Karly: Hi, this is Karly (@cyberswansp) from In The Loop, and I'm here with Gabriella Izzo, the 2019 U.S. Junior National Champion. Hi Gabbie!
So first question: just for listeners to learn about you, can you tell us a bit about yourself, introduce yourself to the audience and tell us about your skating journey?
Yeah, definitely. So... my skating journey actually started a little bit later than most—I didn't start seriously skating until I was maybe 10 years old, probably very serious when I was 11. And it was mainly because my brother had started doing hockey and I was kind of bored just sitting at the rink when he was practising, so I asked my mom and my dad if I could put on my own pair of skates and play around. So then I played around for a few years until he ended up quitting, and then when we moved to Boston, we decided that I wanted to try it more seriously because I enjoyed it so much.
Yeah. I started off with Suna Murray at the Skating Club of Boston and then two and a half years ago I switched to Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson.
Where do you train now?
I train in Revere, Massachusetts.
You're still in Massachusetts, so it's kinda familiar territory to you?
So when did you start really doing competitions?
Very seriously? Probably like 11 years old. My first regionals was when I was 11.
Did you gain interest in it because of watching other people skate while your brother did hockey, or did you just go, "Oh I wanna do something, so let's do skating?”
"I wanna do something, I'm really bored watching this cold rink!"
[Laughs] So you just kinda, "fell into" skating.
That's really interesting!
It's like— figure skating is not something that's been in my family before.
You were, like, innovating?
Yeah! [Both laugh]
I'm glad you got into it! That's really interesting. My brother also did hockey, but sadly I did not get into figure skating [laughter]. So going into the new season, you are the 2019 U.S. Junior National Champion - that's awesome! How does that affect you going into this season? How do you feel?
I mean, obviously, it's wonderful to win Nationals. It's like a dream come true. But I feel like with every new season it's kind of a clean slate, and it's almost like you don't necessarily need to prove yourself again. You want to not only pick up where you left off, but you want to show that you can be even better and you want to be always improving and progressing. I mean a title, at the end of the day, is just a title, and it doesn't mean anything if you don't have actions and programs to back it up.
So you're more about continuously improving and not skating for a title but skating for skating.
Skating for skating, having the best performances that are possible on that given day and moment, as well as just taking it day by day and program by program. Because what I did last year doesn't matter so much in the sense of how it predicts how this year is going to go. It's a totally different ballgame, it's different everything, so it's just taking it day by day and being in the moment and with the music.
That's really awesome. So, speaking of going into the new season, your new programs are on the U.S. Figure Skating Fan Zone. We have "I Am Here" from The Color Purple, and "Starry Starry Night." That's beautiful music, I've heard both of those songs. So can you tell us a little bit about how they came about?
Yeah, definitely. So my coach, Mark Mitchell, he does all the music editing and finding music and he's amazing at it. He works magic, and we got my short first. And we were kinda thinking [that] I wanted something dramatic, something that told a story, but I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go with that. And then he had found this piece of music and he says "I think it's really good for your Senior National debut, because it's making a statement like ‘I am here,' like, 'I'm someone to be reckoned with.’ It's a big bold statement, which is kinda everything you've been going for up until this point." It's like “Ok, I was a Junior and now I'm a Senior,” like I really "am here." And then with my long, we had a little more of a difficult time because I really loved this piece of music, but to just skate to "Starry Starry Night" for four minutes, it would get a little repetitive. So he had to mix it with something else and I don't exactly know what the other instrumental part of it is, but it took a little bit of time but I think we ended up with something really cool and unique.
For "Starry Starry Night" and the mix that you have, is there a sort of feeling you're trying to convey with that music?
Yeah, almost like a celebration of life and, specifically, Vincent's life to be really specific. But a celebration of life, it's bittersweet, it's a little melancholy, but it's happy in a sense because—I mean, the storyline is very sad—but it's a soft piece of music that still has a little bit of power behind it and it tells almost a foreboding and sad story but at the same time there's happy moments that need to be cherished and celebrated as well.
It's a very beautiful piece of music; I'm excited to see you skate to it. So we read you'll be attending Harvard University in the fall. Are you there yet?
