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Caluza endeavors to blaze trail for Filipino skaters

Country of origin important to San Diego native

Christopher Caluza is known for leaving his heart out on the ice, as he did after his free skate at the 2013 Four Continents Championships.
Christopher Caluza is known for leaving his heart out on the ice, as he did after his free skate at the 2013 Four Continents Championships. (Getty Images)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(05/21/2013) - Inspiration plays a crucial role in sports. When a person is truly and deeply inspired by something or someone, it does not matter who he is or where he is from.

Philippine skater Christopher Caluza knows this better than most.

A 22-year-old native of San Diego, Calif., who is of Philippine origin, Caluza was inspired by many great skaters over the years.

"My favorite skaters from the past times would definitely be Tara Lipinski, for her energy and for how she enjoyed skating; Midori Ito, because she is a joy to watch, and she is my favorite female jumper; Alexei Yagudin, for having the whole package; and also Michelle Kwan, for her joy of skating," Caluza noted.

For current skaters, Caluza mentioned Daisuke Takahashi, for his awesome presentation; Joannie Rochette, for her inspirational performance at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games; and Mao Asada, for challenging the sport with her jumping prowess.

His competitive results are modest, but his emotional performances have been appreciated by the figure skating community for their pure value. This past season, Caluza finished 34th at the 2013 World Championships (he qualified for the free skate in his debut last season and placed 21st overall) and 14th at the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Caluza is the reigning two-time Philippine champion.

Icenetwork.com talked with Caluza about how he got started in skating, the most important moments of his career and what it takes to represent Philippines.

Icenetwork.com: Tell us how and why did you decide to become a figure skater. As I understand it, you began skating on roller blades instead of ice skates.

Caluza: I started roller skating when I was 6 years old, doing it all the time with my cousins and friends; it felt like I was flying. I roller skated at this rink in Chula Vista, all the time, up to when I was 7 years old.

One day, the roller rink closed. I was really sad, so my parents took me to La Jolla to skate on ice. My first time wasn't so fun, and I can remember falling a lot, but after the first 10 minutes, I started to like it a lot and I let go of the walls. I started to skate myself and thought, wow!

I started to imitate tricks I saw on television. I was just a kid and a public skater at the time, so I didn't understand what I was doing. A coach named DeeDee, who is Chris Knierim's mom, saw me. She told my parents that I should take up skating lessons, and that's what I did.

I remember watching Tara Lipinski win the gold medal at the Olympics and having that shining moment. I told myself I wanted to be like that one day, be as good as her. She was my first skating inspiration. She started out on roller skates as well, so I felt I had something in common with her.

Icenetwork.com: The Philippines isn't a country known for its winter sports, but after your appearance on the world stage, people in your country have taken more notice of skating. What do you think about it?

Caluza: Of course, the Philippines is a hot, tropical country, and it is less likely for many of the people to know there are winter sports around, but, hey, you never know (laughs).

If [the interest level] is increasing, then I think that is very good. It's a very exciting thing to make a difference in the lives of Filipinos or Filipino-Americans, to show that anything is possible no matter what background you come from. Creating more fans and getting people to try figure skating is just as rewarding as competing at worlds.

Icenetwork.com: How many skaters compete at the Philippine championships?

Caluza: I've never counted, but I believe there are at least 30-40 skaters; there are a lot of us. They compete at various levels. Many of them have shown great improvement in the last year.

Icenetwork.com: In 2011, you competed at the U.S. championships. (He finished 19th in senior men.) Why did you decide to continue your career under the flag of the Philippines?

Caluza: I'd wanted to compete for the Philippines for a long time, since I was 16. One of my inspirations was Manny Pacquiao, the famous boxer from the Philippines. I saw how he made a difference for the Filipino community, and I wanted to someday do the same. Another reason was to inspire kids from the Philippines.

I didn't want to compete for the Philippines unless I was ready and good enough. Making U.S. nationals in senior was a goal and a test for me. I didn't want to compete for another country until I had "U.S. national competitor" on my resume.

There is a huge responsibility that comes with being a national champion, or even just a representative of your country. It's important to not just compete and do well but also to be a good example to your community.

I knew I was ready because I earned and deserved the right to compete internationally and to represent the Philippines. I'd done my job in the U.S., and many people from the U.S. actually supported my decision. It was time for me to do it, and I don't regret it.

Icenetwork.com: How do you see skating developing in your country?

Caluza: I believe that skating can grow in the Philippines. I know that many of the kids are really working hard, and I have become a fan and friend of a lot of them, including the coaches. It is very much a privilege to be able to even skate competitively in the Philippines.

My parents talked about what it is like there, and it is nothing compared to actually experiencing it. It's very hard. I see thousands of people trying to find work, trying to do anything to support their families. I cried leaving the country my first time because I was going back to the U.S., where we have everything, and a lot of people don't.

I believe a sport can grow and get bigger with more people representing it. I heard there is going to be an ice rink south of the Philippines, so that is good. Skating can grow and, hopefully, become popular there.

Icenetwork.com: Tell us how this past season went for you.

Caluza: I gave up school and a social life, and focused on my skating more, since I had to fight to get the minimum score [needed to qualify for worlds], which was very high.

Coming into Philippine nationals, I felt a sense of responsibility [to defend my title], but I also wanted to show my federation and the people that I do belong on the national team even though I'm American-Filipino.

I was very determined at this year's nationals because I heard some people talk negatively about "Filipino foreigners," like myself, and how we can't "truly represent our country" and "don't deserve to compete," and that we "drop into the competition." I've heard that comment before and was aware of it before I competed for the Philippines, but when it was in the media, in a figure skating blog, blood started to boil among not only our group of "foreign" skaters but also my skating friends from the U.S.

So I had a lot to prove at this year's nationals, and I completed my mission.

I skated two senior B competitions, in Utah and in Graz, Austria, where I was close to gaining [the minimum qualifying score for worlds]. Before Four Continents, I learned I had qualified for worlds, based on my scores in Graz and from worlds last year, because the minimum decreased.

My long program at Four Continents was one of the best I've ever done. I felt really emotional at the end because I put my heart out there. I wanted the audience to feel how I felt in that moment. I have never seen an audience that had people crying in the stands for me. I felt that I made a difference in this sport by bringing back something that was missing.

(Editor's note: Prior to Four Continents, the Philippine federation declared that whoever out of Caluza and Michael Christian Martinez placed higher at Four Continents would go to worlds. Martinez and Caluza were 14th and 16th, respectively, after the short, but Caluza's career-best free skate lifted him to a 14th-place finish, while Martinez ended up 16th.)

Going into worlds, I had great practices, but the competition wasn't really how I wanted to end the season. It was definitely a learning experience, so I have to no longer be sad about it, since it is the past. It's better to learn from it than avoid it. These things happen, and it makes you even stronger in the long run, not only as a skater but as a person.

Icenetwork.com: What are your plans for the next season?

Caluza: I'm still picking my long, but I'm skating to "Jumpin' Jack" (by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) for my short. My free skate will be another concerto. I'm still planning which competitions I'm going to be sent to. I've been working on my triple Axel and quad loop, so I hope to make this season my best one yet.

This may be my only chance for the Olympics, as I still don't know what I will be doing the next four years from now. This season will be difficult, but I love what I do.