Gymnastics Background Strengthens Kirk’s Skating

Jennifer Kirk, who finished fifth at the 2002 US National Figure Skating Championships, didn't start out to be a skater.

Jennifer Kirk, who finished fifth at the 2002 US National Figure Skating Championships, didn’t start out to be a skater. When she was three, she began taking ballet and gymnastics classes, but she wasn’t interested in skating. In fact, when her parents occasionally took her to public skating sessions, she cried all the time. “It was torture for me,” she said. Kirk competed in gymnastics for six years. “The parallel bars and the floor were my favorite events,” she said. “I had the upper body strength to be good on the bars and I enjoyed the ballet moves and choreography of the floor exercises.”

“I quit gymnastics when I was nine,” she continued. “It was getting to the point where it was really competitive and there was a lot of risk of injury. I didn’t want to fall on my head. It wasn’t fun anymore. When you do something, it should be fun for you. I quit gymnastics in the summer, and then started skating in the fall. I needed something else to do after school. And my parents thought it would be a good idea to take some lessons so I could at least skate around the rink with them at the public sessions.”

“I’m a very competitive person,” Kirk said. “When I found out that I could combine the artistry of ballet with my gymnastics in training, I decided that skating was a great idea. So I continued taking ballet classes five times a week and started taking skating classes six times a week. All of the other girls who had started skating at two were much better skaters. But I got my triple salchow, double Axel and triple toe loop when I was eleven and the flip and the loop soon after. That’s when I knew that I really had something, when they were trying those jumps day after day and I was already landing them. My body was well developed from gymnastics. So I could always do the jumps off ice. The only problem was learning the takeoffs and landings. I always had good rotational speed, but I still need to keep working on getting higher. The judges like high jumps.”

Jumps are her favorite part of skating. “I like them all,” she said. “I like the challenge of getting all the jumps, going over and over them in practice until they’re right.” That’s one of the main reason she never tried dance or pairs. “I never thought about doing dance,” she said. “I considered pairs because I’m small, and I always thought that it would be fun to skate with a partner, but the lifts and throws scare me,” she said candidly.

Kirk continued ballet and skating until she was 13. “I had to stop doing ballet because I moved away from home to train for skating. I loved ballet and it helped me a lot with my skating. I performed in the Nutcracker with the Boston Ballet five times. They were really strict about training and how you should conduct yourself in class and in the plays. Ballet helped me to develop strong ankles, so I don’t have any ankle problems in skating. And it taught me how to deal with blisters and you always get blisters when breaking in new boots.”

Kirk trained on Cape Cod with Evy and Mary Scotvold for many years, before moving to the Onyx Skating Academy last season to work with Richard Callaghan. “They were great coaches and I would not be where I am today without them,” Kirk stated. “But I had just graduated from high school and I knew there were other opportunities out there. I thought it was time to take control and be my own skater. I had a tryout with Mr. Callaghan in Detroit and I liked what he thought about where my skating should go. I think it will be a great chance to grow up and mature as a skater.” During the season, Kirk skates for about three hours a day six times a week. Off ice, she does Pilates twice a week and some strength training on her own.

Kirk is using “The Princess Diaries” for the short program and “Dancing Queen”, I Have a Dream”, and “Chiquita” by Abba from the musical “Mama Mia” for the long. Olga Volozhinskaya choreographed both programs. “When I went with Mr. Callaghan, I told him that I was going to give him the opportunity to pick the music for both my programs,” Kirk noted. “He picked the music for the short program because he wanted me to be more graceful on the ice, so the music is soft and graceful. I usually like to use some upbeat music for the short, something that is good for the crowd. For the long program, I try to show different sides of my personality. I like to use fun music.”

For her exhibition program, Kirk is using music from “Aida”. “I get to play a character. Olga and I worked on the story. I get to try to be someone else. Usually it’s just me and the elements. I always liked acting. It’s fun to perform and try to be someone else.” Kirk added that she was always listening to music, looking for new music for programs as well as for relaxation. “I listen to the current top 40 on rock stations,” she said. “I like Christina Aguilera and New Found Glory. When I’m traveling, I’m always listening to CDs. It’s good to have familiar music to relax you and to pump you up for competitions.”

Kirk graduated from Harwick High School last year. “I really wanted to attend a public school so I wouldn’t miss out on the high school experience,” she said. “The school was really good about letting me go to competitions and make up work, but it was really difficult to go to competitions, then have to come home and do schoolwork.” Kirk’s best subjects were English and math, while she has an aversion to science. “I love writing stories,” she said. “I write for fun if I’m bored.” Kirk keeps a journal describing her skating competitions. “It’s fun to go back and read about it later,” she said. Kirk also writes for the skating magazine, 6.0 Skate.

Kirk plans to start college next fall. “I like to have the balance between school and skating,” she said. “Oakland University is right across the street from my house so I can go across the street and take classes. I’ll start out in English, definitely not in science, but I want to take some time to think about what I want to do. I’ll take some classes to find out what I’m good at and go with it.” Kirk noted that she didn’t plan to be a full-time coach or a choreographer, but would enjoy doing some coaching as a sideline.

Off ice, Kirk said she likes “spending time with my friends, talking and going to the mall. We find silly things to do. I like comedy and dramatic movies. I read any kind of book that catches my interest. It’s fun to have something to read, especially at competitions.” “I like sports,” Kirk continued. “I used to play soccer and I love watching baseball, especially the Boston Red Sox. I love swimming and tennis. I get frustrated with golf.” She doesn’t collect anything and donates almost all the toys she receives to charity. “I like frogs,” she said, “and I have a little one I take with me to competitions.”

Kirk also likes to travel. “I wish I had more time to explore when I’m at the competitions,” she said, “but my brain is so focused on skating that I don’t have time. I keep thinking how amazing it is for an 18-year-old to be traveling the world. I loved Japan. It was so different from anything else. And I really liked France. We went to a lot of churches and went shopping. I’d like to go to Italy, either to visit or to skate. I’ve heard it’s really beautiful there.”

In the last three years, Kirk took third at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 1999, then won the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in 2000 and followed up with a gold medal at the 2002 Four Continents Championships in South Korea. She finished fourth at Skate America and seventh at Skate Canada this season. “It was good international experience for me,” she said. “At Skate America, it was the first time I had skated my long program. I had a great short, but I was kind of overwhelmed by the long and didn’t pace myself. I’ll go home and learn from it.

“My goal is to grow as a skater, to skate well in both programs, and to land all of my jumps consistently under pressure,” Kirk stated. “I want to do clean programs at Nationals and see where that takes me. You can’t worry about the judging. I just hope they find the system that works the best. You have to skate for yourself and be happy with it.” Kirk plans to compete until 2006, perhaps until 2010. “I’ll continue until I feel that I’m satisfied that I’ve accomplished my goals. “I love to do shows and tours,” she continued. “I like to do things for the audience, not just compete.”

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