Olympian, Jonathan Garcia: How Music Has Influenced My Life and Career

By Jeff Gorra, Artist Waves | April 13, 2018, 4:47 p.m. (ET)

You are moments away from appearing on your biggest stage. The whole world is watching. Literally, the whole word. You have your headphones on to block out any distractions and get in the zone. But what music have you selected? What’s the perfect song to prepare you for your moment? What artist earned your trust enough to be your main companion when all of your preparation is about to be tested at the Olympic games?

For Team USA speed skater, Jonathan Garcia, it was Pearl Jam this past winter in PyeongChang. At the 2014 Sochi games, it was Jane’s Addiction.

Garcia attributes much of his athletic success to the power of music. Rocking a Pearl Jam shirt in PyeongChang, he credited the Seattle band as a major influence in his life, in a photo shared prior to taking the ice for his 500m event. Later, as the games winded down, he shared another photo from an interview he did at the USA house, this time sporting a Soundgarden shirt.

We are thrilled to have Garcia here in our next “How Music Has Influenced/Inspired My Life” column. From an early age growing up in Houston, Garcia, also an avid guitar player, reflects upon the music that first had an impact on him, thanks in-part to his brother, while also taking us inside the process of selecting the right songs to enhance his training and performance.

My Musical Background:

I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember. My musical taste has changed a bit over the years, but not too much from 12 years-old on. My first favorite song was “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I can’t put to words why I relate to it as much as I do, I just do. I can remember like it was yesterday the first time I heard certain songs. I remember the feeling, what I was wearing, and what was going on at that time in my life. It’s cataloged my life in a sense. I remember listening to Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden on the last day of high school, for example.

I love all types of music. Rock is definitely my favorite, but late 80’s/early 90’s hip hop is a close second. I took it to another level in terms of music being a part of my life when I started playing guitar as a sophomore in high school. It re-opened everything up in terms of why I love music. I use it everywhere — in training to boost my performance or get through a training that I don’t want to do. It helps in every way. There are good races and there bad races, and regardless, music is the first thing I turn to.

I can’t imagine what it would be like not having music in my life. Even as a little kid. It’s been such a big a big part of my life and something that is a part of my every day. Right now, it’s my off season. We are not training much other than low intensity activity. Yesterday, I went on an easy two-hour bike ride and I can’t even fathom doing that without music. Being out here in Salt Lake, the mountains and landscape are amazing. Having music with me is like a soundtrack to everything I do. It provides another art form to what I am seeing. Music is like breathing or eating to me. I wake up an and immediately think about what do I want to listen to on my 20-minute car ride to the Oval where I train. How do I want to set my day up? It’s a form of a nutrition.

Music Makes Me a Better Skater:

When I was nine or ten, I was listening to music while I was skating and I realized I was skating much better with it accompanying me. Before I started speed skating, I was in-line skating. I’m from Houston, Texas, there’s no ice there. There’s no team and there’s no skating. The way I got into skating was by watching the 1994 Olympics. My parents explained to me what the games were, how they are only every four years, consist of the greatest athletes in the world, and is a very prestigious event. I then saw Dan Jansen win the gold. I had never seen speed skating before. Nobody in my family plays any kind of sports. Dan Jansen basically changed everything for me. I knew in that moment, although I have never skated before, I wanted to go to the Olympics and be a speed skater. I’ve had that mindset ever since I watched that race. I went to a birthday later that summer and begin in-line skating. I was horrible, but I loved it. It was like regular roller skating. After the party, the rink had a speed skating team practice. I knew that was more in line with what I wanted to do. The only difference was that it was on wheels. That’s where it all started.

I did that for 14 years, made it to the World Championships three times and got a World Championship medal in 2006. Some of those races were really long. They would play music in between the races. I remember feeling faster just because there was music in the background. I feel very fortunate for the top 40 music I had growing up. Whether it was the Seattle sound, Chicago with Smashing Pumpkins, early 90’s hip hop, which in my opinion was the best hip hop of all time. That’s what was on at the rink when I would go skate as kid.

Ever since I got my first CD player I could put in my back pocket in 1998, I’ve skated with music. Even in training. Obviously, I can’t use it during the race, but I always listen to music as close to the start of the race as possible. Literally until right before I have to be on the ice.

