15-year-old skater dreams big
Karen Chen, the 15-yearold bronze medalist from last month’s US Figure Skating Championships, is excited about the coming trip to the Junior World Championships in Estonia in three weeks.
But her ultimate goal is the Winter Olympic Games in three years. “I hope I can win a medal there. Gold would be the best,” she said in an interview on Tuesday. “But it’s an honor to just participate.”
The Chinese-American girl, considered a future star of US figure skating, said she realized her passion and love for sports at age 6. “It’s a small competition, but I felt so happy on ice, not just fun, but very happy,” she said.
Her mother, Hsiuhui Tseng, also remembered how happy her daughter was when she stepped onto the ice and danced in front of people.
“She was a shy girl, but we were surprised that she was not shy at all on ice, Tseng said. “She was so carefree and confident.”
From then on, Karen’s parents sent her to train under professional coaches, though they did not prepare her to be the next skating queen of America.
“We took her to skate for fun when she was 4 and she told us she liked it,” Tseng said.
Karen is now training in Southern California’s Riverside, far from her home in Hayward, because the Riverside ice rink allows her to practice both morning and afternoon.
She now spends 1.5 hours in the morning session and another 1.5 hours in the afternoon practicing jumps. The audience was impressed by her triple jumps in last month’s championships.
“I am very happy and excited,” Karen said. “I hadn’t expected the bronze medal.”
She is hoping to improve on her performance in next month’s junior world championships. “But it’s going to be tough,” she added, as she will compete against some other big jumpers there.
Young as she is, Karen has been skating for 11 years and obtained much experience in regional and national competitions. In 2012, she won the US Novice Ladies title at nationals. It’s expected that she can build her reputation in front of international judges in Estonia next month.
In order to concentrate on skating, Karen has been attending an online public school since the sixth grade, which provides a more flexible schedule. “Although I miss my school life and friends, the online schedule is more efficient for me,” she said.
Unlike many Chinese parents who emphasize their children’s academic performance, Karen’s parents, both engineers, try their best to support their children in fulfilling their dreams.
The mother chooses to work at home so she can travel with Karen and her younger brother Jeffrey, who also skates.
“I thought of asking her to give up after she broke her ankle during practice,” Tseng admitted. “But she is very determined, so we decided to give her the best support that we can.”
Karen’s support comes not only from her family, but also from 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, who was born in Hayward and who has been something of a mentor to Karen after the girl’s coach introduced them in 2012. Karen also has been a recipient of Yamaguchi’s Always Striving scholarship.
A shining star herself, Karen has admirers. On her website, young girls left such messages as, “My goal is to be just like you.”
She replied: “Follow our hearts, work hard, work smart and we can all achieve our goals.”
Karen Chen with the bronze medal she won at the US Figure Skating Championships, held on Jan 17-25 in Greensboro, North Carolina.