Mirai Nagasu Living Life to the Fullest

(Quotes from U.S. Figure Skating Telecon, 11 Jan 2012)

Todayís telecon with Mirai Nagasu was a wild ride as she spoke to the media by cell phone while her mom drove her through the southern California desert. The connection dropped out twice and the sound was iffy at times, but the teenager from Arcadia, California, who won the 2008 ladies title, put a unique spin on just about every question.  Her opening thoughts on preparing for Nationals since the Grand Prix started in a place no one would have guessed.

Due to the intermittent sound quality on our recording, ??? in the quotes means a few words could not be made out from our recording.  The quotes are transcribed as she actually spoke, and while one might casually assume she was a bit of an airhead, that could not be farther from the truth.  In addition to her colorful perspectives, Mirai has a tendency to jump from one thought to the next faster than she can complete the sentences, which often do not get completed or change direction mid-stream.  But she is clearly a thoughtful self-aware young woman.

"This may be weird," she began, " but recently Iíve been watching a lot of Food Network, like the chopped challenges, and there have been a couple of people who have really inspired me. Especially this one guy named Madison where -- you know how like on TV and stuff all of the contestants say when they are being interviewed they -- well like, they're pretty confident, and say how they are the best, that they're there to win. But this one guy Madison he emphasizes how he is not there to win, but heís there to try his best, and watching him really inspired me because, I think, when I think about winning it kind of distracts me a little bit. So ???, I really want to try and focus on just going out there and having fun and really trying my best."

On the technical side, Nagasu said she has been playing with the triple Axel, but just playing.  "Well, I like working on it with my rink-mates, well like the guys like Jonathan [Cassar] and Drew [Gonzales], but I landed a couple like half-turn cheated and stuff, but itís something fun to work on for me, and itís definitely not something Iím ready to put into the program," she said.

As for the content that will be in her programs, she explained, "No big changes. Well, like two weeks ago I was really having trouble with my jumps, and I donít know where they went, they just disappeared. But Frank [Carroll] made the executive decision to put me into the extra pair of skates that I had, and now my jumps are starting to get back to me, and Iíve been skating a lot better. Well, last week Evan came and practiced with us and -- practicing with Evan makes everything better.  I really wish he was there at the rink all the time.  And I donít know how he shows up with clean programs, because, I mean maybe he trains in his sleep or something, but he is in better shape than all of us. So -- I wish he would be at Nationals this year.

Nagasu has an extraordinarily complicated training schedule this season.  Last fall her coach, Frank Carroll, moved from the training center at Lake Arrowhead, California to a new facility in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs.  The new rink is owned by the same group as the rink at Lake Arrowhead.

"Well, right now I am actually on the road coming back from Palm Springs and this is my second hour, well, heading into my second hour in the car and honestly it, it sucks," she said.  "Well, usually I take a nap, so this is my nap time right now, but Iím kind of glad I have this interview because I donít really like taking naps. Itís just like when Iím in the car, with the gentle bumps in the road I just tend to fall asleep. So thank you all for coming and driving with me, I guess."

It's a two hour trip each way to the Cathedral City rink from her home, so her training day there begins after two hours in a car on the southern California freeways.  "Itís not the best feeling to have car legs and train [when getting to the rink in the morning] but -- I mean Iím working through it because I only go to Palm Springs a couple times a week -- I tend to like go to Artesia [aka the Michelle Kwan rink] because there are other national competitors which motivates."

When not working with Carroll in Cathedral City, Nagasu has other coaches who work with her at other rinks.  At Artesia, she said, "On Fridays, well once a week I have Galena [Baranova] who helps me with my components.  Sometimes I go to Rafael [Arutunian] up in the mountains [Lake Arrowhead] and sometimes I donít feel like driving the long drive and I just ask my mom to take me to a rink really close by.  Yeah, itís not the best of situations for me [training at so many rinks] but I am making the best out of it."

What's that you say? Chopped?  Food Network?

