By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator
Photos courtesy Sean Rabbitt and Gina Capellazzi
Figure skating has been an integral part of Sean Rabbitt‘s life for more than two decades. However, following the 2019 U.S. Championships in January, the Yorba Linda, Calif. native wasn’t 100% sure if he was going to continue his competitive career. After conducting some coaching seminars and taking advantage of the many opportunities that were coming his way, the 29-year-old decided not to hang up his skates just yet and this fall will attempt to qualify for his ninth U.S. Championships at the senior level.
In our recent interview, Rabbitt talks about what’s he been up to and his plans for the upcoming season. He also opens up and tackles some hard questions involving his age and his technical abilities.
Figure Skaters Online (FSO): The new season is upon us, but let’s talk about the 2018-19 season first. What is something you were proud of from last season and what is something you wish you could go back and change?
Sean Rabbitt: This first answer is going to be a long one, so buckle up! Last season was definitely an interesting season. I had a lot of change in my life and a lot of challenges I had to face and overcome, so I think I have a lot to be proud of last season.
For starters, at the beginning of last summer (2018), my coach Tammy Gambill re-located from California to Colorado Springs. For too many reason to name, I was unable to make the move and chose to stay training at my home rink in Riverside, Calif. At the time, my best friend Richard Dornbush, who was Tammy’s longest and one of her very successful students, was also coaching at our rink. So I spent the summer training with the help and guidance of Ricky and also sent videos to Tammy. Ricky even went with me to my competition in Slovakia (Ondrej Nepela Trophy). That was a fun experience!
With that was the balance of coaching, Tammy’s daughter, Nicole, as well as Ricky and I took over the coaching positions for the few skaters that did not move to Colorado and stayed in Riverside. Although I had been coaching for around ten years at this point, it presented a new responsibility. The rink was, overall, a lot emptier. I felt that not only did I have to try and keep myself motivated, I felt I also had a duty to be a leader, not just as these kids’ new coach, but also as a skater on the ice with them. I had to stay motivated, work hard and maintain the environment that we had all become accustomed to training in. At times, this became very stressful for me. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a breakdown or two between my schedule and Tammy’s schedule. I was able to coordinate three trips to Colorado Springs to train with Tammy from September 2018 to January 2019. After this difficult, emotional, and whirlwind of a season, I accomplished something big… I broke my personal record in the short program, scored a 79.66 and found myself in 7th place. A personal best placement in any program at Nationals! Everyone saw me hit my final pose and instantly break down to tears. There were so many reasons for those tears I can’t even tell you, but if you’ve read up to this point then you can kind of form a picture of what those tears meant.
If there is something I could change about the season, it would be one major thing. I am a ‘do it all’ kind of guy. I am very independent and I have a tendency to never ask for help. I was lucky to have a lot of help and support from my team, no matter if they were local or in Colorado, but I think had I actually asked for more help than was being given to me. Maybe I would have been able to be less stressed or feel not so pressured from all the changes going on. But what can you do? Learn from your experiences!
FSO: Since your 8th place finish at Nationals, you have been quite busy. Tell us what you have exactly been up to.
Sean: After what was an overall successful Nationals, I have been very busy indeed! To start, the Four Continents Championships was hosted in Anaheim, where I started skating. I was invited as a special guest to skate in the opening ceremony and also as a special guest in the gala with all the medalists. This was a huge honor and experience I won’t forget!
After that, I took a week long family vacation on a cruise and then spent a lot of time on the road doing what I call the “Sean Rabbitt Tour.” I attended shows, seminars, choreographed programs and did all different kinds of events in Chicago; Japan; Irvine, Calif., Florida; Mexico; Texas and many other places. It has been very fun and rewarding to have all these opportunities. This is what keeps me going, I love the traveling and I love sharing my skating and knowledge with people who love this sport!
FSO: You mentioned Mexico, which is not a country you usually think about with skating. So talk about that skating seminar you did there recently. How did that come about? What was it like being in Mexico and what do you think the skating culture is like in Mexico?
Sean: I just returned a week ago from teaching a seminar in Puebla, Mexico. In May, I attended the PSA (Professional Skating Association) Conference in Palm Springs, Calif. and I made friends with a few coaches from Mexico. A few weeks later, I received an invite from one of the coaches, Karlos, to come Puebla. I couldn’t say no! I was only there three days, but I had the time of my life. It was really fun. Mexico is booming with skating rinks popping up everywhere and the skaters are loving it. With Donovan Carrillo leading the way, I definitely see Mexico becoming a very strong country in our sport in the future.
FSO: Moving on to the upcoming season. You have decided that you’ll compete this season and will attempt to qualify for your ninth senior U.S. Championship at 29 years old. Why did you decide to compete this season, and what do you have to say to people who might say that you are too old to compete?
