|Sarah Hughes poses for a photo with Max Aaron at Skate for Hope
in Columbus, Ohio.
|Sarah Hughes won
the gold medal in
the ladies' figure
at the Salt Lake City
2002 Olympic Winter
When I caught up with 2013 U.S. national figure skating champion Max Aaron for Journey of Champions presented by Liberty Mutual Insurance a few weeks ago, he spoke about re-learning how to walk post-injury, spending time in the penalty box (from his hockey playing days!), and the one thing that keeps him motivated. In part two of our chat, he elaborates on those topics, explains how skating is sometimes a team sport, and talks about his preparation for the upcoming Olympic season.
Sarah Hughes: In the first part of our chat, we spoke about how you went to physical therapy every day to help expedite your recovery when you were recuperating from breaking your back during a hockey workout. You must have been relieved to have the cast off.
Max Aaron: Yeah, especially since it was 115 degrees outside every day. I was in Arizona at the time. I had the cast all through summer and then into the first month of the school year. I couldn’t walk too well. And the teachers would usually have to let me leave class early to get to the next class because I couldn’t walk quickly.
SH: When you got on the ice again, you made a defining career decision as well. It had to be at least a little bit difficult to take a break from hockey and commit fully to a single sport.
MA: I went really far in hockey and it was really neat, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be the tallest person ever, so I knew that I wasn’t going into the NHL. And I realized that. I thought I could probably make D1 [Division 1] college hockey because of the skill level that I think I had, and because a lot of my buddies in hockey were getting drafted by the WHL, QJHL, all those leagues. A lot of them played college hockey, too. I was happy with how far I’d gotten in hockey, but in figure skating, I didn’t think I’d reached my potential. I had yet to get a national team jacket like I did in hockey. I always wanted to be on Team USA in skating, too. I wanted to see how far I could go in figure skating before I stopped skating.
SH: I read some advice your grandfather had given you. Did his advice play a role in your decision too?
MA: Yeah. He told me, “You can be good in two sports or you can be great in one.” He used to always tell me that. I was young at the time and he was telling me that because I was doing two sports for a while.
SH: When people in the figure skating world find out how much you accomplished in hockey, they are always pleasantly surprised.
MA: We always thought I was going to do the college hockey route because we looked at people like Nate Gerbe [Gerbe is 5’5” and plays for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres], who played for Boston College. He was around my height and he was going to be the next “little big guy.” That’s the kind of style I was playing, and so I thought I was going to end up playing D1 hockey, go to University of Michigan — that’s where I wanted to go — and play college hockey there. My parents and a lot of my buddies had talked about that during the tours of campuses we would take. The travel teams that I played on were very elite, so we had tours of the colleges where we were playing tournaments. The colleges would take us around and we’d meet the players that were playing D1 hockey. The players were very popular on campus. Everyone knew their name, everyone knew who they were. They were the celebrities on the campus and that impressed me. That’s what I was going for. But then when I broke my back, and knowing that my size was going to be a major obstacle in hockey, I decided to put my sights on figure skating. I hadn’t gotten that far in figure skating and I wanted to see how far I could go.
|Max Aaron competes in the men's short program during the
2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 25, 2013
at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
SH: Last season you skated incredibly well. You gained an enormous fan base and carved out a name for yourself on your way to becoming the national champion and World Team Trophy champion. A lot of your success is attributed to your intense work ethic. What’s your training regimen like right now?
MA: I do off-ice training. Two big heavy lifting days and then one metabolic workout day, which is a mixture of lifting and cardio. That helps with endurance. I try to keep really fit. I try to do some sort of exercise every day along with some of the big workouts that I have, by swimming or by mountain biking or stairs or running.
SH: When you came back from Japan this year, you didn’t want to miss a training session and went to do a conditioning session despite your jet lag.
MA: Yeah, that was the Four Continents Championship. [4CC is scheduled between the national and world Championships.] There were three weeks before worlds and I didn’t want to miss a second because I thought, “If this was my only opportunity to compete at worlds, I want to make sure I have a good time and compete well.” So I wasn’t going to give up my day that I was jet-lagged to just lie around. I wanted to get back into it as quickly as I could. I knew that going into this worlds was going to be really stressful due to the fact that we had to make sure we keep at least two spots for the men for the Olympic year, and maybe try to get three. It was a lot of pressure and people weren’t sure we could do it. I wanted to prove people wrong. You know, it’s hard in skating because it’s not really a team sport, but at that time it was because Ross [Miner] and I had to work together to make sure our final placements tallied 13 points or less. I really wanted to just make sure I did my part, be supportive of Ross, making sure Ross and I could hopefully place well so we could get 13 points. I wanted to stay on top of it and I wanted to compete well. And if that was my only time to compete at worlds, I wanted to make sure it was really fun and that I would remember it positively.
SH: We have two spots for the men in Sochi. So, mission accomplished!
MA: [laughing] Thanks.
SH: With the Olympic season approaching, you tapped a new choreographer, Lori Nichol, to help create your long program. Lori has a lot of experience in developing and crafting programs that go on to win Olympic medals. What was it like to work with her?
MA: I wanted to expand my knowledge of skating and I thought that Lori would be a great asset in helping me do that. She is amazing at what she does. I’ve seen the programs that she’s done and I’ve seen what she does with Patrick’s programs. [Patrick Chan is a three-time world champion from Canada.] So I wanted that challenge going into this year and I really want to expand my knowledge of everything and step up my game, especially in the long program. I’m happy we were able to add her.
SH: What’s the music?
|Max Aaron performs during the ISU World Team Trophy on April
14, 2013 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo.
SH: Who choreographed your short program?
MA: I worked with Pasquale Camerlengo again for the short. Lori and Pasquale together are helping me develop a new side of my skating, and I’m excited to share it with everyone this season.
SH: In the exhibitions, you already do show a different side of skating than most skaters. Last year, you picked rock ‘n’ roll type music, went into the crowd, kissed the girls… Does this showmanship come natural to you?
MA: The show numbers I pick are usually ones that people never do because they’re too shy to do them and I figured that I could do some of them. I want to make everyone smile, make sure everyone has a good time watching. Most people pick slow pieces, so I picked one this year where I could interact with the crowd. The audience is our sport. Fans make our sport, and I want to make sure they’re having a good time every time they come to watch an event. So if there is just one skater who interacts with them, I’m hope I’m that skater because I have a fun time seeing them and making them smile or making them blush — even if it’s me blushing, which sometimes happens. It’s just a good time. I look forward to seeing them and I always enjoy talking to the audience.
SH: Thanks for taking the time to chat and giving us all a lot to look forward to this upcoming season!
You can follow Max stateside over the next few months on his road to Sochi as he competes three times in the United States before the Olympic Winter Games: the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, Sept. 11-15; Hilton HHonors Skate America in Detroit, Oct. 18-20; and the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Jan. 5-12.