The Inside Edge: 'Ice Girl' Smith enjoys stint in NHLWorld junior champs reflect on experience; Howe gains YouTube following
Skaters move on to all sorts of skating-related professional activities once their competitive careers are over. After her partnership with Nathan Bartholomay ended in 2011, pairs skater Erika Choi Smith spent four years as an Ice Girl with the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.
And then, to the surprise of many, she came back to competition. Partnering with AJ Reiss, she finished sixth at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with two impressive skates.
Smith said that after she and Bartholomay parted ways, she had some tryouts but wasn't able to find a partner. With just over a year left of college, she decided to finish her degree in international business at Widener University. Feeling frustrated that she wasn't able to compete at the level she felt she could, she left skating behind.
"I went into the rink three months later," Smith said. "My jumps weren't perfect, but I could do them. I ended up sitting at the boards and crying, because my competitive career was over and I knew I still had the ability. I stayed away from the rink because it brought me a lot of sadness. I'd try skating every couple of months, but it would still make me sad."
That's when Smith decided to become an Ice Girl, skating at home games in front of as many as 20,000 people.
"It was my connection back to the ice, and it was a wonderful experience, even though I was just stroking and pushing a shovel," Smith said. "We did dry cuts of the ice, and we did promotional events. We were brand ambassadors for the Flyers."
It may not have been competition, but Smith said she enjoyed the world of professional hockey.
"It was a great four years," she said. "I got to work the Winter Classic game; I got to meet a lot of the alumni from the Stanley Cup. It was very intense. To see hockey at that level, it was quite an experience."
Once she graduated from college, Smith got a job at a health insurance technology center. In the end, it was her boss there who gave her the push she needed to return to training and competition.
"He asked me why I wasn't skating any more," she said. "He was like, 'Let me give you some life advice: Go for it, so you don't have any regrets.'"
Smith reached out to coach Bobby Martin, expressing her interest in making comeback. She started getting up at 4 a.m. to work out and skate before work. As it happened, she and her boyfriend, Reiss, turned out to be a great match on the ice as well as off.
"We had talked about skating together a long time ago," Smith said. "We valued our relationship more than skating together. We took our time, and he helped me get prepared, and we were like, well, let's give it a shot."
Now Smith and Reiss have their sights set on the 2018 Olympic team.
"The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics are very special to me because I was adopted from South Korea," Smith said. "Our goal is to enjoy skating together, our pure joy for the sport -- that's what we want to bring to the table."
"We would love the opportunity to do some international competitions this year," Reiss said. "We are just happy to be on the ice with each other."
The pair trained last season with Peter Oppegard in Los Angeles, but they are on their way to Boston to train with Martin and Carrie Wall going forward.
"AJ and I sat down after nationals, and we thought our best training would be in Boston," Smith said. "We're going to be driving cross country. I have a German Shepherd-Lab mix, his name is Charger, and we had to figure out a way to bring him with us. I have a Mini Cooper, so we're calling it our mini-adventure."
With the 2016 World Junior Figure Skating Championships starting Wednesday, I asked several past world junior champions what their favorite memories were from the year they won the gold.
Paul Wylie (1981): For me, it was about the people I got to meet, skaters my age from all over the world (it was 16 and under for singles way back then). Pin trading with Soviet, French, Canadian and Japanese teams, and learning how to say "Hello, how are you?" "Good luck," "Congratulations" in their languages. Being on the same team with Tiffany Chin. And then there was watching the debut of this jumping sensation (she had to be under 12 years old), Midori Ito.
Drew Meekins (pairs, 2006, with partner Julia Vlassov): There was something so special about that group (the 2006 competitors, who included Yu-Na Kim, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir). It was a great group of people who have formed bonds and friendships. Patrick Chan was a baby. We watched him and we were like, "That guy's going to be good someday."
Winning was such a surreal experience; I sort of felt like I was in a dream for several hours. I didn't really calm down until I took the bus back to the hotel hours later. I was alone, it was pretty late at night, and I was starving, so I went downstairs hoping to grab some food. When I got to the dining hall, everyone was there: the team leader, the officials, other skaters, my family -- it felt like a surprise party because I didn't know they were there. They erupted in cheers. There was food and dessert and champagne, and I totally didn't expect it.
I have such great memories of walking through the street at night: lifting each other, taking silly photos, dancing around the street; I remember Scott lifting Charlie. It's a kind of coming-of-age rite of passage, and we all shared that. It's amazing that 10 years ago I won, and tomorrow I'm leaving to go there as a coach for the first time.
Rockne Brubaker (pairs, 2007, with partner Keauna McLaughlin): The year we won, the competition was in Oberstdorf, Germany. It's such a beautiful place -- the town, the mountains, the people. It was all an amazing experience. I also have an amazing picture with Stefania [Berton] (who is now his wife) from that event. She was there as a singles skater. Who would have known that we would get married a little over 9 years later?
Rachael Flatt (2008): At our team dinner at a local restaurant in Sofia, they had decorated a couple of walls with some mounted taxidermied animals, one of which was a big boar head (a little odd, but we went with it). To make it feel more homey, our team leader, Tina Lundgren, decorated him with a Team USA hat, sunglasses and red, white and blue beads for the night.
All three junior world champs from the U.S. that year (Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, Adam Rippon and me) wore matching shades of light blue and white for our free skate costumes. And then all three U.S. ladies on the podium (me, Mirai Nagasu and Caroline Zhang) all had the same color dresses, too. Apparently, we all had the same idea for costume colors that year.
Most female figure skaters wear a lot of makeup when they compete, none more than ice dancers. Dancer Roxette Howe started watching YouTube makeup tutorials two or three years ago, partly to check out possible looks for competition.
"I started to pick out my favorite videos," Howe said. "I would literally spend hours watching, and that's how I learned about makeup. I always did my own makeup, and I always had an interest in beauty and skin care, but I was never really that great at it."
Now Howe is building a new career path for herself on YouTube. (Search for "Roxette Arisa" to find her channel, which has more than 15,000 subscribers.) She posts new videos twice a week in which talks about health and skin care routines, reviews new products on the market and does tutorials on makeup -- from everyday looks to glamorous party chic.
"I was training in Michigan, and there's not much to do there outside the rink," Howe admitted. "I was so bored, so I thought maybe I'll try to film my own video."
Howe particularly likes filming lessons on everyday makeup, and she likes sharing lower-cost finds with her viewers.
"I really like finding drugstore items that match up to more high-end items in color match and how they wear -- and everybody loves a bargain," she said. "You don't have to pay 30 dollars for a lipstick."
The 22-year-old brunette is not just a pretty face: She was a communications major at Oakland University, and she sees YouTube, makeup and skin care as a future career path.
Howe is still committed to skating, though. She competed with different partners in the U.S. and is now training in Vancouver and representing Canada. With former partner Jean-Luc Jackson, she finished 11th at the 2016 Canadian Championships. Jackson recently retired, so Howe is searching for a new partner.
"I'm training with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe," Howe said. "I've been with them for two seasons now, and I'm really happy with them. I really like the training here. They're very strict, and in the past two seasons I've felt really ready for every competition I've been in.
"I really love making my YouTube videos, and I've gained so many connections in the industry," Howe went on. "I hope to one day create my own makeup line. I feel like I love skating and my YouTube career equally. Either way my life goes, I would be happy."