Sean: This year will be my 10th year competing in senior and as you said, my ninth attempt at competing at the U.S. Championships. WOW!
29 is considered “old” for this sport and it is funny because in many other sports, my age would be considered the peak or prime age. There are so many reasons that I want to still compete. For one, I am known to be late to the party age wise in almost everything I have done in this sport. I got my first triple at 18; I made my first Nationals at 19; first international at 25; my three top 10 finishes were at ages 25, 26 and 28. Secondly, there is this stigma about ‘you must be young with triples by 13 or you won’t make it and should quit.’ Well, I am sorry, but hearing the stats I just mentioned just now, I have accomplished way, way, way, more than anyone ever imagined I would, and now, in the second half of my 20’s, I am one of the best skaters in the country/world living my dreams.
There are so many other amazing skaters that accomplished high level achievements at an older age. Carolina Kostner won the short program at worlds at the age of 31. Daisuke Takahashi got third at Japanese Nationals at the age of 32 after a four-year retirement. Katie McBeath had a successful international debut this past season and she’s close to her mid-20’s. I have so many students whose parents say their child needs to be the next 12-year-old super star. Although I don’t want to take away anything from those that are that, because it is great if you can be, it is one in a million.
I am very aware though, through social media messages I receive in skating forums and Twitter, that my age has become a hot topic, rather a gossiping point, for many. To be honest, I am healthy, paying my bills, and seem to be doing just fine, so I don’t see why its anyone’s business.
On a brighter note, the flip side of that is I receive many messages from skaters who are “older” that just got a double Axel or triple and say that I give them hope. That right there is fuel to my flame!
FSO: What are your programs this season? How did you choose the music? What is each program like?
Sean: My programs for this season are Nessun Dorma from Turandot (short program) and Espana Cani (free program).
Nessun Dorma is something I have always wanted to skate to. Every time I hear the music I get a chill through my body, and over time I have seen someone skate to it and skate it well you can feel their mind, body and soul aligns with the passionate sounds the music has. So I felt that for this year it is the right choice to skate to.
The free skate I just finished choreographing and it is to a classical Spanish piece called Espana Cani. Last year, I skated to West Side Story and although I am a big fan of the music, I never felt a true connection. When I got nervous, I didn’t feel like the music gave me that fire I needed to overcome the nerves. For the two seasons prior to that, I skated to a Mambo medley and although it was fun music, it was also a character that I could emerge myself into. So when I heard Espana Cani, I felt that it would be the perfect character and the perfect piece to give me strength when I might feel a little nervous.
FSO: You choreographed the programs–what do you enjoy about the whole choreographic process?
Sean: Choreographing your own program is hard! I honestly would much rather choreograph for someone else than myself. What I usually do is cut the music and map a skeleton of the program first, then from there come up with the choreography and the footwork. I usually have another choreographer or coach look at the program and tell me what looks good or what might need a little change/tweak since I can’t see it.
FSO: Your first competition of the season was at Glacier Falls last month, and as you said on social media, ‘It was the hardest night of your athletic career.’ What happened in your words? How did you feel after it was over and how have your feelings changed on it since then? What did you learn from this competition?
Sean: Yes, Glacier Falls was very rough, possibly one of the worst competitions I have ever had in my career. After last season ended, I wasn’t sure if I was competing this season or not. I was just enjoying all the opportunities presented to me and that I wanted to just see where the off-season took me. About six weeks out from Glacier, I decided I would compete and I immediately started to train. I ran about five clean free skates and almost every day a clean short program leading up to Glacier.
So what happened? I abruptly decided to compete this season and do Glacier Falls specifically to accomplish some things I felt I still could achieve.
The short program was really good and not bad for a first time out with a new program. Usually I am known for my consistency and ability to execute no matter the circumstances and the night of the free skate I got onto the warm up and my body locked up, I became nervous, and I was shaking. This was something I have never experienced in my career and I didn’t know how to rid myself of it. The free skate started and I fell on my opening triple-triple combination, which is normally a “money jump” for me, and well the rest kind of imploded from there. I think at the root of this is I put a lot of pressure on myself to execute perfectly. There have been a lot of opinions about my age, my skating ability, and the goals I wanted to achieve and for the first time in my life I let that get to me and caved under pressure.
That night, I wasn’t focused on me, but rather focused on what the world thought of me in my effort to try and achieve a goal that I was maybe too focused on achieving. I learned I need to skate for me and from my heart because that’s why people like watching me and that is all that should matter this season.
FSO: There are always critics in sports. For the critics in skating, they say that in order to be successful, you have to be young (which we already discussed above) and that you have to have the technical arsenal to compete with the best of the world. What do you say to those who say ‘Sean doesn’t have a triple Axel or quads, why is he still competing?’
