Alumni Profile: 25L with Chika Tagawa

By Mark Greenwald

Chika Griswold first took to the ice on figure skates when she was three, following in the footsteps of her older sister who was a competitive figure skater. Skating seemed to come naturally to her, so it was no surprise that she had the ability to skate fast right away her first time on speedskates at the age of 7. Though she hasn’t been an active participant in the sport for many years, her love of speedskating has remained. Hence, her motto about skating: “Once a speedskater, always a speedskater!”

She currently resides in the Minneapolis area with her husband and three children (ironically, none of her children skate!).  She is presently involved with developing her passion for cooking and love of simple, healthy foods, growing her start up business Num Nuts 

Let’s start off with some background info…

Full name?

Chika Tagawa Griswold

Where are you from? Where do you reside now?

I was born in Milwaukee, WI, and I live in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN called Edina.

When did you start skating? Retire/Finish? or do you feel you’ll always be skating/a skater?

I started figure skating when I was 3 years old and was a competitive figure skater until about 7 - which seemed like a lot of years at the time!  I did both (speed and figure skate) at the beginning, but eventually transitioning back and forth between sports became difficult. 

At that time my older brother, Akio, was already involved with speedskating and kept coming home with medals and trophies, and I said, “what’s up with that”!  After not too much time, I kind of thought, “hey, I’d like that too”.  I eventually showed up at Wilson Park, which was where he practiced, and after giving it a try, I decided I liked it.  I thought it was fun to go fast and not worry about anything else.

I finished competitive skating about age 14. I was also a competitive golfer at the time, which is a sport I had picked up about a year earlier. Somehow I lost motivation for skating and golf took over. 

I started skating again for fun post-college when I lived in the SF Bay Area and my sister, who is an ice dancer, told me about a group (Nor Cal Speedskating Club) that held Sunday practices at San Jose Ice Arena. That led me to also do some in-line skating for fun.  I used to go to Friday Night Skate (in-line) in SF, and I’ve skated with Eddy Matzger on in-lines in Berkeley, CA. Eddy led a group of us who used to meet regularly in a covered parking lot for workouts.

So did you begin your skating career with a club?

Yes, the West Allis Speed Skating Club, back when the Jansen Family also belonged to that club. We had a very large club that produced some really good skaters.

Let’s talk a bit about your skating experience…

Why did you start/keep skating?

I really loved the people in skating.  It was also another world from school and my studies and school friends, which I thought was so cool. I got to have both worlds, and they were both very important to me, but also very different.  I didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now.  We used to spend all day Sat/Sun at skating meets, and then Monday was back to school. I was really lucky to experience that. I did really love to skate!

Did you have any nicknames when you skated?

Friends called me “Cheeks”…not my favorite memory for a nickname, but I put up with it!

What do you consider your greatest skating accomplishments?

Well, I was a National Champion as a Midget (former category at National Age Class Championships). I don’t consider that a big accomplishment, but that was one of my best performances.  I do have a photo from those Championships with Nathaniel Mills, David Cruikshank, Bonnie Blair, Eric Flaim and so many other champions that went on to some really great things, so I’m proud of that.

Who were your coaches/mentors in skating?

Well that’s an interesting question, probably something I may have changed if I could go back and do it again. I feel like I never really had a single coach or mentor. When I began to lose some of my motivation with skating, I think if I had one single influence that was a bit stronger for me at the time, it might have kept me going and I may have gone further.

My parents were always helpful and supportive, but they didn’t always know what I needed when I was skating. Mike Plant was actually one of my more memorable coaches, and someone I remember the most as an influence in my skating.  Also Mike Woods coached me for a while and helped me along too.

Do you have a particular place or favorite track/rink to skate?

Well, not now!  But the Oval in West Allis was memorable for me.  I’ve actually visited there since it became the PNIC.  It made me think, “if only we had this when I skated/competed”!  Being a skater of smaller stature, skating indoors would have helped me, as I felt the bigger kids had an advantage outdoors in those tougher conditions.

Did you have a favorite place or somewhere memorable where you trained?

