Chatting with Sasha Cohen
As I mentioned last week, I'm super excited to see Smucker's Stars on Ice this Friday in Boston (there's still time to get tickets if you want to see the show!). And thanks to the folks at Stars on Ice, I had the lovely opportunity to chat with US champion, two-time Olympian (and Olympic silver medalist), and world medalist Sasha Cohen, who is one of the headliners of the tour. Read on for my interview with Sasha, where we talk about everything from family, to staying grounded as an elite child athlete, to encouraging kids to try or stick with hobbies, to competitions vs. shows, to the awesomeness that is Boston.
Christine: Sasha, it's so lovely to chat with you today. I'm thrilled to see Stars on Ice in Boston on March 4, as is my 6-year-old daughter Laurel, who has proclaimed you her favorite. skater. ever.
Sasha: Oh, thank you! That's so sweet!
Christine: Given my blog's focus, not surprisingly, I want to start with some family oriented questions. You've been on the road so much for such a long time and my impression is that you're very tight with your family. What have proven to be your best coping techniques and tools when you've been away from your family over the years?
Sasha: Well, I always try to stay in touch by calling or Skype'ing and I think the biggest understanding that I have with my family is that we don't have to spend all day or all of our time together, but when we are together we really cherish the time. We spend time cooking together or just doing little things -- grocery shopping, taking walks...just doing daily things together as a family [like when we were little kids]...We're all over the place [geographically] but when we're together it feels just like when I was 8 years old.
Christine: That's great -- that must feel very normalizing given your travel schedule.
Sasha: Yes, it's nice. I love change and I'm also very independent. So it's nice to have my own space and time, and then when I'm with my family I appreciate the time that much more.
Christine: Being on the competition circuit so young, how did you stay grounded when both successes and challenges were so public?
Sasha: I think it was just the world I grew into...you become accustomed to the pressure and sacrifice. And the support of my mom was essential, as was my coaches' guidance. And you know, you learn, make mistakes, and you get better. That was a big part of it...just continually working and upping what I could endure in terms of stress and pressure, especially in competition, when every week, every month, every year you push yourself to be better.
Christine: What's been the best advice you've ever received from your parents related to your profession?
Sasha: You're so lucky to do what you do. Just love what you do because people love to watch you.
Christine: You've done a lot of charitable work in the past, undoubtedly serving as a role model for many kids. What's been the most fun for you and where do you feel your influence with kids most acutely?
Sasha: Definitely at the ice rink because there will be the little girls there with my book and they've been watching every skating competition and have the posters on their walls. To have such an impression on a young girl and know that you have made such an impact -- that they've been watching you. Because sometimes I forget about that...I have my problems and tough days...I forget how much influence I have and that I can make people happy. And that's really important for me because my life is great but it also has challenges when I'm always on the road or have an injury...and the small things ground me and also make me really enjoy and want to meet people. For me it's such a joy to have an impact on somebody, and as I get older and think about someday wanting to have kids...you know how cute [the kids] are and how excited and impressionable...it's an honor to be in that position.
Christine: Speaking of role models and inspiration...my daughter wanted me to ask about your costumes. I told her you design a lot of your costumes and her eyes got huge -- she was impressed! I know you love fashion -- are you still doing design, for your costumes or otherwise?
Sasha: I do! I design all my own skating costumes. It's a lot of fun for me -- to pick the music and costumes. It really says a lot about who I am and it's a way to express myself. It's fun to pick colors and go over dye samples and patterns and beads.
Christine: Where did the inspiration come from? Do you have family in the industry?
Sasha: No, I don't, but ever since I was 5 years old, I would design princess dresses...painstakingly drawing pearls and lace and patterns and colors and I just loved it. And then as soon as I started to get my own costumes custom made, I realized I could do this myself!
Christine: What are your top tips for kids who want to learn how to skate, or, maybe more importantly, for kids who have tried and gotten frustrated fast?
Sasha: It's so difficult and I'm frustrated every day that I go in! But whether you win medals or not, by having to deal with your frustration and the difficulty you become stronger as a person and you develop character and learn to deal with challenges and not give up. And then you have the satisfaction of accomplishing something difficult. So that in itself is really important.
Christine: I agree, but it's difficult. I don't want to be the pushy parent but I also know from my former experience as a competitive violinist that for something that exacting, you have to stick with it. And I think that's a challenge with modern parenting -- when to pull the rip cord because your kid is unhappy and you don't want to be too aggressive and when to encourage your kid to stick with it.
Sasha: Well, the kid has to find their passion...no matter what you do in life you want to be great at something. And with anything there will be challenges. I was almost 7 when I started skating...I did gymnastics before that. And I think Evan [Lysacek] started when he 9. So there's time!
Christine: Let's talk about Smucker's Stars on Ice, which runs now and on into April. What's your favorite thing about being on tour?
Sasha: I love the feeling of family. Getting to do group numbers vs. individual shows, getting to see the same people every day, and work on finales together. You feel like you're at home and like you have a place and you feel special. There's an amazing sense of family.
Christine: I interviewed Kimmie Meissner a couple of years ago and she mentioned you when we talked about the Stars on Ice star struck factor. Obviously, now, you're a Stars on Ice headliner, but have you ever experienced being star struck at Stars on Ice? Or have there been Stars on Ice mentors you want to give a shout out to?
Sasha: Oh, that's so sweet [of Kimmie]! I think Kristi Yamaguchi was an idol...I watched her videos over and over and over again. It was funny, I didn't even realize they were the same competition...I'd say "Kristi always wins, Mom!" She made such an impression when I was a little kid and then getting to see her on Stars on Ice...she's such an amazing role model and such a gorgeous skater.
Christine: You were last in competition just last year, making an admirable comeback to try for your third Olympic games. What has been the biggest challenge of transitioning from competitions to shows such as Stars on Ice?
Sasha: It's very different. You get to be home a lot more when you're training for competitions and there's much more intensity and purpose. With shows, you're gone a lot and it's more about performance. You get into a different rhythm because when you're doing shows, even if you're injured you want to come out and do the show because people have come out to see you. It's very different training for one event -- for example having a live and die purpose like the Olympics vs. overall purpose.
Christine: So speaking of overall purpose, what's in your future? Any juicy future plans you'd like to share with my readers?
Sasha: I'm doing the US tour and the Canadian tour and going to Prague for some shows. And I have a show in China this summer. And then I'm planning on going to New York in June to take summer classes at NYU. I'm planning on getting in applications for the fall to Columbia and NYU. To have options if I want to go to school in the fall...I'm excited to see where the next 6 months take me.
Christine: Wow, that's fantastic! And finally, is there anything you're excited about doing when you come to Boston? Or any questions you have for me about the city?
Sasha: I love Boston...it's such an amazing city! I love Cambridge. I did summer school at Harvard. I'm just really excited -- we actually have a day off here so we can run around and go crazy. We never have a Saturday off so it's a big treat for us!
Christine: Oh, that's fantastic! You'll have to do some shopping -- it's great here!
Sasha: Yes, Newbury Street is amazing!
Christine: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat Sasha. I'm sure you hear this all the time, but I've loved watching you skate -- you're a beautiful skater and it'll be fun to see you at the show since I haven't gotten to see you in competition on TV this year.
Sasha: Oh, thank you. And I hope you enjoy the show -- it's a really special show this year!
Images by Paul Harvath; courtesy of Smucker's Stars on Ice