No, actually. We decided that I would take a gap year and I would start next year. [Karly: Oh, OK.] So that's exciting too.
What do you plan to be your major?
I want to go into sports medicine!
Is that inspired by your experiences in the sport?
Definitely. I've also always been pretty interested in medicine, but I got to know a lot of, like, orthopedists and physical therapists and it just seems like something I could see myself doing and thoroughly enjoying.
Would you say that going into sports medicine after your skating career, would you continue to be in the sport as a doctor?
If I wanted to at that point in my life I could definitely see myself going down that path or just definitely working with high level athletes or just athletes in general. Because I think it's a totally different world when you're an elite athlete, and I don't think a lot of people understand that, so to have a medical provider that is in the same mindset as you are, and understands that sometimes just taking time off isn't possible and to be innovative in the recovery aspect, I think that would be really cool as well.
Yeah, definitely having some experience with high-level sports would be great for someone in that field. So, how do you balance your life with your skating? Is it something that's more of a challenge for you or are you used to it by now?
I think I'm pretty used to it by now because I went to full-time school at Boston Latin School, which, in and of itself, has a huge reputation of being very hard, very work-intensive - but it does pay off. So I didn't really have a choice, I had to balance my school and my skating. So I would go to school full-time, 7:45–2:15, and then I would rush to the rink and I'd be at the rink until 7:30. And then I would come home and do homework until late at night, maybe even early in the morning for some days, so I guess I just didn't think about it that much. I just had to do what I had to get done. So I think balancing that and being really efficient has been a big part of my life. People are always asking me "How do you do it?" Like, "That's so amazing," or whatever and, this doesn't need to come off like a brag or a boast, but it's just something I didn't quite think about because - not that I didn't have a choice, I mean I did have a choice - but I wanted to do both and I was going to set my mind to it and get both done. I wasn't going to let one be sacrificed because of the other or vice-versa. If I wanted it done, I was going to figure out a way to get both done.
So it wasn't just "think about it," it was just "do it."
Do you think going forward, as you take your steps into college, that will change? Or do you think your experience in the past will help you?
I think my experience, or at least I hope my experience in the past will help me, because I don't think there is a way to balance life and skating when skating is a huge part of your life, and maybe is your life at some points. So the only way to figure it out is to find that "happy medium" or find an equilibrium and just be able to do both to the best of your ability, and maybe you miss out on some social gatherings or maybe you can't spend as much time in the rink because you have to study, but at the end of the day, you're still getting the maximum amount of each. And maybe it's a little bit harder and it's a little more tiring, but I know that's what I want so that's the path I've decided to take.
So it's just a matter of knowing what you want to do and being OK with, y'know, maybe you have to sacrifice a little bit of one thing for another but eventually you'll get that balance back.
On your biography, one of your listed interests is in volunteering. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, what you do, and what inspires you to do it?
So, I've always had a bit of a heavy heart. Like when I see things on TV or when I watch movies or anything and it's sad, I'm a big crier. I tend to feel things very intensely, or so I've been told by other people, so I always knew that I wanted to try and help to make a difference in whatever, whatever I can do. So I started volunteering at The Skating Club of Boston and they had this therapeutic skating program where it was kids with mental and physical disabilities, they would come and we would teach them how to skate - and I just found that so enlightening. I mean it was joyous to watch them as they learned but also to figure out how to get around different obstacles when you're trying to teach people. And then I kind of took that into an academic realm and I peer tutored at my school and peer mentored at my school. And then—actually in the fall—I'll be volunteering at Fransiscan Children's Hospital, the units with the children who are usually severely handicapped or something has gone on, so I'll be volunteering with them as well.
That's just really awesome. Would you say is that something you want to continue in the future?
Definitely, 100%. It's kinda funny, I guess I was always kinda going down this path because even when I was little, when my birthday came around or someone else's birthday, I would always enjoy picking out gifts and giving gifts to people more than I liked receiving gifts myself. I feel like I tend to want to give more than I want to receive sometimes. I mean it's always nice to receive a nice thoughtful present, but I love putting in the thought and the process of giving other people things, so I think it's not only rewarding to the people that I'm helping but it's also self-rewarding, which gets into "there are no unselfish acts," but whatever. [Both laugh]
No, I totally understand that. It's just very nice to think about other people and do your best to help other people.