Sean: I’m still competing because I love to skate. I love the audience. I love to perform. I love that I am someone skaters look up to and I love that I, at the young age of 29, I am still healthy enough to do this sport. Yes, I need those jumps and I have actually put on eight pounds of muscle in an attempt to strengthen my body and train those jumps, specifically with the Axel. It has become the best it has been in a while. That said, there is so much more to skating than just some jumps. I feel that when I skate from my heart, and all goes according to plan, the feeling of the crowd on their feet at an international competition or at the U.S. Championships is the reason I am still here.
FSO: What are your goals this season?
Sean: I have one goal this season and that is to love skating and to inspire! I feel like last year was a lot of change and stress and I had so many things in my head that I didn’t feel like I loved to skate. During the off-season, I really re-developed my love for skating again and everyone from Frank Carroll to my best friends and my coach Tammy Gambill said if you love it and you can physically do it, then you should do it! So I am gonna do it!
FSO: As of January, you have been a member of the coaching team and training at the Great Park Ice in Irvine, Calif. What is it like to be in Irvine at this premier facility? How many skaters are you working with?
Sean: So a little back story to start. In December of last year, I decided after months and months of staying in Riverside to train, I wasn’t teaching as much as I did before, which kept me training there and teaching there, and I was really feeling down and having a hard time feeling motivated for my training. I went to Japan for a few days to choreograph a short program for a junior lady. When I came back, I felt fresh and ready, however, upon walking into the rink that first day, something was different, and I knew in my heart my time there (in Riverside) was done.
So the next day, I started training at other rinks for the remaining weeks leading to Nationals. I also put in my resume and job application to coach at Great Park Ice. I knew the chance of getting a coaching position there would be difficult, but I figured why not try. Literally within a day, I was invited for an interview and the rest is history! Coaching and training there has really helped rekindle my love of the sport. It’s a beautiful facility and the environment the coaches have created is AMAZING! Everyone works together! We are a team! We all came with our different students and some of us with other coaches we were previously team teaching with and the cool thing is now eight months later, we are all gelling and working together and it’s just an amazing environment for coaching. As a coach, my business is booming and I am very busy coaching my own students and helping coach and choreograph with other coaches. Even for training, everyone is so helpful and cheers me on and encourages me to keep pushing myself. I am so grateful to be there!
FSO: Are you visiting Tammy Gambill in Colorado Springs for training, or are you exclusively in Irvine? Are you working with any coaches there, or are you coaching yourself?
Sean: Definitely in the fall (after Regionals), I will try to make a few visits to Colorado, but I have been lucky to see Tammy through the summer a few times including at Glacier Falls. At Great Park, I do some harness with one of the coaches Junichi (Takemura) for triple Axels, but otherwise, I am working on everything myself. However, all of the coaches there are helpful and when I am having a rough skate are very good at giving me advice!
FSO: What is it about skating that you love so much? What is it that keeps you training and being at the rink every day?
Sean: When my skating career is finished, whether it’s this season, next season, or two more from now, I would like to keep doing what I am doing now; skating in shows as a special guest as much and as long as I can and coaching my own skaters and skaters at seminars around the world to achieve their dreams. I had the opportunity to work with U.S. Figure Skating at a few of their events this year and I hope I can continue doing that as well. Specifically as a coach, I am coaching and choreographing a lot already. I choreographed for a few skaters on the junior international circuit and would love to do more choreography, and as a coach have the goal of eventually having a student on the international circuit. All in all, I just want to help the next generation the best I can.
Also in the off-season, I started pursuing my personal trainer certification through NASM, but that’s now on hold. I am hugely into fitness and would like to further my knowledge in the fitness world and have something else to bring into this sport. So I plan to finish that when the time is right.
FSO: You are a fan favorite. What do you have to say to the fans who have followed you throughout your entire career and still support you?
Sean: They are ultimately the reason I keep going. Even before the success I have had these past few years and the major following I have received from it, I can proudly say I have always had a good base of people cheering for me, and that’s special. I love to share for the audience and I love to hear them say I entertained them. They are a part of my skating and I have always felt that from a young age. So now to have taken it from just a few fans at my local rink competition to several thousand at U.S. Championships or an international event, and spanning the globe from my super fan club in Japan to fans I have South America, it’s something that I seriously hold near to my heart. Everyone cheering me on gives me a special strength that nothing else in the world can do, and so for everyone cheering for me and those that have been with me from the start, I really appreciate them!!!
Big thank you to FSO for this interview, it’s been a while! I hope you all read it to the end and I appreciate FSO and everyone who continually supports me! Happy Skating!