The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships feature some of the most compelling stories in sports history. Beyond the Tonya and Nancy fiasco, we have seen lives change seemingly overnight since skating became part of the American mainstream. Superstars of skating such as Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, and the Kween herself, Michelle Kwan, have all had coming out parties in one fashion or another at the U.S. Championships, and each have earned a place in American pop culture.
In January with Olympic berths on the line, a small group of senior ladies headlined the field in Spokane, Wash. Names like eventual champion Rachael Flatt, former gold medalist Mirai Nagasu, and Audrey Hepburn clone Ashley Wagner were at the top of most everyone’s list of contenders. Each skater a star in her own right, but in an Olympic year, many eyes also look past the ladies who will make up Team USA to the next generation of skaters who present their case as the ones to watch. One such skater blipped on the radar even before most of the other ladies even made the trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Sixteen year-old high school junior Amanda Dobbs in her first year with partner Joseph Jacobsen created quite a stir in week one of competition in Spokane. A seventh place finish in the senior pairs division was the start of an amazing two weeks for the Mission Viejo, Calif., resident. Having not competed in pairs since the 2006 U.S. Championships on the novice level, Dobbs skated with reckless abandon, propelling her and Jacobsen into the limelight.
“Joe and I trained very hard all of last season, so skating as well as we did was not really a surprise to us,” she admitted. “We just skated like we do every day and enjoyed every minute of it- like we do every day. Going into nationals, we never really thought (about) placement, we just knew how we wanted to skate. I don’t think that we were expecting to place quite as well as we did though, but it was nice to see all our hard work pay off.”
In the second week of competition, Dobbs again emerged from the pack- this time in the ladies competition, and finished in sixth place in her senior national debut. Superlative basic skating coupled with a command of choreographic elements propelled Dobbs into the spotlight once again, making the former Junior Grand Prix Finalist perhaps the most successful non-medalist of the Championships.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect,” said of competing in two events in Spokane. “I was lucky enough to be one of the few skaters that were skating in two different events, and the only one doing it at the senior level in an Olympic year. All I knew was that I wanted to go and skate like I did every day and enjoy whatever happened. I had trained hard all of last year and felt very well prepared and I wasn’t surprised with how I skated specifically.”
Dobbs’ skating journey began some fourteen years ago in her then hometown of Fresno, Calif. At just two and a half years old, the toddler laced up skates for the first time after watching Kwan at an ice show.
“There was someone from the local rink there handing out fliers for their skating school, where you could start at age two, so my parents took me for lessons,” Dobbs explained. “I had my first steps on the ice in Fresno at the Gateway Iceoplex.”
At the age of five, Dobbs’ father took a job that moved the family to Hollister, Calif., leaving the kindergartner without a place to skate.
“The closest rink was in San Jose, which was over 45 miles away, so I didn’t skate for a few months after we moved,” Dobbs remembered. “My parents said I was having a hard time and one day I finally asked if I could skate again, so they called Logitech Ice in San Jose to set up lessons. As soon as I got back on the ice they said I was like myself again, so they kept taking me back for more.”
Dobbs trained with Tracy Prussack in San Jose until the ripe age of fourteen before moving to southern California. She now trains in Aliso Viejo, Calif. with former World Championships medalists Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
“Mr. (John) Nicks also works with me on ice, and helps look at my training and make sure everything is going well,” she shared. I also work with Christine Binder who helps me with the stroking and edge work, and Donna Flowers who helps with my off-ice training.”
Dobbs credits her family and her pairs partner for keeping her on track and motivated as she trains in both pairs and singles.
“The biggest part of my team would have to be my family and my partner Joe,” admitted Dobbs. “They are always there for me and help keep me on task. Joe is my best friend and always seems to be there for me no matter what, and I think this is a big part of why I can handle doing both singles and pairs.”
“My parents have been so helpful in supporting my decision to skate singles and pairs,” Dobbs continued. “They have helped me figure out how to balance everything including my off-ice life. (Meno and Sand) are great coaches and help me balance my schedule out on the ice and kept my training balanced. I think (Jacobsen) was an even bigger part of my success because he has always supported me with my singles skating, and knew that the pairs and singles were both very important to me.”
Keeping up with the rigors required of a dual-disciplined skater is a daunting task, but is one that Dobbs takes in stride. As a high school student, she has adapted both her training and educational schedule to set her up for success in both areas of her life.
“During the week, I am at the rink from 8 AM until 2 PM skating and training. After that I have time to either go home to work on school or do some off- ice training,” said the very organized teenager. “Three days a week, I head back to the rink at about 4 PM to coach at the Aliso Viejo Rink. After that I come home, have some dinner and some family time.”
School is very important to Dobbs, and she hopes to continue her studies once she graduates from Laurel Springs High School next year.
