Ice Network

Czisny pursues skating, only in different direction

Two-time U.S. champ done with competing, focusing on shows, coaching
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Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny is happy to close the book on her competitive career and move on to other pursuits. -Getty Images

More than six months have passed since Alissa Czisny, one of the most original American skaters of the last decade, made the difficult decision to give up her dream of making the U.S. Olympic team.

The elegant skater's career has been marked by impressive highs and painful lows. Despite these inconsistencies, the two-time U.S. champion and 2010 Grand Prix Final champion remains one of the most beloved personalities on show ice both in her own country and around the world.

The recipe for her wide appeal is multi-faceted. Among them is the sincere pleasure she brings to her performances each and every time she steps on the ice. She brings the highest level of artistry and a deep understanding of music to her skating. She showed all of these qualities in the Stars on Ice tour this year.

Czisny's coaches, Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, play an equally important role in the skater's life. Besides skating technique, they have worked a lot on her mental approach. As a result, Czisny has changed many of her previous views on the sport. In turn, she has influenced her coaches in many ways.

"It has been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs, from the fifth-place finish at worlds in Moscow (in 2011) to a rather unforgettable result in Nice (where Czisny finished 22nd at worlds in 2012) for the exact opposite reasons. The last few years have been spent helping Alissa return from two major surgeries in two years.

"The one thing that always stayed consistent was Alissa's determination to get better, and that still persists to today," Dungjen added.

Dungjen noted that his collaboration with Czisny was the first time he'd worked with someone at her level. It has been a learning experience for not just the skater but the coach as well.

"She helped me realize that if you and your student can work as a team, then anything is possible," Dungjen said. "I have also learned how to deal with adversity as a coach. I realized that no matter how bad something goes, if [the skater has] given all that I have asked from them, then I need to give my all back."

Sato, too, points out how the educational process with Czisny has been a two-way street.

"She is an athlete with true dedication, besides the fact that she is a beautiful skater. She taught us many things," Sato said. "Her dedication as a skater and an athlete made us reassure and reinforce discipline. It's never about just the talent but the work ethic that makes us better, [and] Alissa is the role model of [that]."

There is no doubt that Czisny and her coaches will be left with mostly pleasant memories from the time they spent together.

"She is a kind and loving person. It's been absolutely an honor to have worked with Alissa for the past few years," Sato concluded.

Icenetwork: In January, after your withdrawal from the 2014 Midwestern sectionals, you said that the future is still uncertain to you, adding that you definitely want to continue skating through performing in shows. Has your attitude changed at all?

Czisny: After withdrawing from this qualifying season, I still entertained the idea that I could possibly compete next season, should I regain my full capabilities and improve beyond that. However, given the increasingly difficult requirements of amateur competition (and the fact that I'm now considered "old" for a skater), I feel that it is best for me to pursue skating in a different direction. I still love the sport, and I still love skating and performing. I am sad that I won't be competing any longer -- as it's been a part of my life since I was very young -- but I'm looking forward to the new opportunities in my skating career and in other avenues of life!

Icenetwork: How did you feel after making such a difficult decision in the Olympic season?

Czisny: It was heartbreakingly difficult to admit that I wasn't far enough along in recovering from both surgeries and wasn't good enough to attempt to compete this (last) season. The Olympic Games is the culmination of every athlete's journey and the highest goal in an athlete's career. To miss the opportunity to compete for a spot on the team meant that I had to give up that dream of mine.

Icenetwork: Often times, meaningful life events end up having a positive side. What was it for you? Was it something like: "OK, now I don't need to get up so early and go to training" and so on?

Czisny: Well, I've certainly had more time in my life now that I'm not spending so many hours each day training for competitions! It's given me a chance to relax more and to pursue other interests, as well as spend more time cultivating relationships.

I was able to visit my parents in California and enjoy some sunshine and outdoor activities (while the rest of my friends in Michigan were trying to survive our record-breaking snowy winter!). But it's hard to get used to the change, hard to get used to not spending all my efforts toward training and preparation for competitions. There's an inherent satisfaction in the accomplishment of daily training, and I miss that part of training. But as happens to all of us, life changes, and we can embrace the hope of new things to come!

