By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Nathan and Karen Chen are not related, but they think that the questions about their common last names are funny. “I haven’t been asked that a lot, but it’s been brought up before,” said Karen. “It’s funny.” Nathan also thinks the comparisons of brother-sister are funny.
Their parents have become friends as the two have trained and competed in the same circles. They also look to study medicine in college. Also, both won the U.S. Nationals this year and are Olympic hopefuls with bigger plans of earning medals at next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The two are featured on a nationwide tour, ‘Stars on Ice,’ which comes to Seattle’s KeyArena on Saturday, May 20. In the past, figure skating Olympic champions Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and Tara Lipinski have participated in the exhibition, which gives fans a glimpse of some of the best skaters in the world. Nathan and Karen hope to continue the tradition of Olympic champions participating in the tour.
Nathan started ice skating when he was just 3 years old. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, his two brothers and two sisters were involved in skating and he was destined to play hockey. But his parents, who emigrated from China, thought it would be best that he learned how to skate first so he took skate lessons at a public rink.
“I progressed really quickly,” Nathan stated of his start in ice skating. Teachers remarked that Nathan picked up skating faster than others. He didn’t think anything of his ease on the ice. Encouraged by his parents and teachers, he started competing at a young age.
Nathan did play hockey for six years, but realized that ice skating was his passion.
He is known for his quadruple (or quad) jump on the ice. The jump (and landing) requires skaters to have enough speed for the jump and then propel themselves up in the air fast enough to make four revolutions in under one second. They then have to land gracefully and without falling, which is easier said than done.
The landing requires that they withstand momentary impact forces between eight and 10 times their body weight, stop rotating, land, and continue with their routine.
Nathan recalls first trying the jump at age 13. But after unsuccessful attempts, he decided to put it on the shelf. “I ate it so hard,” laughed Nathan of his challenges with attempting the difficult technical jump.
Nathan got over the fear of falling as he realized it was a necessity for competition. At 16, he began attempting the jump once again and started to succeed with it.
His hard work has paid off. Nathan became the only skater to manage five quadruple jumps in a single program earlier this year. This helped him become the 2017 U.S. National Champion among the many accolades for the young skater. His quad-heavy program is one of the things that will help him stand out when he competes for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team and hopefully in the Olympics in South Korea next year. “It would be a dream come true,” Nathan said of the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympic Games.
When not on tour, Nathan trains in Long Beach, Calif. The 18-year-old is completing online courses to graduate from high school and will likely take a year off next year for the Olympics before entering college.
Karen was born in Fremont, Calif. Her parents moved to the United States from Taiwan. Chen’s start in ice skating seemed very ordinary at the age of 4.
“One day, my parents decided to take me to the ice rink,” recalled Karen. She recalls being very shy when she was young and skating helped. “I felt less shy and had a lot of fun.” She did not officially start competing in ice skating events until she was 6 years old. In addition to ice skating, Karen was involved in ballet and dance.
Like Nathan, Karen incorporates multiple jumps in her routines. “I think the first part of it is learning not to be afraid and giving it all to the jump,” explained Karen of how she first became comfortable with the jump. Although she does not regularly perform quad jumps like Nathan, she had to perfect her jumps. “At first, it’s definitely scary. You’re going to fall and you just have to get back up and keep going.”
“For me, spins come quite naturally. I do remember when starting out that spinning was crazy.”
Karen also won the 2017 U.S. Nationals this past January. She also has a fourth place finish at the World Championships this year.
When not on tour, Karen skates out of Riverside, Calif. She skates six days a week for three to four hours a day and also works out off the ice for one to two hours per day. Karen has a younger brother who also is a figure skater.
In her off time, Karen likes to draw, paint, and journal. She likes to write about her thoughts and believes it is a good routine to get into, to express and center herself.
“I dreamed of this when I was a kid,” Karen said of the opportunity to represent the United States in the Olympics. “To know it’s so close and to know I have a shot out there, it would be just amazing.”
Just like Nathan, Karen is graduating from high school this year and it’s likely she may take next year off for the Olympics before thinking about colleges.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.