Golden Skate

Czisny determined despite struggles and surgery

Alissa Czisny

USA’s Alissa Czisny has been assigned to the last stop on the Grand Prix circuit in late November—the NHK Trophy in Sendai, Japan.

At the beginning of last season it seemed as if reigning U.S. ladies champion Alissa Czisny was building on the momentum from her fitth place finish at the 2011 World Championships in Moscow. The 25-year-old opened the season with a win at Skate America in Ontario, Calif., and clinched one of the six berths for the Grand Prix Final with a bronze medal at Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris just weeks later.

After unsteady performances at the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December, Czisny won the silver medal at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and was named to her fourth world championships team.

It was there in Nice, France, where things fell apart for the Bowling Green, Ohio, native. A disastrous short program was followed up by an even worse free skate, leaving Czisny in tears and confused after falling a combined seven times in the competition.

“My performances at worlds are definitely not something that I ever want to experience again,” she said. “The most frustrating aspect of those performances was that I kept trying my best, but nothing seemed to be going right. I could not understand why things weren’t working or what I was doing wrong.”

A few weeks following the competition, Czisny returned to the ice to begin training for her summer show schedule. She began to experience pain in her left hip, but she trudged along, focusing on fulfilling her professional commitments.

“I had some slight uncomfortable-ness that quickly turned into terrible pain by the time I was in Korea for All That Skate,” she explained. “When I returned home from Korea, I was unable to even stroke on the ice without pain, so I went to the doctor who sent me for tests and we discovered the injury.”

The injury as explained by Czisny, was a torn labrum, or the ring of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket, in the left hip. In early June, the two-time U.S. champion underwent the knife in Nashville, Tenn., and has been off the ice ever since.

“After learning about the injury and consequently gaining knowledge of the nature of that injury, I was better able to understand why I had terrible performances, especially in Nice,” she said. “I can’t undo what happened there, but it’s something that I have learned to accept and can grow stronger as a consequence of experiencing.”

Physical therapy began the day after the surgery, and a little more than a month into her recovery, Czisny was able to retire her crutches. She has not, however, been able to return to training at the Detroit Skating Club with coaches Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato as of yet, however, she has been making the most of her summer away from the rink.

“Fortunately, I still have been keeping some sort of a schedule so that I don’t float freely about with no direction,” she said with a laugh. “However, I still have a lot more free time than I usually have than when I am in training. I have been able to spend more time with my family, which is always nice. Also, I have been enjoying the beautiful summer we are having here in Michigan. Part of my physical therapy entails walking—and now also swimming—in the pool. I haven’t been able to spend this much time outside since I was very little.”

Czisny has been using the extra time in her day to catch up on one of her other loves—reading.

“I have read quite a number of books this summer,” she said. “Amazon and Barnes and Noble are probably still in business due to my voracious reading habits. I also enjoy being outside and hanging out with my friends and family. When I’m not limited by my hip recovery, I enjoy bicycling, dancing, playing tennis, and occasionally rock climbing.”

The injury, perhaps, has made Czisny more determined to the return to the competitive ice, and has given her some time to reflect on why skating is such a huge part of her life.

“Training is one of the many things that I enjoy about skating, because it gives me a sense of purpose, a direction, and plan for accomplishing my goals in skating. I enjoy the discipline and the feeling of accomplishment after working hard,” she explained. “I miss the lessons from my coaches because their teaching goes beyond the simple techniques of skating. They impart wisdom that helps me through my life. I also miss training with my friends every day.”

Czisny has been assigned to the last stop on the Grand Prix circuit in late November—the NHK Trophy in Sendai, Japan.

“Yes, preparation for the fall season will be much shorter than normal, but I am optimistic that I will be ready in time for the Grand Prix season,” she said. “I have given some thought to my programs for the new season, but I have, as of yet, been unable to choreograph new programs, obviously.”

With all of the obstacles that she now faces in returning to competition, Czisny remains determined to come back to take care of what she sees as some unfinished business.

“Skating had become one of my passions in life, and I still enjoy competing, even though I had some difficult experiences this past season,” she explained. “There are goals I still want to accomplish in skating, and I believe that I have not yet accomplished everything that I am capable of in my skating career.”

Czisny graduated with a 4.0 grade point average from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies, and took classes in French and Russian.

“I wish I could say that I am fluent in French or Russian, but that is unfortunately not true,” she admitted. “I can understand, read, and write French fairly well, although I am shy about and slow in speaking French. I need to study the Russian language a bit more diligently to better communicate in Russian, although I can understand more than I will usually admit.”

Being a world traveler, Czisny has been able to use her language skills frequently, and remembers one particular time that they came in handy.

“Several years ago during my first trip to Russia, I had just begun studying Russian and I was excited to be in Russia with a chance to use my newly learned, albeit limited, vocabulary. Sure enough, I soon got a chance to communicate in Russian,” she explained. “My mom, my coach, an official on our team, and I got lost in Moscow in our attempt to return to our hotel after sightseeing. We somehow ended up in a residential area with no English-speaking people in sight. Here was when I got my first chance to use my language skills, and we successfully found our way back, thanks to the directions from a kind Russian woman whose directions I was fortunately able to understand and correctly translate into English for the rest of our group.”

Though education has played an important role in her life, Czisny has put further education on the back burner for now.

“I have not yet decided what I want to do—if I want to return to school or what I would like to pursue post-skating,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas, but I am putting my focus on my skating career right now.”

Due to her longevity in the sport, Czisny is also one of a handful of current skaters to compete in all six of the active Grand Prix events in the USA, Canada, Russia, France, China, and Japan.

“I have enjoyed competing in each one of the Grand Prix events and enjoy getting the opportunity to travel to many different cities and countries,” said the two-time Skate Canada champion. “I have fond memories of the Grand Prix events in Canada. The Canadian fans are always welcoming and supportive, and the events are extremely well run. It also helps that many of the Skate Canada Grand Prix events have been in beautiful cities, such as St. John’s or Victoria, or in cities that are close to my training home such as Kitchener and Waterloo.”

The 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships could be Czisny’s 12th consecutive year in the senior ladies competition—five years more than another American lady.

“I certainly remember each of the U.S. Championships events that I have competed in, beginning with the junior event in Boston in 2001 and my first senior event in Los Angeles—I skated first in the short program, right before Michelle Kwan,” she remembered.

“My favorite, I think, was the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro. I had gone through so many struggles before then, and many people believed that I would never win again, especially after being tenth the previous season. However, my coaches believed in me, helped make me into a new skater, and I was able to perform two wonderful programs under the pressure of the championships which enabled me to earn a second title.”