Coach Spotlight: Alex Johnson

When Alex Johnson stepped away from competitive skating in spring 2019, his goal was to pursue a career in business, while staying involved with figure skating. Two years later, Johnson is thriving professionally, having recently started a new job as a financial analyst with Amazon. He’s also taking on a new, high-profile role as head coach for Camden Pulkinen, who finished fifth last season at both U.S. Nationals and Worlds. Pulkinen is a student at Columbia University in New York City. Johnson recently accompanied Pulkinen to Lake Placid for the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, where I had a chance to chat with him.

Q:  So how did you start coaching Camden Pulkinen?

Johnson:  I had made the decision to move to New York City [from Minneapolis]. When Camden found out, he knew that he was going to Columbia and would need somebody as a support system there. So he reached out to me. I went out to Colorado, when he was training there, and we had a trial lesson. We found that it was a match, and it was working. From there, he asked: Would you be part of my team when I’m in New York? The rest is history. It’s been fun.

Q:  Prior to connecting with Camden, were you actively coaching or choreographing?

Johnson:  Yes. I’ve been doing a bunch of choreography, and I’ve been teaching. I worked with some of the NYU [New York University] women, some of that collegiate team. And I helped with Team Image–the synchronized skating team–out in New Jersey. So I was doing a bunch of teaching. I also just started a new job at Amazon. I’m in their offline sales and marketing team. So I’m balancing both of those worlds. Which has been fun, but a lot. And I’m doing a lot of volunteer work with U.S. Figure Skating. So there’s a lot of moving pieces. But it’s been enjoyable to pass along the experience and knowledge that I gained from my skating. To share that with Camden, and hopefully instill some good new qualities, or new traits, that can elevate his skating.

Pulkinen: Looking for continued growth

Q:  What are you focusing on in your work with Camden?

Johnson:  I think I’m really more of a manager. At this point in his career, he really knows what he needs to do. He knows himself. So it’s been about overseeing everything and making sure that he’s taking care of his health, that he’s getting sleep, that he’s rested for training, that he’s running his programs. Beyond that, I choreographed his short program [to “Fly Me to the Moon” by Chris Mann]. I’ve been pushing him in terms of expanding his movement and his skating. He has so many beautiful qualities, and I’m really hoping to bring that out. It’s been fun. There’s a lot of things that you have to think of and take care of as a head coach. Sometimes, we don’t get to touch all of them. But I feel like it’s been a gift to have him, and I’m excited to instill some new things in his skating.

Camden Pulkinen with coaches Rafael Arutunyan and Alex Johnson (photo from Pulkinen’s Instagram)

Q:  How often do you work together in a given week?

Johnson:  Well, this summer, he was in Los Angeles with Rafael Arutunyan and his team. I went out four times this summer–for a week each time–to observe Raf and learn some of his technique, which was really nice. And I see Camden every day in New York. He’ll skate in the morning, and we’ll work through some stuff. Then I log on for work. .

Q:  Do you work remotely for Amazon?

Johnson:  Yes. There’s an [Amazon] office in the city that I can go to. But I generally work in my apartment. Which is great–I love it. It’s flexible, and it allows me to do this [coaching]. 

Q:  So you were able to find an apartment in NYC? That’s not easy these days.

Johnson:  Oh my gosh, it’s crazy. New York is a whole different ball game. But I love it.

Johnson’s student, Camden Pulkinen, will compete next at Skate Canada in Missisauga, Ontario, Canada, from Oct. 28-30.

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