ORLANDO, Fla. -- Twelve hundred people sat in their seats with their eyes faced toward the stage where 25-year-old Mirai Nagasu was being introduced. The Olympic figure skater is used to all eyes being on her, but that day she was nervous for another reason.
At Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Nagasu was giving an acceptance speech. Despite earning a team bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and competing on the most recent season of “Dancing with the Stars,” the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics is not used to public speaking.
At the Pop Warner All-American Scholars Banquet celebrating young athletes and individuals who have shown a commitment to sports, education, community and our nation’s youth, Nagasu received the Female Achievement Award. Before she went on stage — with some last-minute notes written on her hand and her red MagicBand still on her wrist from her visit to Walt Disney World the day before, we sat down with the two-time Olympian to hear what she’s been up to since PyeongChang and why she calls public speaking the bravest thing she’s ever done.
What’s life been like since the Olympics?
It has been amazing and everything that I’ve been working towards. Everything has felt like a post-Olympic reward. I haven’t been home in two months, which has honestly been great. I think that every trip I’ve taken has been an adventure and a journey. Yes, I am mentally exhausted; but at the same time, I love working and I love working hard. Everything has felt like an opportunity that I’m grateful for and it’s been non-stop fun.
What’s been your favorite experience?
Definitely the Olympics have been my favorite part. It meant a lot to make it back to the team after being left off in 2014, so to make it back onto the team was a huge accomplishment. And then to help my team win the bronze medal and then to also make history by landing the triple axel, it has all been a dream come true.
After PyeongChang you posted a poem on Instagram that you wrote when you didn’t make the team four years ago that said, “Quit now, says the voice in my head, but what will you do if not skating?” Have you given any more thought to what you want to do after skating?
Yes, absolutely. I started going to school at UCCS (University of Colorado Colorado Springs), and I think going to school has honestly really helped in finding myself and finding other things that I’m also good at. I think it’s important to put your all into your sport, but I think that balance is also a necessity. It wasn’t easy studying, but nothing worthwhile is easy in life.
How did it feel going on “Dancing with the Stars” and competing in something other than figure skating?
It was awesome. I’ve been skating for 20 years and dedicated 20 years of my life to skating. I think I was ready for a fresh outlook and a fresher way to compete. Competing is in my blood, so I was really looking forward to it. It gets a little bit lonely out there but also after 20 years I don’t think ice dancing or pairs is something I can do — I’m a little too tall for pairs and my edge work isn’t quite refined enough for ice dance, so...
But you said you loved competing with a partner – any chance of that again down the road?
Maybe. It was a lot of fun.
How was Alan Bersten as a partner?
I think he had a lot of expectations because I was a figure skater. So when I first met him he was like, ‘Ugh, you’re not a good follower.’ But he was really patient with me and taught me so much about partnering and dancing. It wasn’t easy but I’m used to it as an athlete to work towards a goal.
Did learning to dance cause you to feel like you weren’t athletic for the first time in a long time?
I think people think that as a figure skater we’re going to be good, and I watch videos back from the first couple weeks and, honestly, I was a horrible dancer — so kudos to Alan for having the patience to teach me. People don’t get to see how many hours go into the dancing, but Alan had a big job teaching me how to dance. As a singles skater I’m prone to doing my own thing. I’m really a feeler, which means that I feel my way around the ice. And because I’m out there alone, I can maneuver through moves a little more independently and change things. But with ballroom dancing you can’t do that because you have a partner. It was something I had to learn.
Before “Dancing with the Stars,” you said you weren’t a good dancer. How do you feel now?
I had a lot of fun. And I think that was the most important thing for me was to go out there and compete in something other than skating — with a partner. I was really looking forward to that and it was everything and more that I wanted it to be. Yes, I wish I could have made it to the finale, but at the same time I’m super grateful that they even gave me the opportunity to be on the show. Honestly, I had the time of my life.
You’ve said that you’re not brave outside of figure skating. Was dancing in front of millions the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
Public speaking is pretty high up on lists people are afraid of, so I love that I’ve been given this opportunity today to share my story. I hope I do a good job because I’m pretty nervous about going out there, but also really excited.
Why are you nervous?
I’m not a public speaker – yet. I think that anytime I go out in front of people I get a little bit nervous because I care. I get nervous before I compete to this day. So, I think it’s a little bit of the same feeling. Except with public speaking I don’t practice it daily and I’m not prepared for it as well as my skating.
What is the message you want to get across?
I think it’s important for people to hear — especially in this day in age — that sometimes things don’t go the way you want, and you just have to get up and keep going. And I think that, not to brag about myself, but the way that I did it is something that I’m proud of, and I would love the opportunity to continue to share my story and hope to inspire other kids to go out and achieve their dreams.