Max Aaron: ‘Always give 100 percent, every single day.’

By Claire Cloutier, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Robin Ritoss and Skating Club of Boston

In 2018, Max Aaron retired from competitive figure skating to start a career in finance. However, he did not leave the sport behind. The former U.S. champion stays involved in figure skating through seminars and shows. This week, he will appear in A Night of Stars, a benefit show in the Boston area to raise funds for cancer research. The show takes place on Saturday, Dec. 4, and all proceeds will go to the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, Mass General Brigham, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A Night of Stars is also the Grand Opening Celebration for the Skating Club of Boston’s new facility in Norwood, MA, completed in 2020.

Recently, Aaron spoke with Figure Skaters Online about what he’s doing these days, his links to Boston, and favorite memories from his competitive career.

Aaron hails from Scottsdale, AZ, across the country from Boston. There, he started playing hockey at age four and began figure skating at age nine. Aaron competed in both sports for seven years before focusing full-time on skating. His decision eventually led to a U.S national title at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, NE, which remains one of the proudest memories of his career.

“I had no expectation of winning,” Aaron recalled of the 2013 championships. “I truly was going out there to skate the best I could, and maybe retire after that year. I came out on top, and it was completely unexpected. But certainly trained for.”

Aaron’s national title was one of many accomplishments in his skating career. He won four Grand Prix medals and many Challenger Series medals, and represented the United States at four World Championships.

Aaron has particularly fond memories of his first Worlds in 2013. “My first World Championships in London, Ontario, was something I won’t forget,” he said. “Having a hockey background and skating in Canada under the lights … That stadium was packed, and the Canadian fans were so vocal and rowdy and nice. I talked a lot of hockey backstage with all the press.”

However, perhaps the high point of Aaron’s career came in Boston, at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. The event, which was organized and run by the Skating Club of Boston, included a memorable men’s competition in which Aaron placed 8th with two strong programs.

“Worlds in Boston was probably the opportunity I’m fondest of, in all of my skating career,” Aaron reflected. “Words can’t describe that event. It was truly remarkable. Winning a medal or not, I definitely had two great skates there. That is something I’ll remember. Hearing the crowd and competing in the World Championships in my home country–I was lucky to have that. A lot of fun moments–from how supportive the crowd was, to the venues that we were competing in, especially TD Garden, and how special they made you feel. We were in a bus after the [competition], and that was the first and only time I [experienced] getting escorted by police back to the hotel. It was unreal, the experience of going through the city like that, and the attention it draws.”

The one major goal that eluded Aaron in his career was a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Although he competed through two Olympic cycles, in 2014 and 2018, things did not fall into place for him to make the team.

“Obviously, I would have loved to have an Olympic medal or be part of that team. But there was nothing more I could have done. I wouldn’t have done any preparation differently. It’s how the chips fell,” Aaron said philosophically. “Look, I’m so happy for those guys in 2014 and 2018 that were named to the Olympic team. They certainly deserved it. I couldn’t be more proud to have them as my teammates at that time. We’re all great friends to this day.” (Aaron was delighted to see former teammate Jason Brown recently land his first ratified quad. “Jason’s always been a good buddy of mine. I knew he had it in him.”)

As Aaron reflects on his competitive career, what stands out is gratitude for his success. “To be an Olympic alternate twice was more than anything I could have dreamed of,” he said. “I was the guy who was a hockey player, switched to figure skating [full-time] at age 16, and pursued it after a broken back. To be a U.S. champion and multiple-time U.S. medalist, and go to four World championships …so many good memories.”

After his retirement from competitive skating, Aaron decided to participate in skating seminars, in part to share his story with young skaters and inspire them.

“I always told myself that, when my time was up in the sport, I wanted to give back and be involved as much as I can,” Aaron noted. “I’ve mentored some top athletes, and I like to do seminars. A lot of it’s drilling down on the technique for the jumps. The second part, which I love, is to speak off the ice.”

