By Gabrielle Scheder-Bieschin | Jan. 18, 2020, 3:20 p.m. (ET)

Hailey Choi competes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 on Jan. 18, 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

 

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Hailey Choi would not be where she is today if it were not for her older brother, Jay. The short track speedskater is representing Team USA at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, but when she was younger, she did not even want to try the sport. 

“I was forced into starting,” she laughed. “My older brother [Jay] actually started before I did – he was in love with the gold blades and speed.”

Meanwhile, Choi was not a fan of trying new things when she was young, so she was happy to simply stand by the side of the rink and watch. Her parents, though, encouraged her to step on the ice. 

“My parents were like, ‘Just go in there with him. Stop wasting your time and go skate with him.’ And that’s what I did, and I’ve been loving it ever since.”

The younger Choi quickly took to the sport, and, at just 16, now races both domestically and internationally. She is one of only two American women to have qualified for the Youth Olympic Games in short track speedskating; no women qualified in long track. 

With domestic and international competitions on her plate, there is inevitably a heavy training load that comes with the elite level. Yet Choi, who is still balancing school alongside her sport,  is dedicated to giving back to the sport and people she loves. Inspired by her older brother Jay, she serves as a volunteer coach for Special Olympics, teaching short track speedskating to athletes of all ages. 

“It’s great,” she said, smiling wide when asked about her work with the Special Olympics. “I help coach, so every Saturday I go to the rink with my brother and I help the skaters get into position and help them with their techniques. It’s really fun to see them skate.”

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 The Special Olympics is an organization that encourages physical fitness and positive values through sport for people with intellectual disabilities. Jay, who has a chronic heart condition and autism, is a Special Olympic athlete and active in the Special Olympic community – and it was his enthusiasm for the sport of speedskating that first brought her to the rink.

Now an elite athlete, Choi trains six days a week, including on Saturdays. After a late-night training session every Friday that can last until midnight, she wakes up early for her Saturday morning skate and then immediately gets ready to coach. Afterwards, she carves out time for her homework, and then wakes up and trains again on Sunday. Tuesdays, her one day off from training, she also spends studying to make sure she is keeping up with school. Some day, Choi hopes to be either a sports nutritionist or graphic designer. 

“You can’t really think about it. You just do it,” she said when asked about her busy schedule. Despite studying and her own training, she never questions spending her Saturdays volunteering, explaining that it is “absolutely worth it.” 

By coaching, she hopes to help not only her athletes, but also others, see the power of sport. She is passionate about the Special Olympics and what they stand for and enjoys using her platform to serve as an ambassador for the organization.  

“Everyone's an athlete, and there’s really no difference,” she explained. “There’s no difference.”