Plus it's very grounding, because sometimes it's like, "Wow, I'm making a big deal about this sport and I'm having a tough day,” but there are people who don't have food or don't have water. So it's like OK, I need to take a step back, realize that I'm very privileged to be doing this sport and everything that entails, and I see all the work that my parents put into it - especially my mom - to provide for it, so it's... it's grounding and it's eye-opening as well. So I think it can give people a perspective as well.
Do you have role models, both in and outside of figure skating, that sort of inspire you to do these things?
Yeah, definitely. I think my coaches, for most, are definitely my role models, especially Mark and Peter, but also Diana Miro - we call her Lady Di at our rink - she's a miracle worker, I love her. She's a huge inspiration. And then Michelle Kwan, just her work ethic and some of the quotes she says, I think they're just amazing and it shows that it's not always the most talented - although she is incredibly talented - but t's the amount of work that you put in and the perseverance and the unwillingness to give up that really decides who's on top of the podium. So I think definitely in skating it would be those, and then outside of skating? I think my mom would probably be my biggest role model and inspiration, because I mean so many people, especially in our family, told her [that for] me, it wouldn't be possible. Skating [is] too expensive, it's too time-consuming, it's not possible if you want to get a good education. But she took the brunt of it and she never gave up on me but also never gave up on herself as well. She worked three jobs now to provide for my skating and I appreciate everything she does, and I know how physically draining and mentally draining it is. But she never ever gave up and I can't thank her enough for it, because her not giving up allowed me to pursue what I wanted to do, what I dreamed.
So she really believed in you?
Yeah, and she allowed me to believe in myself, I guess.
I think it's really nice to have role models both in and out of figure skating. Ones that motivate you within the sport, and outside of the sport, y'know?
Yeah, definitely. There's gotta be some kinda balance; it's not all about skating.
Exactly. Going back to this season's programs, do you have a favorite element or piece of choreography that you like to perform from these programs? Or just a favorite part, really?
In my Short Program, in the footwork, there's this little sassy section where she says "I'm gonna flirt with somebody", and it's a moment where I can really just perform and look at the judges right in the eye. So that's one of my favorite things to do in my short, because it's almost like a break from the rest of the program. I've done the jumps at that point, I'm in the footwork, I can really give it my all and it's a fun part to do. And then the very beginning of my long, I love to do the very beginning of my long because we had this idea of painting a painting in the beginning, like actually painting, so some of the movements are inspired by that. As well as in the footwork, it goes back to being slow, and it's happy, yet bittersweet, and again we have the painting motif. So I just think that the level of intricacy and the level of continuation in the choreography is really fun in the long, and really enjoyable to do, and then that little flirty part in my short's really fun to do too.
It's nice to have little moments that aren't like “Here's a jump, here's a spin,” but “Here is something that I'm actively contributing and making it its own program.”
Yes. It almost brings the program to life instead of “transition, transition, jump, crossover,” and it breathes life into it.
Exactly. It's like those little moments in the program that make you feel like you're making it your own.
Is there a type of genre of program, or a type of music, that you would really like to challenge?
I'm starting, or trying my hardest to think of challenges as opportunities. Last year it was very out of my comfort zone to do my more upbeat short program to "Summertime," so that was definitely outside of my comfort zone but it was a lot of fun for me to try. So I think this year I've gone with two more dramatic and softer - not soft, but a little bit more like, what I'm comfortable with, in a certain balletic sense. But other times, I need to be strong and staccato, so I'm working on that, but I think I would love to go again into a little more upbeat or jazzy or sassy and intense but in a slightly different way. It would be a lot of fun to try and conquer that. I think having the diversity and the variability is really important in the sport, too. I mean, look at Nathan Chen. He's doing rap music, and it looks amazing.
Yeah, so it's basically all about challenging yourself, moving yourself out of your comfort zone, while still maintaining that sense of self.
What type of programs do you enjoy watching? Like what type of programs do you like experiencing?