"Well, thereís this show called Chopped on the food network," she described again, "and I really like that show.  I like watching like the contestants. I like seeing how each person enters the competition differently.  And thereís this particular guy who really inspired me because he -- well, many people go into the competition with a very egotistical attitude, like full of confidence.  Itís refreshing to see that this one guy,"  at which point her cell phone dropped the call.

As the media on the line tried to figure out what this show was, Mirai came back online and hearing the chatter said, "I bet if you watched it youíd like it too.  They get like, I think, like four chefs a basket of food, and they get 20 minutes for an appetizer round, and they have to make an appetizer using the mystery ingredients in the basket, and then the judges eat their dish and whoeverís dish they dislike they chop them, hence the name of the show, Chopped.  And then they do another round which is usually the main dish, and then the last round is the dessert cart, and the winner is the person who doesnít get chopped."

Asked if they should do this in skating she laughed, "Well, well they do that at like Junior Worlds and Worlds, they chop some people in the short program, right?"

Nagasu used to work at Lake Arrowhead with Carroll when he was there, but still sometimes goes up the mountain to work with Arutunian.  Asked what Rafael brings to the mix and how he meshes with Carroll, she said, "Oh, I wasnít aware of the struggle [that there was one between the two coaches].  What Rafael means to my skating is mainly humor, I guess. Itís the way he teaches me is just different from all my coaches and I really enjoy that, and itís a lot of fun for me to work with him because he gets really into my lessons. When a coach is -- I feel that when a coach is trying their best as a skater I have -- when someone is trying their best for me I just try my best as well. Itís an automatic reaction. I feel that a lot with Rafael, so I just really enjoy his lessons."

[We particularly admired the deft way Nagasu avoided being sucked into a false controversy about her coaches, when none exists.  Or to quote Officer Barbrady, 'Nothing to see here.  Move along.']

Back to skating, Nagasu occasionally spends rink time with Evan Lysacek and gets tips from the Olympic Champion.

"At the beginning of the week he was at Artesia Monday and Tuesday, which was a lot of fun for me," she said, " especially when he pushes himself, and he kind of pushes me as well because --  tells me little tips, and even though I might have already done my program heíll tell me to do them again.  I donít know, when someone as esteemed as Evan tells me to do my program, I just, I donít really complain, I just kind of do it. Sometimes itís hard for me to, well for anybody, to do their program, but when someone like Evan is there to help you itís really helpful. And I guess, I really hope that he decides to make a comeback."

After dropping off the line again, and then coming back, Nagasu spoke about what skating means to her, and about getting her title back.  Asked about whether she was happy about where she was two years out of Vancouver, and two years before Sochi, she said, "I donít know how to answer this question.  Figure skating is a part of my life that -- well, a huge part of my life, and itís given me so many ups and downs but itís been an amazing journey and I think that I wouldnít change a thing about my skating because itís a whole learning process.  And you know, my life isnít just about skating. I mean, I am, well, Iím finding so many different things about myself, like a couple weeks ago I started guitar and I also watched the show Couponing, and so Iím into couponing, as well.  Iím scheduled to sign up for classes for school ???, as well. I wouldnít change a thing about anything, and Iím just enjoying it all.  My only, my only wish about life is that this is so short. I just, well I mean, Iím going to have some regrets, but Iíd like to minimize the number of regrets I have in this life."

Asked what sheís been reading as part of those other aspect of her life, Nagasu launched into the plot description of two series of fantasy books whose names I did not recognize and about which I understood next to nothing, other than she was clearly very in to them, was very excited about them, was waiting for the next volumes to come out next summer, and I realized I was now too old to ever have the slightest idea what she was talking about.  The part I understood was this, "I guess Iím really into the fantasy world. What can I say? Iím a dreamer."

