As the world awaits next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, here in the United States the wait will not be quite as long. The 2017 Stars on Ice tour arrives at Hershey’s Giant Center on Thursday, May 4, with figure skating’s ultimate preview of Olympic hopefuls.
Returning with Stars on Ice are reigning Olympic Ice Dance Gold Medalists, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Davis and White are the first American ice dancers to win the World title, as well as the first Americans to win the Olympic ice dancing gold medal, accomplishments backed by years of training and dedication to the sport of figure skating.
A few weeks ago, Central Penn Parent caught up with Charlie White to talk about the upcoming tour, as well as glean some “youth sports wisdom” to pass along to parents raising their own Olympic hopefuls.
We also reached out to skaters from figure skating clubs in the Midstate, asking them to send us their questions for Charlie—together, the kids came up with a great interview! (Photo Credit: Minori Yanagishima.)
Stars on Ice – new year, new show
Central Penn Parent: Show skating is much different than competitive skating, and this year two new, young skaters are joining Stars on Ice — Men’s and Women’s U.S. National Champions, Nathan Chen and Karen Chen. When you and Meryl first joined Stars on Ice, how did you make the transition to being part of a touring show?
Charlie White: I was very lucky, our first tour with Stars on Ice was after the 2010 Olympics. My girlfriend, now wife, Tanith (Belbin White), had done many tours with Stars on Ice and she was on that tour. She was really able to help guide me through the ups and downs. Stars on Ice is always such a fabulous experiences. All the skaters are so close, despite that fact that so many of us have competed against each other. We do feel like a family. And I think that translates well onto the ice.
CPP: How is this year’s Stars on Ice show different from past shows?
CW: The unfortunate passing of director Jef Billings has left a huge hole in the hearts of the Stars on Ice family. But the director’s role is being filled capably by Jeffrey Buttle, who is a World Champion Canadian skater and who will also be doing the choreography for the show. I think what he brings as a director and choreographer is a sense of how fun skating is. I’m really expecting that to be the highlight of the show. The exuberance and fun, the steps and the personality he’s able to pull from every skater is exceptional.
Youth sports, growing up on ice, and finding balance
CPP: Growing up, you figure skated, played hockey and you also played violin. What were the expectations regarding academics in your house and how did you balance school, sports and other activities?
CW: Everything was balanced tenuously. When you’re doing that many things, it’s not easy, it’s very challenging. All of the things I was so fortunate to take on, it was of my own choosing, so doing it all felt like the right thing to do.
There was no question in my parent’s heads from day one that school was the most important by far. If I was going to be missing school for hockey tournaments or for figure skating competitions, I had to be in perfect standing with my teachers, to be getting my work done. I understood the consequence and I was able to appreciate the aspects of education that I think are too often viewed as busywork. I enjoyed learning, and my school focused on building an individual, as opposed to building just an academic entity.
The balance of going to school also allowed me to better appreciate the sports and violin. And I can attest to that, because after I graduated high school, Meryl and I took a year off before we started attending the University of Michigan. We were just skating, and it was more than just a hobby. It really started to feel overwhelming because I didn’t have a good balance. It was just skating all the time, and that can be OK. But, definitely, to give kids the best opportunity in life, balance is important.
CPP: How can parents best support kids in their sport without being “that parent”…maybe pushing kids too hard or setting goals that aren’t in line with what the child wants? How can parents be good sports parents?
CW: That‘s a great question. It’s not easy, and it’s different for every kid. But I think there are two main things that really come into play for a kid to be able to get the most out of a sport.
The first is to help kids focus on having fun. With so much in life and school, there are pressures and expectations. It’s not getting easier to be a kid. Sports are something that should be enjoyable. I’m not saying it’s always easy, but parents should try to find ways to make it fun for the kid.
That leads to my next point: That kids should always try their hardest. Always give 100 percent. And the two really go hand in hand. If you want to be able to have fun, the surest way to get the most fun out of anything is to give 100 percent. Doing so increases your skills, your appreciation for the difficulties of a sport, and it increases the rate at which you improve, which leads back to allowing you to have more fun. Mastery of skills leads kids to having a good time. It’s not a bad thing to enjoy competition, it’s not a bad thing to enjoy winning, but ultimately it’s about having fun.
So I would tell parents to focus on those two things. If your kid isn’t holding themselves accountable for effort in a sport, it’s easy to make it clear that it’s not a right to participate in an extracurricular activity, it’s a privilege. Sports are a special opportunity to learn about others, learn about yourself and to have fun. And if one sport is not for a kid, that’s OK. There are other ways to express yourself and enjoy sports.
CPP: Every athlete has a tough competition where maybe things don’t go as planned. Did you always deal well with that as a kid? And how did your post-competition self-talk change as you got older?
CW: I had many, many competitions where things went horribly awry. That’s just the nature of figure skating because it’s just so difficult, so hard. That can’t be understated. You want to perform your best and you commit so much time to it, and when things don’t go your way, it’s acceptable to be upset.