Honestly, it comes down to the skater because I can watch anything and appreciate the gracefulness or jazziness of a program, I think it's incredibly what some people can do and how they can move sharply and how they can let movements flow into others. One of my favorite skaters to watch was always Javier Fernandez, because I found his programs so entertaining, and yet so beautiful at the same time, and to be able to show the difference in tempo and the different sides of different skaters, I enjoy just watching all different types, because you can tell when a skater really enjoys their program, and I think that really comes out, and when they really put themselves into it, it's really nice to see.
That kind of answers my next question, it's if you could have the skills of any figure skater in the world, what would it be? Would it be the ability to convey any type of program?
Oh, that's hard! I think I would want to convey any type of program, but at the same time, I want to do all the jumps - quads, quints - whatever - I want to do all that! So I think maybe an ability to mix both the athleticism and the performance part of the sport. Have the technical content on par with the top people in the world, but also to be a performer that draws in not only the judges but also the audience and moves people. I guess you could say like a Nathan Chen, or a Evgenia Medvedeva, Yuna Kim, Carolina Kostner - they all had the ability, the technical ability, yet they also brought the program components side to life as well.
How do you train yourself to convey a program's emotions? How do you work on that?
It is really hard to think about that when you're running a program. You're also thinking about the jumps, so it's difficult. But I have a great team and people around me, and sometimes we draw faces for me to look at, or for other people to look at, on the hockey plexiglass. So we draw faces and I'll be doing my program and [my coach will] scream "Eyes!" like "Keep your eyes up! Neck long!" And then there's also a dance choreographer who knows how to skate, Deirdre Williams. She comes in and she works on the expression and keeping the elements and the movements long and continuous and [adding] little details. I also had the great opportunity to work with Ashley Wagner once on my performance aspects, so we do spend time on it and it's really hard. It's something that I think takes the back burner a lot when we're trying out there to get these triple jumps, or triple-triples, or even quads - people are doing that. So I think it does take the back burner, but it's important to work on that level of artistry as well.
This was kind of answered with your role models, but how do you motivate yourself with respect to figure skating? What motivates you within the sport?
I mean it's obviously, it has to come from within, but at the same time, I see all the sacrifices that have been made for me, especially coming from my mom, and I'm like “Okay, if she can do that, then whatever I'm facing, I can do this.” I know what I want, and I know however hard it's going to be to get there, I know I have to put in the work to get there. I'm not gonna shirk around the work because that's not gonna get me the result I want. So the only way to be motivated is to know what you want and understand how hard it is gonna be to get there.
So it's really about putting in the work to get what you want, and being that dedicated.
Yeah! And sometimes, you're not always gonna have the best skate of your life, and it's gonna be disheartening. I'm always upset when I don't skate well, even on a regular training day. It's hard because you're putting in 150%, you're giving it everything you have - and sometimes it just doesn't work or you're going about it in the wrong way. I think it's those moments that - wow this sounds so cheesy - it's those moments that define us, in a sense. You miss a jump in a program, okay, you have to come back and you have to be able to get all the other elements done and perform your heart out of that program, because yeah, you missed a few points, but you can earn some of them back. So I think the level of, not only consistency with jumps and spins, but also the level of effort has to be maximum and tip-top all the time. Even if one day you're trying your hardest, and maybe that day your level of effort can only get up to an 80% - you're still giving as much as you can. Then you push yourself up to 90, 95. It's not enough to settle and be complacent.
So it's very much about doing your best, really.
Yes. But also being smart about it, because you don't wanna overwork.
That's a really good point. So, what are your goals for this season? You said earlier that every season is a clean slate for you. So what do you want to do this season, as opposed to last season?
I think this season, I really want to go out and make each performance better than the last. Even starting from last season, I wanna make each performance better than last, improve in some aspect of my skating, improve on the jumps and their cleanliness, and transitions in and out, Improve on the spins and the GOE, the program components - I just want everything to just keep building. I don't want to stay in the same spot at any point. An analogy would be that a shark has to keep swimming forward and it can never stop or go backwards, so it's like, okay, I need to be a shark this year as I skate. I'm always gonna keep going forward and being hungry for more and keep pushing myself, and I want that to show when I perform.
That's awesome. So, you're just constantly focusing on improving yourself.