Icenetwork: How has your attitude toward figure skating changed since the beginning of your career?

Czisny: When I began my skating career so many years ago, I never expected that it would take me as far as it has. I've had the honor of skating all over the country and the world, sharing my love of the sport with many people, and I've met so many wonderful people throughout the years.

When I was very young, skating was something that I loved to do. As I grew up, I continued to love skating itself, although there were times when I questioned my continued commitment to the difficult sport. However, those difficulties only increased my passion for the sport, because I found that they presented opportunities to push the boundaries of my beliefs and abilities. As hard as the sport may be for me sometimes, I cannot deny that it is a gift I've been given, so I want to be faithful in sharing it with others. The sport, too, has given me so many wonderful experiences and memories that I will hold in my heart forever!

And although the past 2 1/2 years have been some of the most difficult of my life, I'm thankful for what the experiences have taught me, and I am incredibly grateful to the people who have been here for me through everything. Their support has meant the world to me, and I'm thankful beyond words for their presence in my life.

Icenetwork: Last season you were in a role of a spectator. What are your general thoughts and impressions about the Olympic Games and other major events?

Czisny: If I'm being honest, I didn't fully watch the major competitions this (last) season. Of course, I cheered for my training mates and friends, and I was interested to see the results of the Olympic Games. But it was also a chance for me to explore life outside the world of skating, and as such, I didn't watch closely the major competitions.

Icenetwork: Were there any performances you particularly liked?

Czisny: One of my favorite performances (and I understand that I am biased because he is my training mate) was Jeremy Abbott's long program at the world championships this past season. I see him skate every day, and I am constantly in awe of his ability to feel the music -- it's as though his movements, which come from his soul, are creating the music. It was wonderful to see him performing the program in competition, skating it to his full capabilities and showing his true potential on the world stage.

Icenetwork: Recently, you returned from the Stars on Ice tour. Tell us about your experience with that.

Czisny: I greatly enjoy touring with Stars on Ice, and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to do so again this year! Skating in front of an audience night after night helps me grow as a performer, and it motivates me to continue to improve and become even better. I hope to continue performing and touring for many more years!

Icenetwork: Seeing how happy you are in ice shows and in photos on social media, I often wonder about what philosophical, psychological -- and maybe even theological -- views you possess that allow you to remain so upbeat during some difficult times.

Czisny: As figure skaters, we grow up competing, and much of our lives as skaters is set in the figure skating world -- a sport which, by its very nature, consists of constant judging -- so we, too, easily fall into the mindset that our performances and results are directly tied to our self-worth. We must learn that our results are not indicative of who we are as people, but it is true that our reactions to those results can be a reflection of our true selves. It takes courage to free ourselves from the belief that our results alone define us and even more courage to learn to define ourselves apart from our performances in the sport.

I may not have achieved my ultimate goals in this sport -- and I still sometimes struggle with that, feeling as though I've failed -- but I never want to forget how I've been blessed with the opportunities and experiences that I've been given. God gave me a talent, and it is my responsibility to use it to my best ability! I am able to do what I love to do, and I am blessed to share my gift of skating with others. My career has had its ups and downs, but I've tried to learn and grow from each experience, to make myself better. I've had victories and successes, I've cried and felt heartbroken, I've gone through struggles and pain, but in the end, I wouldn't wish for any other life, because my journey has made me into who I am today. 

Icenetwork: How do you see the future of figure skating?

Czisny: I think figure skating will continue to evolve both artistically and technically. Our sport offers a unique blend of both artistry and technical skills that few other sports have, and it is our collective responsibility to continually push the boundaries in all directions.

The judging system has been blamed by some for constricting the creativity of skaters, but we have also seen skaters who have been able to go beyond, fulfilling the requirements but also creating unique moments and beautiful visions that transcend mere required elements in competition. At the same time, though, our sport is competing with other sports which are pushing technical boundaries, and we, too, must try to do the same while still putting focus on the artistic side of our sport.

Icenetwork: Will we see Alissa Czisny as a coach or choreographer soon?

Czisny: I have already been coaching, and I really enjoy teaching the younger skaters. I've received so much from this sport, and it brings me joy to be able to pass along things that I've learned to the next generations of skaters.