When I was a kid, I remember a specific sensation getting off the ice when I didn’t perform well and wanting to be able to turn around, go back out on the ice and give it another shot. What I recognized was that if I could prepare myself in any way possible so that I wouldn’t have to deal with that sensation, I would do the work. If you prepare as hard as you can–within reason, with the energy you have, with time allotted–you can only be disappointed to a degree. That’s something I’ve taken with me through my career, to say, “I‘ve done as much as I can, I listened to my coaches, I got enough sleep. If something doesn’t go right, I can honestly say it’s because figure skating is hard, and I can look in the mirror and know I didn’t let myself down.”
And I think that’s the case in anything in life, whether it’s sports or school.
Questions from local figure skaters. Meet them here!
“Do you play other recreational sports that help you with figure skating?” – Genya Schaller, 15, Hershey Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: I played soccer all through middle school, and I really enjoyed that. I did freestyle skating, dance and hockey. Those were my main three sports, I guess. I didn’t have a ton of time outside of that. In school, I made it a point to go get out and play any recreational sports that were going on at the time. But I really was a “rink rat.” I think what’s great about any sport off the ice is it brings a level of awareness to your skating that skaters are oftentimes missing because they primarily stick to the ice. A lot of my friends who have had success at higher levels, a lot of times they are able to excel because of their comfort level doing thing that not all skaters are bodily aware of doing.
“What was your practice schedule like when you were 10 years old?” – Jonathan Plank, 10, Central Pennsylvania Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: I don’t know if I skated every day, but close. I was on the ice maybe four days a week for 45 minutes freestyle and 45 minutes dance. Hockey was two to three times a week, between practice and games.
“You and Meryl have been partners since you were young children and clearly have had a very successful partnership. What would you say has been most important in building and maintaining that collaboration?” – Lily Delle-Levine, 16, Red Rose Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: I think just general respect for one another. We started skating together when we were 8 and 9, and we had no idea what we were getting into when we started ice dancing. We had a lot of success because we both worked hard, the work ethic was there. And I think it’s important when you have a close partnership with anyone that you be on the same page as far as short term goals and eventually long term goals. It’s important just to be able to relate to one another in terms of what is hard work, what is the level of sacrifice we’re willing to put in. If you can’t agree on that, it’s difficult to move forward. Obviously, being able to exist respectfully, that’s one of the things I’ve learned from a long-term partnership. At the end of the day, you are trying to get to the same place. Even if there are disagreements, you understand that it’s because you both care, and it’s easy to work past that and find a solution that’s beneficial to everyone.
“What was the hardest thing to give up to train exclusively?” – Cathryn McCaffrey, 12, White Rose Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: I think for me it was tough because I loved doing so many things. A lot of time, I had to miss a hockey tournament for figure skating or miss figure skating practice for a hockey game. I had a great groups of friends at the rink and at home. I didn’t have as many sleepovers or get-togethers because of my schedule, and I guess I just understood that was part of it. I never thought, “Ah, dang it.” I think I just came to terms with it. But for me, just knowing that in doing so many things, ultimately, I had to let people down at points, that was disappointing for me. As part of a hockey team, I felt bad if I had to miss a games for a competition. Or if I had to miss practice with Meryl or had to cancel on my coach—the conflict was difficult, but it allowed me to appreciate what was I doing, and drove me to continue, even with the time crunch.
How old were you when you started skating and how many medals have you won? – Nolan Smith, 6, Sikumi Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: I started figure skating and playing hockey when I was 5.
Fortunately, when you have a really long career, you have the opportunity to win lots of medals. I think I’m proudest that I’ve been able to win three Olympic medals — one in every color — two World Championships and two World silver medals. What we took away and appreciated were the moments of growth and experiences, especially being able to travel and learn about ourselves, maybe even more so than all the medals that we’ve won.
Where is your favorite place to be or things to do when you are not on the ice? – Rayann Purdy, age 8, Sikumi Figure Skating Club
Charlie White: My favorite thing to do now is enjoy being at home. So much of our skating takes us around the world—we have exhibitions in Japan, I’ve just been to Switzerland, I’ll be going to Finland to do commentary on the World Championships. I love traveling, it’s one of the perks of being an international athlete. However, I’ve been married now for two years, I have two amazing dogs, and I really love being home. We have a great little river near us and there’s a park. The peace of being at home and being with my family is probably my favorite thing.
Final question from our two hockey skaters, Jonathan and Nolan: “Who is your favorite hockey team and do you still play hockey?”
Charlie White: I’m from Detroit, so the Detroit Red Wings. I still do get to play hockey, but not as often as I like. You can really play hockey for your whole life. Wherever life takes you, you can always take hockey with you.
See Charlie and Meryl and the rest of the Stars on Ice cast this May at the Giant Center in Hershey!