Vincent Zhou skates at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 7, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- In early January, Vincent Zhou was sitting in a hotel room with his mother, Fay Ge, having just placed third at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
His phone was blowing up with congratulatory notifications on his impressive free skate. He jumped at each one, but no matter how sincere the message, was left dissatisfied and anxious.
“Is that the text? Is that the text?” his mom kept asking. “Have you gotten it yet?”
The answer was no until about 1 a.m., when he got the text. The text. The one that he waited his both short and long 17 years to see light up his phone.
He had made the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
His ordinarily tough-love mother, the one he says seldom shows physical affection, stood up and gave her son a hug. She knew how hard he had worked. She knew how badly he wanted it.
“She above anyone else, except for myself, wanted me to make the Olympic team,” Zhou said.
More than anything, she knew the amount of sacrifice it took. Perhaps because she shared in it firsthand.
Zhou’s parents immigrated from China to America in 1992. They settled in California, went to graduate school, had Zhou and his older sister, Vivian, and began working as successful computer scientists in Silicon Valley.
In 2008, they were living the American dream, both at the top of their careers. That is, until they realized their son was a gifted figure skater.
He wasn’t yet a child prodigy. He wasn’t quite a kid genius. But he was certainly talented and undeniably passionate, and that was enough for Fay Ge.
The family made the decision to begin living separately. His mother quit her six-figure job at Oracle so she could move with Vincent down to Southern California to train. His father continued working in the Bay Area and raised Vivian, who now studies brain and cognitive science at MIT.
The loss of income wasn’t easy. The distance from family was worse.
“I feel like because of how much I’ve been through: being in a split family situation from the time I was 8, living in apartments with no hot water, no air conditioning, moving all over the country to try and find the best place to train… Living with my mom for so long on our own has given me a really realistic perspective on the world,” he said. “It’s given me more maturity than, I would say, lots of kids my age.”
It’s hard to disagree. Most kids his age spend their time going out and worrying about homework, he says. His days are spent writing poetry, reflecting on his goals and practicing for those eight minutes on Olympic ice.
“Knowing all I’ve done to get here, spending after-hours at the gym, lights are off, I’m still grinding away,” he said. “Putting out that extra little bit every day when there’s nobody watching, that’s all part of the Olympic feeling.”
More likely than not, his desire to succeed is innate. But he dedicates his willingness to work his way to the top to the example his parents set all those years ago.
“They came here with pretty much nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few suitcases,” he said. “They had to work to establish themselves into American society and earn their homes, their jobs, and earn their place in this country.”
As the youngest member of the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, he earned every last bit of his place on this team. His mom will be in the stands on Friday and Saturday, watching as nearly a decade of sacrifice manifests itself in the form of quadruple jumps on the ice.
“As the saying goes, ice is slippery,” he said. “Anything can happen, even to the best of us, and I’m going to make sure to stay in the moment, stay present and trust my training.”
How’s that for the American dream?
Cat Hendrick is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.