Memorable for me would have been the annual ASU Camp at Northern Michigan University.  I was pretty much on my own at 11 years old at that camp (can’t believe my parents let me do that!) and I remember that it was difficult training (especially the dry-land training), but I really liked the skating sessions there.

What was happening on the music scene when you were skating?

Prince, Madonna… I was in MN with Michelle Kline (US Speedskating Olympian 1992 & 1994) at a training camp when the movie Purple Rain came out, and we went to see it together.  I also recall Phil Collins, AC/DC, Journey….

What do you remember about your best race ever?

I remember it was a race in Lake Placid when I won National Short Track Age Class Championships.  I never considered myself very good at Short Track, so I was surprised when I won back in 1984.  I recall this 300m race, I was never really that good at the start, but in this particular race I got a decent start and I won.

What other sports did/do you do/participate in?

I was a competitive junior golfer (age 18 and under) and that was my primary sport for a few of my teenage years. I now also enjoy snowboarding and road/mountain biking for exercise and fitness.

Did you pursue any education after skating?  What field?

I attended UC Berkeley. I started college with the intention of going to medical school, but after only one semester, that changed and I ended up with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Japanese.

What do you do now for work?

I’ve always had a great interest in food and nutrition, and when I became a parent and started thinking about what to feed my growing children, that interest took on a whole new level of importance.  I became a cooking instructor for a couple of years and also had a kitchen/cooking consulting business called “Dinner Doulas” where I empowered parents with tips, tricks, and tools to cook and feed their families better.

Since I was constantly cooking and making things at home from scratch, I often experimented with making healthy snacks for me and my family. I became interested in switching to a paleo diet for my own health and wellness, and when I searched for satisfying and healthful snacks, nuts were on the top of my list because I’ve always loved them. Unfortunately, the nuts I found in stores were usually too salty or too sweet and coated in unhealthy fats or cheap refined oils and sugars, so I played around with combinations and started to make my own. Little did I know that this would be the start of my small food business, now called Num Nuts (all credit of the name goes to my husband).  Num Nuts makes paleo-friendly nut snacks— we currently have three products: Original Mixed Nuts and two kinds of Nut Gravel, which are grain-free versions of granola. Up until now, I’ve been running the business out of my home, but I’m on the cusp of taking the next step, which would be moving into a commercial kitchen. It’s been a very busy holiday season for us and difficult to keep up with demand, which is a great problem to have, but it also inspires me to take the leap and expand. If you’d like to give my products a try for yourself, you can find them at www.numnuts.biz.

What hobbies, volunteer work, or special affiliations do you have now?

Num Nuts is my main thing right now and keeps me very busy, but I do some cooking/kitchen consulting on the side.

Final thoughts on the sport…

Do you have a special memory from skating you’d like to share?

I think even though it wasn’t a long period for me, skating was a very significant experience in my life, and I have very fond memories.

One thing you could change about your skating days if you could?

I would work harder!  (MG – But Chika, you WERE a hard worker!) Well, I think things possibly came too easy for me at the beginning.  I became good really fast and when I plateaued, I should have worked harder to take me further.  I needed motivation to work harder and didn’t really set goals for myself other than “go to the Olympics”. I lacked the confidence to keep skating, but having a single coach and/or mentor that knew me as a skater and cared enough about me to help me set realistic goals perhaps would have provided with the proper motivation to continue at the time. I now realize that I’m pretty goal-driven and can accomplish things better if I have clear goals and will be held accountable for them. Sometimes it just takes one person to provide guidance to someone for them to keep going…coaching and mentoring is truly invaluable!

Any special wishes/comments regarding the direction of the sport today?

I probably don’t know enough about speedskating and its current status, but it has always seemed that it doesn’t get the recognition in the U.S. like it does in other countries.  People like Apolo (Ohno) and Bonnie (Blair) brought significant interest to the sport, but when I compare the level of interest and knowledge of speedskating in other countries, I get sad as I think our sport doesn’t get the love and support it deserves.  Speedskating should get more of an appreciation and following than it does!

Good points and fantastic memories - thanks for your time.  Keep up the great work out there!