Joonsoo Kim – competitive figure skater


Eugenia Chen

Black ice skates— with a sharpened blade on both sides for clean edges, laced up tightly with swift fingers,  fitted comfortably after hours of breaking in— etch the smooth, fresh ice with new blade marks. This is the icy world of freshman Joonsoo Kim for one to two hours each day, six days a week.

Figure skating was not Kim’s first choice, however. Five years ago, nine-year-old Kim toddled onto the ice in tiny hockey skates, ready for summer camp hockey lessons at the Coral Ridge Ice Arena. However, Kim was a growing boy with growing feet.

“My old [hockey] skates got too small. So I needed to go up to the next [size]. But we couldn’t find any ideal hockey skates. So what we found were these little figure skates that I got from Scheels. They were super cheap … but I skated in those so I automatically had to move to the figure skating level and that is kind of how it all started,” Kim said.

Throughout Kim’s figure skating experience, he has been blessed with wonderful teachers. From the start, with Carson Bodnarek, who recognized Kim’s talent at skating camp and wrote a letter to the family with an interest in coaching Kim to become a serious competitor, to Tanya Street-Burgess and her choreographer companion, Amy Blades, Kim’s current instructor. Unfortunately, Kim will be forced to leave his teachers when he moves to Chicago with his family over Winter Break.

“The one downside [to moving] that I see is that [I will be leaving] my wonderful coaches, Tanya Street-Burgess and Amy Blades, who have both competed at the national and international levels, competing at the very top with Olympians [including] Michelle Kwan,” Kim said. “We’ve just had a really great relationship the past few years and it was just really, really sad and almost heartbreaking for me to leave them.”

Though it will be difficult leaving his coaches, who are like Kim’s second family and have traveled with him to competitions and supported him every step of the way, Kim is excited about the many opportunities that a big city like Chicago can offer: better ice rinks, more serious training environment, more skating friends of his same level and more.

In Iowa, Kim often gets pretty lonely being one of the very few competitive skaters. His only way of finding other figure skaters are bigger competitions, for example in the Illinois-Minnesota area.

“When [my opponents and I are] on the ice we will just attack each other, get in each other’s way [and] try to distract [each other]. But when we’re off the ice, we talk. We’re great friends. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people,” Kim said.

The skating world is thankful Kim took the road to figure skating as he is a top ice skater in the nation for his level. Last season, Kim finished in 6th place at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the Juvenile boys division. This year, Joonsoo was a mere 1.75 points away from qualifying for Nationals a second time, but this time in the higher Intermediate level. Kim’s goal for next year is to qualify for Nationals again. As for the future, he has bigger plans.

Joonsoo skates his short program at a Chicago competition over the summer where he got a personal best.

“My initial goal was to be able to compete at the 2018 Olympics in my home country of South Korea. However, I kind of realized now that being able to coast up to the Olympic level before I even graduate high school is a little ambitious. So, my eyes are set on 2022 in country TBD,” said Kim.

Though Kim has his eyes on the Olympic dream, he is still not sure whether skating professionally is the lifestyle for him.

“Honestly, when you see those Olympic level skaters, their lives are literally just training, conditioning, eating, sleeping – that’s their whole life. There’s nothing else to it,” said Kim.

Though Kim’s career plans are not set in stone, he continues to dedicate his life to the sport.

“I think [skating is] just something I’ve spent way too much effort in to give up. I’m just going to keep going with it for a few more years and see what happens,” said Kim.

It is the effort and time that goes into every jump, spin and practice that makes Kim successful. Each competition season, a figure skater will learn only two routines: a short program and a long program, and develop them over the course of a year.

“In order to get yourself comfortable in the music’s shoes and in order to be able to connect with the music, it can take up to several months. And, that’s really why we keep our programs for such a long time. We keep our programs for the entire season. That’s the one thing we practice the entire season because it’s kind of like a wine – it needs time to develop and it’s not something you can just get into right away,” Kim said.

When the hard work pays off, it drives Kim to keep going.

“It’s kind of this unexplainable feeling when you land a jump and you know that you’ve done it correctly because there’s just this feeling of … puzzle pieces fitting together. It just feels so clear and perfect,” said Kim.

Kim’s family (mom, dad and brother, Minsoo) is cheering him on in his journey as a figure skater – coming to his competitions, taking him to practices at the Coral Ridge Ice Arena and sometimes even in Cedar Rapids or further, and being supportive of the demanding sport.

You can cheer Kim on as well by attending the last show he will be performing before he moves to Chicago – the Hawkeye Skating Club Holiday Show 2014 on Saturday, December 13th, at the Coral Ridge Ice Arena at 6 p.m.

Video provided by Joonsoo Kim.