Ice Network

Vargo takes skating's life lessons into career

Skating background helps attorney, budget consultant balance work, family
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Jaclyn Ward Vargo is the first African American to serve as a judge at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. -Photo Courtesy of Jaclyn Vargo

Jaclyn Ward Vargo, chair of U.S. Figure Skating's ethics committee, grew up with a passion for skating. As kids, she and her sister, Amanda Ward (the 1993 U.S. novice ladies champion), gladly made the hour-and-15-minute drive (each way) from their home to the Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, N.Y., where they trained with Peter Burrows and Mary Lynn Gelderman.

Vargo competed at the U.S. championships at the junior level. Although she knew her skating skills would only take her so far, she saw herself being involved in the sport long term, and she started trial judging on her 16th birthday.

"I got my first appointment on my 18th birthday," said Vargo, who attended college at Harvard, putting her in close proximity to countless opportunities to judge skating.

"The Skating Club of Boston and the New England community welcomed me with open arms," she recalled. "At that time, Skating Club of Boston had their test sessions either Saturday or Sunday mornings, so it worked very well with a college schedule. It was biking distance. I really lucked out that regionals and sectionals were often a drive away.

"I was able to balance it," she added. "It was a high point. It wasn't ever drudgery or a task. It was something I really enjoyed. I obviously love figure skating. I also loved that judging worked this analytical side of your brain."

After graduating from Harvard and attending Fordham University School of Law, Vargo became an assistant district attorney in the New York County DA's Office. At times, skating took a back seat to her work, but it remained a presence in her life. She received her national judging appointment and judged at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, becoming the first African American to sit on a panel at that event.

"Happy to see now I'm not the only one," she noted.

After becoming mother to Isadora, 3½, Vargo found the life of a prosecutor was compatible with motherhood neither from a practical nor emotional standpoint. She and her wife, a social worker who recently began a psychotherapy practice, also have Blake, 1.

Since 2011, Vargo has been associate director of career services and diversity initiatives at Brooklyn Law School. She also is a budget coach, helping individuals and families create and implement financial plans -- something skating taught her a lot about.

"Growing up in such a small community (Sullivan County, N.Y.), I don't think that I would have had the world view that I have without figure skating," Vargo said. "People would come from all over the world to train during the summer. That gave me a lot of exposure.

"I can say, 'My name is Jackie' in Japanese," she added. "It also taught me about accountability. There is absolutely no short cut."

In addition to skating, Vargo has also been involved with Gotham Girls Roller Derby -- even competing and winning a national title in 2008.

As a career counselor at Brooklyn Law School, Vargo works with students from the time they enter to a year after graduation. Her job involves advising students about career options and helping them define professional goals. She also is involved in diversity initiatives, working with nonprofit organizations and bar associations to discover and develop opportunities for LGBT students and students of color. 

She tries to instill in the students the same sense of determination and resilience she learned through skating.

"Life is about the ability to tuck and roll and adapt," Vargo said. "Just like in skating, you fall, you get up and keep moving."