Yeah. And I think, as I go out and get ready to compete it's, again, an opportunity. Maybe it's hard and it's challenging, but it's an opportunity at the same time to show a little bit of myself out on the ice.
Do you like to put yourself out there on ice, and be like, like in your upcoming short program, like "This is me, here I am"?
Yeah! I think it's a lot easier when you're landing all the jumps and everything's executing nicely, and you're like “Alright, this is fun, yay!” But it gets harder when everything's not perfect, and you have to fight for it, but you still get it done. It's about bringing people in, and I think sometimes I do struggle with that. I tend to be very self-oriented when I'm skating, like maybe I'll be a little more introverted with some of my movements, but in reality, no one pays to come and see an introvert when you skate. You don't go to a play to see someone talk to themselves, you wanna see a performance. So I think, being as hard as it is with athleticism and jumps and technique, there's also a performance level that I want to highlight as well as my technical ability and technique.
And that's kind of the interesting thing about sports like figure skating and gymnastics, is that they have that performance aspect.
Yeah. For example, a football player or soccer player, there's no performance. I mean, they have to put on great sportsmanship and this and that, but they don't have to look pretty, and they're not being judged on if they look pretty as they tackle someone to the ground.
And they're not being judged on their form as they tackle it, you know.
It's "did you get the ball to the end zone." I'm not saying they're not hard sports - they're incredibly difficult and I could not imagine putting myself through that gruelling amount of work. It's just different.
There's always the difference, and you have to respect that difference.
So, speaking as, you know you said you started later than most skaters, do you have any advice for people, like young skaters starting later who might be discouraged by that?
I mean there's that old saying, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." Regardless of where you start, or how far other people think you're going to go, or whatever it may be - if you give up, or if you don't give it 100%, you’ve lost. The game is lost. You're not coming back for that winning point at the end or whatever, you're not gonna have those clean run-throughs and you're not gonna have that medal around your neck. There's no easy way to do this, you just have to buckle down and keep going. It's the desire and the will and the perseverance - I mean I just heard Evan Lysacek speak a few days ago, he was talking about how maybe the year that he won the Olympics, that Nationals, he didn't have a great program. But he went back home and he decided that "If I want to be Olympic champion, and I want to be there with that medal around my neck - I have to buckle down and I need to do gruelling effort, and I'm not leaving the ice until I've given it my all." And I think that's the only way you're gonna find - even if you don't find success in the traditional sense, like you have a medal around your neck, you have titles and trophies lining up your room - if you have the personal satisfaction that you've given your all and you're exhausted to the point that you know you've done everything you can, then the accolades will follow. You're personally happy. And when you're personally happy, it gets rewarded, because then you skate freer, you skate more confident, and you've done everything you can, and the performances - not that they get easier, it's always stressful and anxious, but you know you've done everything you can, so the only way to go forward is to just let yourself do what you've done, and show the body of work that you've prepared.
So would you say that the main factors of your work ethic, your skating, are determination and personal successes?
I think one of the main things is definitely the determination. I think sometimes I probably get a little sidetracked with the personal successes, and I'm like "Oh God, I want the medal! I want the title!" But I think at the same time, I definitely don't want to be left with the regret that I could have done more. I'm not okay with that thought. I'm not gonna stop working until a) I'm told to, because I'm gonna injure myself, or b) I know that I've done everything in my power, because at the end of the day, it comes down to who skates best on that day, but the determinant of who skates best on that day is the hours and hours of training you've done leading up to it. I think determination and grit and wanting to do it makes a skater who they are.
Final question: If you could let the figure skating fan community know one thing about you, what would it be?
I'm really obsessed with cats. I completely am. I have cats all over my room. I had two cats, one of them recently passed, but I really like cats. I just think they're cool and they're funny, and they always land on their feet, so I think it's a great role model for skating.
Yeah, I don't know, I've always liked cats.
That's awesome. Alright, so that's the end of the questions! Thank you so much for talking with us, Gabbie. You guys can catch Gabbie at her upcoming competition, Junior Grand Prix Riga. The schedule for this event will be posted on our twitter pretty soon, and our episode on the first two Junior Grand Prix’s will be released this Wednesday. If you want to support Gabbie you can follow her on Instagram at @miss.gabbiee. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you so much Gabbie!