Rink Side with Sugar Todd

July 21, 2016, 1:02 p.m. (ET)

Q: Why did you start skating?

A: I was a really active child. I did a lot of sports and I saw a flier for the Omaha Speedskating Club and thought it looked like fun. I decided to try it, loved it, and have been doing it ever since.

Q: How long were you skating before you realized it could become something serious that you could pursue?

A: The first year I did it, my parents and I traveled to some short track competitions in the Illinois and Michigan areas. I was placing pretty well in those and I really loved it. Within a year, I was pretty serious about it and told my parents I wanted to move to Milwaukee to train at the Pettit Center. They looked at my results and thought, ‘She might be pretty okay at this,’ and I somehow convinced them to move to Milwaukee.

Q: How old were you when you guys moved to Milwaukee?

A: Nine.

Q: When you moved out to Salt Lake City in 2012, was the goal the Olympics?

A: Oh yeah. The goal was Olympics from the first day but it is more of a process going to regional and age group competitions, Nationals, North Americans, then Junior World Team, National Team and then World Cups. 

Q: What was the biggest change when you moved up to the National Team?

A: It was a big change in lots of ways. Moving to a new state and the facility here. I had access to training resources and the people in the offices. It was a really good change in that sense, feeling like I had a lot more resources at my fingertips and people to help me.

Q: What motivated you to get to the National Team?

A: I don’t know. I guess the constant dream of wanting to be an Olympic Champion. That dream, no matter what level I was at, whether I was nine in Omaha or twenty-five and one Olympics under my belt, the dream to be an Olympic Champion has fueled everything.

Q: Do you remember the day you made the Olympic team for 2014?

A: That was a really good day. Going into Trials, I knew I could make the team but I had to race well. It wasn’t a given or guarantee by any means. I had to race well and I knew I could. I set all new personal bests and had the best competition I could have had. I had a lot of family here and I remember crossing the line after the second 500m and looking up at my time – obviously, I went into that race knowing what I had to do to make the team – and crossing the line and being giddy more than anything. That was fun.

Q: When did it set in that you made the Olympic team?

A: I think it probably set in right away but became more and more real feeling as the days went on. The Olympic Trials vibe and energy in the building definitely fed into it. Once Trials were over it was like, ‘okay, we got work to do.’ It was easy to get back to focusing on everything that you have to focus on to compete, while still being happy.

Q: Did you walk during the Opening Ceremonies?

A: Yes. That was unreal. That was probably the single one moment that encapsulates the entire experience for me. Walking up the ramp and into the stadium. Thinking about how many times I have watched Opening Ceremonies on TV and just what the Olympics mean to me, to be there and to experience it, that was it.

Q: What do the Olympics mean to you?

A: To me, the Olympics represent this really pure idea and something to strive for. Something that can bring the world together no matter what is happening. Either here in the U.S., or in the World, no matter what people are going through, the Olympics are that one platform where people can come together and you can just celebrate everyone in that moment.

As an athlete, competing in the Olympics, being able to appreciate all of the hard work it has taken all of my fellow Americans and Olympians from other countries, all of the work it has taken to get there is a very strong feeling of unity. I love the Olympics.

Q: Your parents have seemed to have a huge impact on your life.

Yes. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them and their support. I appreciate them and realize how fortunate I am for them letting me move us to Milwaukee when I was nine. I mean, that is bananas. At the time, our family was like, ‘You are going to let your nine-year-old move you to Wisconsin because she wants to go to the Olympics? That is ridiculous.’ And then I went to the Olympics and they were like, ‘Well done.’

Q: Off the ice, it appears that traveling and food are things you really enjoy?

A: Yeah. That sums it up pretty much haha.

Q: Why those hobbies?

A: I feel very fortunate that I have been able to travel as much as I have with skating but it is also a balance between traveling all over the world and also realizing I’m there to compete. It is fun for me during the off season to get to travel and not worry about whether or not I’m walking too much and if it’s going to affect my races.

There are so many places in the world! I would like to go to as many as I can.

Q: Where did you go this offseason?

A: This past April, I went to Central America with a Canadian speed skater friend of mine, Kaylin Irvine, and we spent a month in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

We flew into Nicaragua and spent the first two weeks in a town called Granada. We volunteered there at a community center and stayed at a homestay. After that, we explored more of Nicaragua and then went to Costa Rica and hung out. Another Canadian speed skater joined us halfway through and the last 10 days of the trip my boyfriend, Simon, joined us too. We just kind of romped around Central America.

Q: Why Central America?

A: Kaylin’s grandfather built a house right on the ocean in Costa Rica. When I found that out last year, I told her that we should probably go. We started planning our trip around last Christmas. We knew we were going to Costa Rica and we were trying to figure out how long we wanted to go for. Where we would be staying was pretty close to the border of Nicaragua and we knew we wanted to go there for at least a day. As we were talking – she had been to Africa and volunteered there – she brought that up and asked if I would be interested in doing something like that. I said that would be awesome so then we started looking for volunteering opportunities.

From there it snowballed into a month-long trip starting with volunteering in Nicaragua and working our way from there.

