’s important to think about how we’re doing these elements, how we’re structuring programs, so that each thing can have a meaningful, intentional impact. It’s easy to get lost in this formulaic checklist of elements, especially when the time has been reduced to do them. But, that’s not the only way. I think the discipline is ripe for a change, and a watershed moment, to show this is really what pairs skating can be. 

Q:  Pairs skating has been beset with a number of scandals in recent years. As a coach, how do you deal with that? How do you run a program that’s genuinely supportive of athletes and a step forward from what we’ve seen the last few years?

M:  My philosophy as a coach is that everybody deserves an environment in which they can thrive, in which they are healthy and happy. Everyone deserves a fair shot at reaching their best potential. Those are guiding principles to me. I require that from every athlete, parent, and coach that I encounter. I think if you follow those principles, you will create an environment that is all of those things. I think that my program will hold up those principles to the highest degree. 

I’ve been on the athletes’ side. I’ve been in situations, as an athlete and as a young coach,  when I saw things or was treated in ways that I didn’t feel were fair, that I didn’t feel were in everyone’s best interests. And I think those [experiences] have shaped my coaching [to make it] stronger. 

Q:  One issue that’s been discussed in recent years is that there are usually more available women skaters than men skaters in pairs skating, which can perhaps lead to power imbalances. How do you address that situation?

M:  I think my own experience as a male pairs skater guides that. There might be fewer male skaters than female skaters. But ultimately, it’s a team that thrives. It’s not an individual. It’s not the man, and it’s not the woman. It’s the team. That is something that everyone has to understand–the coach, the male athlete, the female athlete. 

I know that when Julia and I were our strongest, it’s because our team was strongest. It’s because we worked together, pushed each other, and trusted each other. We needed each other. My experience as an athlete makes that really clear to me; [it’s] how I coach both male and female skaters. Ultimately, you are only strong when you’re a team. Because this is a team sport. It’s about the two people coming together to create something. 

The Inside Edge

Meekins and I also discussed another aspect of the sport that he’s been involved in: Journalism. For a number of years, Meekins co-wrote, with author Sarah S. Brannen, a column called “The Inside Edge with Sarah and Drew” for IceNetwork (the now-defunct skating web site and digital streaming service). In their column, Meekins and Brannen shared a relaxed and slightly cheeky view of events backstage at U.S. Nationals and other competitions. The column was a fan favorite, in an era before smartphones allowed easy sharing of backstage photos and quotes. 

Meekins with Inside Edge co-writer Sarah S. Brannen

Q:  Tell me about “The Inside Edge” column that you wrote with Sarah S. Brannen. How did that start?

M:  Sarah is a good friend of mine. One of my first students was her niece, so I’ve known her for a really long time. After Julia and I finished skating together, it was my first time potentially missing the U.S. Championships; I’d been going every year since 2003. Sarah, who is an author and illustrator of children’s books, and also wrote skating articles, said: “I’ve got this idea. What if we go to Nationals, and we take your point of view as a national and international competitor, and mine as a writer, and we give the fans a never-before-seen take on what it’s like to be [backstage] at Nationals?” 

Sarah pitched it to IceNetwork, and they liked the idea, and so we went. Both of us share a fun, light, silly take on things, so we wrote in that style. We were trying to share all the little quirky things about skating that we loved. Like when you’re at Nationals, and you’re in the hotel, and you see what everyone’s wearing. 

Those were all the things that I loved about skating. When I was a little boy and went to events, I was just so fascinated by all these interesting, glamorous coaches, skaters, people, officials–what they were saying, what they were doing, what they were wearing, who they were with, what they were talking about. It was like my Hollywood. And that’s what that column was. 

I say often that I’ve been a fan, a skater, a coach, and a journalist in this sport. I’ve done a lot of different things. [Laughs]  It’s because this is my life. This sport is one of my true loves. It’s what I’m doing on this Earth. 

Q:  I’m glad that you shared that part of your life with us, because I always really enjoyed those columns. They were like a window onto that world. I still remember the number of Michelle Kwan sightings (a regular feature of the column).

M:  That just came from things that I liked. I’d text Sarah, or another friend, and be like, “Oh my God, I just saw Michelle Kwan. She was eating French fries.” Or, “She was at Starbucks.” When Michelle Kwan walked into a room, it was like the earth stopped turning for a second. If you didn’t take note of that experience, you were doing Nationals wrong! [Laughs

Q:  Any parting thoughts before we wrap up?

M: There’s a bit of thinking in some schools that you’re either a technical coach, or an artistic coach; a singles coach, or a pairs coach. I’m not willing to limit myself to only one of those areas. I want to be successful in all of them, because I enjoy all of them. I don’t think it’s easy; nothing is really easy in skating. But the only limit you have is your own thinking about it. And that’s not the way that I’m willing to think. 

You can follow Drew Meekins on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/drew_meekins/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Drew_Meekins.

Note: If you’re enjoying articles on The Divine Sport, please take 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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