My First Concert / My First CD:

The first show I ever went to was The Toadies. My brother took me. It was amazing. They were huge in Texas where I grew up. I was late in going to concerts, though. I was a freshman in high school when I went to my first, but I was hooked after that and then would try to go once a week. I would never go more than a month without seeing a show. In 2005, I went to 60 concerts. It was a great year for shows. I saw Modest Mouse, Audioslave, Pearl Jam three times, and a ton of others.

The first CD I ever bought was the Dangerous Minds soundtrack in 1995. I bought it for the Coolio song. The second CD I bought was much better, it was Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins and I still have it.

Pearl Jam

I always liked the song “Even Flow”, but my first real relationship with the Seattle sound was through my older brother. He’s almost 11 years older then me. When I was in fifth and sixth grade, he was in college. I would go visit him and he was really into that music. I was always jealous of him. He saw Pearl Jam when they were opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers in Houston in the early 90’s. He wasn’t too familiar with them at the time, but he came back with his mind blown, like “Who are these guys? They are amazing.” So, when I got older, my brother was already ten years deep into Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, The Pixies and he pushed all of that off on me. I was easily influenced musically, but at the same time you are not going to like something you don’t like for very long. I was hooked.

Pearl Jam played two shows in Houston during their 2000 tour. This is when I really started to get into them. It was weird because this was around the time when boy bands became mainstream popular, but that was when I really gravitated towards Pearl Jam’s type of music. Three years later, they came back to Texas on the Riot Act tour. I saw them three times that tour — first in San Antonio, then the next night in Houston, and then a few months later in Dallas. That first San Antonio show blew my mind. I knew I wanted to keep going after that. I’ve seen Pearl Jam 16 times now and it’s never — well, do I want to see them again? It’s always — Yes! They are so unique in that every show is different. They can play basically one of 200 songs at any given time. It never gets old. It’s one of the few things in my life where I can say — I still love it now just much as I ever did. They are amazing.

It’s not just their shows. It’s the people that you meet. All of the fans have been so supportive. People will say, “Hey, if you are in town, Seattle or Chicago, let me know. You can stay with me or I have an extra ticket.” The atmosphere of real Pearl Jam fans is incredible. It’s something special that I have never seen in any other fan club or just fans in general.

After Sochi in 2014, I got to see Pearl Jam in Europe. It was the same set of behavior from the fans in Europe. Super welcoming. We were at Stockholm and Oslo and fans everywhere would say, “If you ever need anything, this is how you get around the city.” Or recommend places to go see and eat.

I save some Pearl Jam songs, where I won’t listen to them at all unless I am getting ready to race. It’s because there are certain songs of theirs, that if I haven’t listened to them in a long time, I get goosebumps, and I will really get amped.

At this past Olympics in PyeongChang, I knew that this may be my last Olympics. I know I will keep going for another year, but four? I don’t know. I had to honor Pearl Jam for getting me through so many things in skating and life. I tweeted and put on Instagram, the photo of me wearing their shirt. I wasn’t supposed to wear it, but I thought — I’m doing it anyway. I honestly think I would not be where I am today without them. I am going to both London shows this summer.

Playing Guitar:

I don’t consider myself a songwriter, but I do play guitar quite a bit. It’s another passion I have that I also got from my brother. I’ve given my coaches charts where I show them when I’ve skated well and I point out how it was right around the time where I bought a new guitar. I’ll say, “If you guys want to give me some extra money to buy a new guitar before a race, it’s probably a good idea.” None of them have bought into that yet, but the guitar is a big part of my skating. Sometimes I find the timing of certain songs helps me with my skating. Rhythm is a huge part of speed skating, as is your tempo. You need to make sure each stroke is even. If your timing is off, you can be the strongest guy in the world and it’s not going to matter. I attribute some of my success skating to playing guitar. I love to play along to music. Having a Pearl Jam live album on, and being able to play along to the entire show in my house brings me a ton of joy.

What I Listen To Before Skating:

I don’t really have different playlists for training vs. a playlist for race day. It all depends upon what type of mood I am in. If I need to get amped up it will be VS. or Yield by Pearl Jam, Badmotorfinger or Down on the Upside by Soundgarden. Sometimes I’m too amped and I need to calm down so I listen to something completely different like Bob Marley. It all depends upon the day.

I listen to different music for different distances that I race. For a 500 I will listen to “Go” or “Rearviewmiorror” by Pearl Jam — something fast, and really up beat. Then for a 1,000, I still need something upbeat, but something not punk rock or short. It has to be an even tempo like “Faithfull” or “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” by Soundgarden.

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