Q: What was the volunteering?

A: It was a cool program that we picked because there weren’t a lot of prerequisites. It was a build your own volunteer opportunity. You could go for a week, two weeks, you could go for six months, and whatever skills you had was what you could do with the kids. We thought that was perfect for us. Our Spanish wasn’t great; we can play sports with them since we were both Olympic Speed Skaters. We spent two weeks there doing a lot of different activities with them.

Q: What made you start your blog?

A: I finally made myself a website last year because I wanted a space that wasn’t Facebook or Instagram, just totally my own and not through a social platform. Through completing the website, I realized I could house a blog on it. The blog was just a way for me to express more than I could in a Facebook post or a Tweet. Being able to write more for people who would be interested in reading about what I have to say.

Q: What started your interest in baking?

A: Food is great. I love food. I love eating. I think it’s just because I grew up cooking with my mom. My mom has always made stuff from scratch and I think that is where it came from. That, and just wanting to eat good things. A lot of times, I’ll be at home and think a stuffed bell pepper or scones sound really good right now, so I’ll go make it. I guess that’s where it comes from.

Q: What is one thing that you make and you need everyone to try it because it is so good?

A: I don’t have many staples. I guess the biscotti has become a staple.

Q: Why is that?

A: I started making them because I wanted biscotti. I was at home and was like, ‘I want biscotti and don’t feel like going anywhere. I’ll just make them.’ After I made them - they were fairly easy to make, they have a good shelf life, and they can be easily packaged and shipped -  it occurred to me that this is something I could make and sell to help raise money for myself. Once I started doing that, more people had them and more people started to tell me how much they liked them. I like them but that didn’t necessarily mean that other people would. Once I got more and more feedback on them I thought they might actually be pretty good.

For the most part, there aren’t too many things that I make over and over again because I always want to try a new recipes I’ll try something new and be like ‘that was great!’ Then I’ll think about it later but I’m too excited about trying something else I haven’t before.

Q: What is something that you have been trying to make but haven’t yet?

A: Well, recently, I’ve been trying to make bread. I bought a book in the middle of the season last year. I just recently read it cover to cover because that is totally normal to read cook books from cover to cover… I’ve baked a few loaves and it needs some work. Bread baking is one of the trickier things I’ve tried.

Q: Is baking something that you would pursue after skating?

A: It has crossed my mind. My boyfriend is a giant coffee nerd and owns his own café at the University of Utah. We have entertained the idea of opening something where he could run the coffee side and I could run the bakery side. That idea has been floated around but to be honest I don’t really know what I want to do when I’m done skating.

If I could do something after skating where I could travel, camp and maybe cook and write about it, that would be the dream job.

Q: Is there someone in the sport who has been influential in who you are?

A: Oh yeah. Growing up, Bonnie Blair was my childhood hero. The cool thing in speed skating is that our sport is so small that it didn’t take long to meet Bonnie Blair and be able to talk to her. I remember doing a camp when I was little that she put on, and I have photos of me skating behind her. I’m at the point now where she is just a friend of mine and I have her phone number and we text.

Q: What would you say to aspiring athletes?

A: Looking back, knowing what I know now, advice I would give my younger self would be to stick with it and keep your chin up. I definitely have had moments in my skating career where I wasn’t loving it and it wasn’t fun, and I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no light at the end of the tunnel and feeling like I wasn’t going to make an Olympic team. I was putting all of this time and energy into something and was wondering if it was going to pay off. I have found that lots of hard work and perseverance definitely makes it worth it.

Q: How are you approaching this Olympics differently since you have made it once before?

A: Now I’m at the point where I have improved since Sochi. I’ve cracked the Top-10 at ISU World Cups and I am definitely approaching this year and next year with more medal-oriented goals. The goal has always been a gold medal but this time around it is more serious and more within reach. Last time, it was make the team, have fun, enjoy yourself. This time, I have business to take care of.

Q: What do you hope to give back to the sport because it seems like the sport has given so much to you?

A: I hope that I can inspire younger skaters. I remember being little and the National Team would do training camps in Milwaukee and as a Junior we got to train with them some. I would be a little bit awestruck and be like, ‘oh wow, there is the National Team, they are so fast.’ Now, I have reached the point where I have had people react to me that way and it’s funny to me because I remember being the awestruck one. It’s strange to think that somebody might be awestruck by me. That seems really bizarre but I’m at the level of skater that I use to look up to. If I can just help inspire or give advice or guide anyone who might need it, I’m available. Hit me up on Facebook.

Q: Do you think your name is as awesome as it is?

A: I like it. When I was growing up, people would ask me and my parents, “Why did you name your daughter Sugar? Does she get picked on? Is she okay?” I’ve always been like, ‘Yeah, no, I’m great.’ People always remember my name which can be very helpful.

It’s funny because I think the name sounds totally normal. It doesn’t faze me. But when I meet or come across people with other bizarre names, I’m like, ‘that’s weird.’ Then I will take a moment and be like, ‘wait, my name is Sugar, I can’t talk.’