“I plan on taking a few classes at a community college on a part time basis while I’m still training,” Dobbs revealed. “I plan to go to school full time after I am done competing. Eventually, I would like to go to college and become a physical therapist later on in my life.”
Weekends are Dobbs’ down time, and she keeps herself busy with typical teenager adventures with her friends at the beach or the mall. She also has a passion for baking and cooking.
“My favorite thing to bake is peanut butter brownies and chocolate peanut butter cookies,” she said very enthusiastically. “Can you tell I like my chocolate and peanut butter?”
Dobbs has a fourteen year-old brother named Connor who is nationally ranked in three events in his age group in swimming. Both of her parents were competitive swimmers, and had hoped for Dobbs to follow them into the pool, but she wasn’t interested.
“My parents were both hoping I would be a swimmer, and while I do that sometimes for cross training, it isn’t really my thing,” she confessed.
Dobbs’ father Doug works as a business executive who has been employed in the produce industry in the past, but is now a consultant for various companies. Her mother Laura is a social worker who works with children and families within the foster care system. Her family has three dogs- an American Eskimo, a West Highland Terrier, and a Cairn Terrier; and a cat that they adopted from a shelter.
Dobbs also has a large collection of items that have anything to do with elephants. “I collect elephants and have done that my whole life,” Dobbs shared. “I got my very first elephant when I was first born from my great-grandmother who gave me a stuffed animal. I took (the elephant) with me everywhere and have always loved elephants at the zoo, so people would give them to me as gifts. I have clocks, mugs, figurines and photos in my collection.”
To help defray the costs of her skating, Dobbs has created an interesting business venture that not only helps to keep her on the ice, but also makes use of her love of knitting.
“I help cover some of the costs of my skating is by knitting fuzzy warm scarves for people,” Dobbs explained enthusiastically. “I started knitting when I was about ten in order to keep me busy and relaxed when I was driving to the rink and back. I would also knit while I was at physical therapy working with Donna Flowers, and people at the clinic would ask if I could make scarves for them too. So I started selling them to people and would then use the money to help pay for some of my lessons.”
Dobbs sells her scarves for $25, and uses a base color and what she calls a fun fur to give the scarves a little something extra. She typically needs about two weeks lead time to fill an order, and is always excited to drum up new business. (For information about ordering scarves, please see link below.)
This season, Dobbs will debut two new programs between the two disciplines- a new short program choreographed by Cindy Stuart to Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s for singles, and a new free skate in pairs to an orchestral version of Bohemian Rhapsody choreographed by Renee Roca.
“I really like the feel of the program so far,” Dobbs said of her new singles program. “It has also been great working with (Roca) on the free skate. She has helped us grow as a pairs team already. We have loved working with her.”
Dobbs will keep her Concierto de Aranjuez free skate for singles, and she and Jacobsen will recycle their Leyenda short program for competition this season. Both programs will be re-choreographed to meet new program requirements, add new skills, and so that they are fresh for the audience and for themselves.
In the off-season, Dobbs has been working on expanding her triple jump repertoire. Last season at the U.S. Championships, Dobbs relied heavily on the triple toe loop and salchow for most of her jumping points; though she did try an unsuccessful triple flip in the free skate.
“We have been working on getting some harder jumps in singles such as my triple flip and a triple-triple combination,” Dobbs revealed. “I have gotten my triple flip going more constantly, and did it in the debut of my program at a small competition in Fresno a few weeks ago.”
Because she did so well at the U.S. Championships last season, Dobbs earned an invitation to the Four Continents Championships where she finished in fourth place with a new personal best score. As such, she was eligible for, and earned selection to her first Grand Prix event of her career.
“I am going to Cup of China,” Dobbs exclaimed. “I am so excited to be a part of the Grand Prix series this year! I must admit, in my eyes, it’s a big accomplishment and a huge honor, and I can’t wait to see what happens.”
But in typical fashion of a hungry athlete, Dobbs would like more. “There are spots available at Skate America this year (in pairs and ladies) for American skaters,” Dobbs noted with wide-eyed determination. “(Jacobsen and I) would obviously love to be the team selected, but we are just trying to stay focused on our training and continuing to develop our team this year. If we do that, then we feel like we will be ready to handle whatever opportunities we are presented with.”
Cup of China is just one week prior to Skate America, but the challenge of competing in back to back weeks between very different time zones does not faze Dobbs in the least.
“Given the schedule from last season, I am very capable of competing back to back weeks so this does not bother me,” she admitted after competing for two weeks in Spokane, and then heading to South Korea for the Four Continents Championships the following week.
On the pairs side, Dobbs and Jacobsen have been hard at work to improve elements that they believe will make them a more competitive team.
“We have been working on some more interesting lifts and getting another throw triple,” she admitted. “We hope to improve on our skating skills and our relationship together so that our transitions and performance scores improve. The overall goal, however, is to just keep enjoying what we are doing, and skate the best we can for this point in our careers.”