Five elite athletes open up on what it takes to compete at a world-class level, the sacrifices they’ve made, and the dreams they cherish.
Inspiration for living a positive, active life can be found all around us – but seeing top amateur athletes in action as they compete to achieve their dreams can be especially moving. Here, in their own words, a few top winter athletes share their thoughts on their passions for their sports. Win or lose, it’s the pursuit of the active life and spirit of healthy competition that defines them and their journeys.
Photo credit: Harry How / Getty Images
From: Palo Alto, California; training in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Career Highlights: 2017 World Junior Champion; 2017 Bavarian Open Champion; 2017 U.S. National Silver Medalist
Follow on: Instagram and Twitter at @govincentzhou
“I wake up in the morning at about 7:30. I do some exercises, eat breakfast and am on the ice by 9:30. I skate three hours a day in four sessions. We break them up so our muscles have time to recover – you can’t skate three hours in a row! I finish at 3:05. After I get my skates off I just go home, take a hot bath and eat dinner.
Winning at the global level has been a goal since childhood.
“Honestly, I love all of the training, because every time I’m working hard I know it’s going to help me toward my dreams. When the exercises get tiring, I think about how these extra reps are going to help me succeed. It’s worth it! Winning at the global level has been a goal since childhood. A few years ago it felt like an improbable dream. Now I’ve had success at international competitions and I’m inching my way toward it. I’ve worked really hard, and I’m not going to let it go.
“Looking back, I can’t believe how much my family sacrificed. I was 8 and talented, but my family made a huge investment in the decision to move so I could train. My mom had to quit her job; she was a computer software engineer. I’m so unbelievably grateful she made that decision. I’ve been working hard to realize my dream, and I’m getting closer and closer to it.”
Vincent Zhou. Photo: Jason Hanna / Stringer / Getty Images
Photo credit: On Man Kevin Lee / ISU
via Getty Images
Age: Respectively, 26 and 30
From: Respectively, Addison, Illinois, and San Diego, California; training in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Career Highlights: 2015 National Pairs Champions; 2013 and 2016 National Silver Medalists
Follow on: Twitter at @Scimeca_Knierim
Chris: “I’d been skating in Colorado, and Alexa contacted my coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, with the intention of moving out here and looking for a partner. About a week earlier, I’d broken up with my partner, so that’s how Alexa and I met. That was 2012. We skate five days a week, and then we have off-ice training four days a week. We do weightlifting and a lot of cardio. As the season progresses, we’ll cut back on that to two days a week.
We worked on developing our connection and friendship off the ice, knowing that it would translate in our training and performance.
“In terms of our personal relationship, the fire on the ice really started off of it. As soon as I picked Alexa up from the airport, we had a great connection. For a couple of months, we worked on developing our connection and friendship off the ice, knowing that it would translate in our training and performance. Before you know it, we kissed and the rest is history. My girlfriend, my fiancée, my wife ... but always my partner, in every sense of the word.”
Alexa: “I started skating when I was 7 at a rink a couple blocks from my house, in the public skate program. On the other side of the building there was a skating school, and the directors of the school saw me running around on the ice and thought I had potential. They sought out my mom in the lobby and asked if I would be interested in taking it to the next level. We went for it! From 8 years old, probably, until 16 or 17, I didn’t realize what it takes to make it to the very top of amateur competition on the global level, and I don’t think I had the belief until about four years ago that I could succeed in doing so.
“Heading into nationals in 2015, we had blinders on, because we felt it was ours to lose. Looking back, [the win] was validation that we were on the right track with our goal-setting – from a preparation standpoint, an execution standpoint and, frankly, an ability standpoint. Maybe it’s that last one – ability – that’s the most important. It was a vote of confidence that we cast for ourselves. It’s hard to explain, but the impact was immeasurable. It was truly amazing!”
Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim. Photo: Feng Li / Getty Images
Photo credit: Toby Miller
From: Beverly Hills, Michigan; training in Vail, Colorado
Career Highlights: 8th, 2016 World Snowboard Tour, Half-Pipe; 7th, 2017 Burton U.S. Open, Half-Pipe; 13th, 2017 World Snowboard Championships, Half-Pipe
Follow on: Instagram at @zoe_kalapos and Twitter at @zoekalapos
“When I was a kid, all my extended family lived in northern Michigan, and we lived down in metro Detroit. Most weekends and holidays we went up there to visit. Both of my parents had been ski instructors when they were younger and, when I was 2, they taught me to ski up there.
Following my dreams never feels like a sacrifice.
“At age 5, I asked my dad if I could try snowboarding, which he happily agreed to since he’d already purchased me a snowboard for my first birthday. He enrolled me in the Boyne Highlands SnowSports Academy and, when I was 9, he set up a snowboard park in our backyard. At age 10 I entered my first contest and took first place in my age group. I was hooked!
“In 2010, my family was at a ski resort where the U.S. Team was training. Not only were we watching them, but we were riding the half-pipe with them. I knew that day that I wanted to be one of them. Later that year, I competed in the 13-and-under category in the U.S. Open in Vermont. I took fourth place among the best 13-and-under snowboarders in the world. That was the first time I thought, ‘I might be good at this.’
“Following my dreams never feels like a sacrifice, but, of course, I’ve made many. The biggest is that our family had to split up. My freshman year of high school I moved to Colorado with my dad and my brother Ian, who is also a competitive snowboarder. My mom was a teacher, and five years away from retiring, so she stayed behind, but she would fly out to Colorado almost every weekend, and on all holidays. Now she’s with us year-round.
“I drive a 2011 Subaru Forester. I call him ‘Frost’! He and I traverse the country and spend many hours together. We’ve been in every road condition imaginable and a few that are unimaginable, but I’m always confident I will get where I’m going safely in my Subaru.”
Zoe Kalapos. Photo: Seth Hill / RGW Productions
Photo credit: George Frey / Getty Images
Short Track Speed Skating
From: Hales Corners, Wisconsin; training in Salt Lake City, Utah
Career Highlights: Bronze, 300 meter relay, 2010 Olympics; Bronze, 300 meter relay, 2010 World Championships; Bronze, 2009 and 2011 World Team Championships
Follow on: Instagram and Twitter @alydudek
“I grew up in the Milwaukee area and, when I was a kid, my family and I would go skating for fun, either outside on frozen lakes or in the ice rink. The only thing I ever wanted to do was go as fast as I can. In 1998, when I was 7, I saw the sport of speed skating for the first time. Casey FitzRandolph competed that year and he was from Wisconsin, too, so he became my role model and inspiration.
I had dreams of making it to the top from when I was 7 years old.
“At the time, the only indoor training oval was 15 minutes from my house. They’re big, 400 meters, so most of them are outdoors. Even today there are only two indoor ovals in the country, there and in Salt Lake City, where I live and train now.
“When I was little, I was relentless. I had dreams of making it to the top from when I was 7 years old, so I always pushed myself really hard. I made my first World Cup team when I was 16, which was really young. Once I made that team, I realized that my dreams were more real, more of a real possibility.
“I train about eight hours a day, six days a week, 11 months of the year. It’s grueling. It’s painful. But we all do it because we love it and we see what the end goal is. To represent your country and be a part of something where the world comes together for once is pretty special. There’s no other job that can give you that satisfaction.”
Alyson Dudek. Photo: Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Find out more about Vincent, Alyson, Alexa and Chris, and Zoe.