Karen Zhou | “Stay organized and you can do anything”
The OA team had the pleasure of grabbing dinner with Karen Zhou at a California Pizza Kitchen recently in Irvine. You may not have heard of Karen, but she is on her way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the international figure skating scene. She has competed in senior level competitions all over the world while maintaining a 3.9 average GPA, as well as participating in numerous extra curricular activities. With her recent gold medal win in the senior ladies events at the 2010 U.S. Collegiate Figure Skating Championships last August, this is slowly propelling Karen to her goal of qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. She currently trains in Artesia, California, the same training ground for Olympic Gold Medalist Yu-Na Kim (whom she mentioned she sees everyday!).
Before you read on, check out this AWESOME video of her competing in the 2008 Finlandia Trophy:
- What takes up most of your time right now: Skating and school
- Guilty pleasure: TV shows – Pretty Little Liar, Gossip Girls, House, 90210, Secret Life, Keeping up with the Kardashians
- Favorite color: Purple and yellow
- Relationship status: I am in love with the Lakers
- Pet peeve: I hate it when people bend my books, from annual reports to yearbooks. I like them straight!
- Favorite food: Everything except seafood
- What you look for in a guy: They have to be a Laker! Just kidding, they have to understand my lifestyle
- What kind of car do you drive: A little red Honda Civic
- Can you speak/read/write Mandarin: Yes, I can speak Mandarin
- Favorite shoe: I just bought these Coach heels and I love them, they make me seem taller. My skate shoes are currently on hiatus because of a foot injury
- Fun fact: When I was a child my parents would work during summer and so my sister would keep me busy through making workbooks. It wasn’t always the most exciting thing to do during the summer so I would call my mom saying I have a headache. One day my older sister decided to make learning fun and made obstacle courses and game shows and I’ve never forgotten since!
- Funner fact: I think I’ve always enjoyed learning. I remember when I first enrolled in preschool for half days, I wouldn’t leave school. I would just stay because I had so much fun. I also talked a lot in school when I was younger and that would get me in trouble. That’s how I got a “time out” in Kindergarten! I was actually trying to help another student with their work and the teacher made me stand in the corner where the light switches were. Bad idea! I kept playing with the lights turning the lights on and off while facing the wall and when she came to say my “time out” was done I wouldn’t leave. The teacher finally apologized to me because she knew I was only trying to help.
OA: How did you begin figure skating?
KZ: My whole family at one point tried skating so my relatives suggested I should try it too. I’ve actually tried gymnastics, dance, and piano as well but skating was the most exhilarating.The first time we tried to find the rink in Aliso, we actually got lost. It took hours to find it and my dad almost wanted to give up. Luckily my mom, I guess was a little stubborn and she said, “We’ve come this far, we have to find the rink!” When I finally got to the rink, I put my skates on and stood in the middle of the ice rink, I was so proud! 3 minutes after standing, I fell.
I’ve always loved skating. The first few lessons I wouldn’t get off the ice. I think what’s so amazing about it is the speed that you are able to achieve. With all that speed you’re bound to get at least a few cuts here and there. One time, my mom said my spirals weren’t high enough so I went off the ice and kept practicing. My skates actually hit the back of my head and I started bleeding but instead I just went back onto the ice and practiced.
OA: You don’t hear of brilliance in figure skating as much, in comparison to—say, music and dance. We know how you got started, but why did you continue? What gave you the motivation to push through the painful falls, the ridiculous practice schedule, etc.
KZ: Mainly because this was the fastest sport and everything else felt small in comparison. You can always feel the wind in your face, going as fast as I could, jumping and spinning. Piano was the worst, just because I was stuck in room when I did it. During one of the piano practices, the piano teacher said I could skip a couple of levels if instead of practicing 30 minutes, I practiced 40 minutes. I told her, “ I can’t do it because I have to skate and do homework.” My mom was like thinking why I’d say I was just do it. I said to my mom, “I can’t lie.”
My sister was always the inspiration and she was my motivation to keep going during my bad moment in skating. if I ever had a problem she would always help me. She was always there to help me get ready to prepare. There are always those days where I feel like I just can’t do it, but she’s someone that is also a multi-tasker and ALWAYS has something on her plate. So if she can do it, I could do it too. I do, however, always pick fights with her :p.
**Side note – Karen’s sister, Vicki is also another overachiever that has earned high honors in college with degrees in both dance and biology. She is currently a graduate student at Harvard University.
OA: How much do you identify with your Chinese vs. your American side?
KZ: I am very Chinese. Just the whole tradition on Chinese New Year, I am very superstitious. I’ve always been drawn to Chinese culture through out my life. I love my American side because of the freedom and low limitations, here, I can eat all kinds of cuisines, even if it’s Americanized, you can try all those kinds of cultures. That is what’s so great about being here. You have all kinds of opportunities you can choose from. Off course, this goes beyond food , but I’m a big foodie- I love food as you can see.
OA: What does it mean to be Chinese American to you?
KZ: There is a big community of Chinese immigrants and it fees nice to be apart of it. It feels good to have an attachment to it. You see all the growth in China and the business there and I like to be able to see the growth globally. It makes you feel proud.
OA: What does your family think of this career choice, given the generation and cultural gap?
KZ: My family is supportive but the father always has this vision of me being a scientist like my sister. They understand that I’m not the kind of back office person that crunches numbers. I enjoy being able to mediate, communicate with people, to be able to interact people. What’s funny is at one point and it will always be in the back of my mind, that I wanted to be a doctor as well. I always wanted to do diagnostics because I love interacting with people, not exactly the memorizing of biology and chemistry terms.
OA: What are your career plans?
KA: I want to get MBA for sure and a CPA. I know skating is very limited, when you’re in your 20 you’re already considered a veteran. I do want to stay as long as I can but I DON’T want to over do it. I want to get involved with business so I’m trying my best to find a way in. I’m the kind of person that always wants to learn so I think these are the experiences that I want to go forth to keep going.
I don’t know if I’m going directly to graduate school but I know in the back of my father’s head he wants me take that next step in education. He wants that security for me. He wants that plan for me. Business you never know what’s going to happen and it might take some time but I’m willing to take that risk.
OA: Are you involved with anything else besides school and skating for the time being?
KZ: I volunteer with Hyundai – Hope on Wheels to encourage kids to make sure that they know that they are strong. Sometimes it makes me stronger knowing that they can fight through it. I help out whenever I can. I also volunteer at CHOC where children who have survived cancer and you get to see how happy they are. I started doing radio lollypop, the kids call in to request songs, the ones who are strong enough and dance with us. I’m also a staff writer for the University of California, Irvine’s newspaper, the New University. I really love writing too.
OA: Any words of wisdom for your fans?
KZ: Stay organized and you can do anything. Finish what you’re doing in the moment. A great way I use to achieve goals is to set them, make a note, and don’t lose that note.
OA: Are there any specific quotes you follow to keep yourself motivated?
KZ: “Shoot for the moon and you’ll hit a star”
“I’m not looking to be Michael Jordan, I’m just looking to be myself”
“All the challenges, pressures, they’re all opportunities to rise”
Interview by Edi Dai
Photography by Melly Lee
Edited by Edi Dai
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