Back to cooking, we couldn't help asking if she preferred the cooking or the eating, and she laughed, "I knew I was going to be asked this question when I said Food Network.  I like watching them cooking.  Like how people are so immersed in cooking.  Itís like, itís like me when Iím in skating. Theyíre so focused and concentrated and itís fun to see people in like reality TV competitions because itís nice to see when people are so engrossed in something and they love it.  And, well, when someone loves it you can just see that they love it.  You can ??? --  Itís just cool to see how other people have such unique hobbies."

Then with a ricochet back to skating and working on the components, " Iíve been working with Galena to bring out the balletic side of Spartacus," she described, "and the tango is a little bit more difficult for me because Iím,  I mean itís hard for me to be sexy.  And the tango is a new side of me that Iím working on in ???.  Itís fun to work with Galena because she sees that Iím embarrassed and shy about the expressions and the styles I have to -- I try to incorporate into my skating. But at the same time itís nice to push my boundaries."

In addition to Cathedral City, Lake Arrowhead, and Artesia, Nagasu also spends some time at a new rink in Pasadena, California which opened last Fall.  "Yeah, itís amazing, she said.  "Itís, Itís like a sauna in there, itís so hot. Like Palm Springs, you would expect for an ice rink to be like warm because Palm Springs is so hot compared to the rest of LA, but the Palm Springs rink is probably the coldest rink in America, and so sometimes, like sometimes itís nice to go to Pasadena which is warm. I actually went there one time by using the bus, and I have to say it was an adventure, because I had no clue where to get, like where I had to stop, like even where the stop was. Whatever. Iíd get off and like walk to the rink, ???.

No triple-triple this year?  "No, I am not [including one in her programs], she said.  "Iím actually working on -- trying to work more on my components this year to bring out the more delicate side of my skating and to concentrate on my musicality, because, I mean, missing out the Final and competing against Carolina, I mean her jump repertoire is not, is not as difficult without the triple Lutz but even still, like her programs are amazing.  Like, I mean, I think if I put in that much effort into every single arm movement and every single pointed toe I" -- she laughs -- "well, I guess I do fall a lot in my programs because Iíve been trying to concentrate more on my musicality."

Back to the personal, "My mom is [driving during the call], but," all excited, "I have my permit and Iíve driven on the freeway. Itís a lot of fun."  And so now is music.  "[I'm learning ] playing the guitar.  I can play now 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' now.  Iím like really a beginner. [I'm] learning on my own."

And back to skating.  Two weeks to Nationals and is she ready?

"Weeeell, I mean, I donít think anyone is ever ready for competition," she hesitated.  "Like there is always something else that can be worked on.  But, I mean I still have a couple, well like a couple, I canít really say weeks, but there is still a little bit of time left before Nationals, and so I really have to value each day and use it to build up my confidence."

This year she will be competing in her home state of California.  When it was pointed out she has a history of doing better at competitions farther from home she remarked ironically, "Wow!  Itís not really comforting to know now that I do better at farther away competitions!  But San Jose is still really far away for me, since -- well, we have to drive up there, and so itís going to be a six hour drive but itís a lot easier than flying, and I can, I donít have to pack everything according to the airlines, so it will be a lot easier, and it will be the same as flying, I guess. The length of time.  I mean, Iím excited since itís closer because then it will be easier for us. Weíll have our car there, and weíve never had a car at Nationals. So, maybe weíll be able to see the pretty parts [of San Jose]."

In closing, Nagasu spoke briefly about a role model of hers, Kristy Yamaguchi, and why she was a role model.

"Well obviously she won the Olympics," she said (with perhaps a hint of DUH! as she then laughs) "and sheís also Japanese-American like I am, but I think I have to say the thing that I admire most about her is the way she conducts herself.  And, I mean even now sheís someone that all America knows. Like she is a household ???.  Well, sheís never been in a scandal, or anything, and I really admire that about her."  In addition, "She is a mentor. She always has words of encouragement to say to me, and I need to believe in myself, so itís just nice to know that an Olympic Champion supports me."

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Copyright 2012 by George S. Rossano