Aaron shares his own story and philosophy of skating with young athletes. “I tell them: ‘Look, I was never meant to be the U.S. champion. But guess what? Hard work really does pay off,’” Aaron said. “If you put your mind to something, you can truly achieve it. Always give 100 percent every single day. I always skated like it was the last day that I was ever going to skate. If you skate like that, whether you’re Olympic champion or regional champion, you’ll have a fulfilling career. You’ll know that you did everything you could.’”

Although Aaron was recognized for his quad jumps, he doesn’t necessarily emphasize quads in his teaching. “Keep an open mind, is what I tell these skaters,” Aaron said. “Everyone has their own path. And it’s not truly about the quads. Yes, quads are definitely a point-grabber. But you look at skaters like Jason Brown. Yeah, he can do a quad. But he doesn’t necessarily even need a quad. He brings another value to the sport, and a different angle, from his artistic side and his athleticism in his spins, where he grabs those points. Yes, the quads are cool. But there’s a million different ways to become the best.”

Aaron also makes it a point to discuss life after skating. “That’s the biggest thing that a lot of athletes don’t talk too much about: What visions and dreams do you have, that you want to achieve, outside of the sport?” said Aaron. “Sometimes they don’t want to talk about it, because they’re in the sport now, and it’s like, maybe it’ll jinx them. I say, ‘Look, this is a great time to talk about it.’ It just gets that spark going.”

For Aaron, a career in finance has brought satisfaction. After working for Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and other firms in Arizona, Aaron is starting a new job with ProShares, an institutional investment firm with offices in New York City, NY, and Bethesda, MD.

“I love numbers. I love working with numbers, and I love the stock market,” Aaron said of his work. “The numbers don’t lie, when it comes down to it. I love looking at charts and coming up with plans to help make the best decisions for portfolios, and help other people maybe achieve retirement at a younger age. It’s great to learn different avenues of finance, honing it into a craft. Hopefully, I’ll take it to the very top. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be a CEO one day.”

Aaron is currently transitioning from Arizona to New York City, where he will be based at ProShares’ Manhattan office. He is staying with friends and family in the New York area while searching for an apartment. He looks forward to fully experiencing life in the Big Apple.

“I like the fast-paced lifestyle,” Aaron said of New York City. “Everyone’s on the move, and everyone has a mission. That was my mindset in sport, so I love that. And there’s all walks of life in New York. You see it all, and it’s a great opportunity to learn from others.”

Aaron’s family is still in Arizona. He said that his sister, Madeline Aaron, a former high-ranked U.S. pairs skater with partner Max Settlage, is now an NICU nurse at a children’s hospital in Phoenix, AZ.

“She’s on her way to getting her doctorate. She’s going to be a nurse practitioner soon,” Aaron said of Madeline. “She did a lot for the community and the hospital during the pandemic. I’m really proud to call her my sister.”

With several family members in the medical field, Aaron understands the importance of cancer research fundraisers such as A Night of Stars. “The event proceeds are going to a great cause,” he said. “If I get an opportunity to skate for something like that, I’m always a yes. Whether I’m doing quads or double toe loops, I’m going to get out there and help raise money.”

Aaron is looking forward to skating in the show with some of his former teammates, including Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner, and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. He’s also excited to share the ice with younger competitors, in particular Jimmy Ma, the silver medalist at U.S. International Figure Skating Classic this fall..

“I always was a fan of Jimmy, when I competed against him, toward the end of my career. He always had unique programs. He’s just one that brings the house down. Hopefully maybe I get to skate before him, not after him,” Aaron joked.

Aaron has already visited the new Skating Club of Boston facility in Norwood and was impressed with the facility.

“It’s probably the greatest venue in the world. I truly mean that,” said Aaron. “The way the three rinks are set up, and how they’re run. I don’t know what other venue [where] you’re going to get ice from basically 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. at night. It suits all skaters. And the venues are warm–which keeps the muscles warm. If I were a competitive athlete today, I’d be training there.”

The storied history of the Skating Club of Boston inspires Aaron. “To be skating on the ice, among the champions, or underneath the names of so many champions, is truly remarkable,” he declared.

To purchase tickets for A Night of Stars, click here.