When the first members of the U.S. Figure Skating team begin their quest for gold today in Sochi, one of the best skaters in the country will be far from Russia.
Amber Glenn, the 2014 U.S. junior national champion, will instead be watching from her home in Plano. Glenn, 14, is too young to represent her country in Sochi, but that won’t stop her from being there in spirit while preparing for the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I am going to be holding my breath and it is going to feel like I am out there skating,” Glenn said. “I get so nervous when I am watching them, but I know they are going to do great.”
Glenn’s first experience on ice skates was similar to that of a lot of Texans. When she was 5 years old she accompanied her cousins to the ice rink at Stonebriar Centre. The trip to the mall was the turning point in the young skater’s life, as she caught the eye of figure skating coach Ann Brumbaugh.
“I saw the enthusiasm she had for what she was doing,” Brumbaugh said. “You could tell she really loved it and you could tell she wanted to emulate what she saw on television or from a kid she saw practicing.”
Glenn proved to be a quick study under Brumbaugh’s tutelage, taking what she learned in private lessons and racking up high finishes at local and regional competitions. Glenn broke onto the national scene in 2012 when she finished second in the novice division at the U.S. Championships. After moving up to juniors, Glenn finished fifth in 2013 before winning gold last month in Boston at the 2014 U.S. Championships.
While Glenn spends hundreds of hours with Brumbaugh and coach Ben Shroats memorizing and perfecting each routine, when it is time to perform in front of the judges, she turns off her brain and lets her body take over.
“It is all about muscle memory,” she said. “We train it over and over again with the jumps, so I don’t have to overthink it, because when you overthink it, you mess up. I train so my body knows what to do and I don’t have to think about it.”
The results don’t come without sacrifice for the Glenn family. To pay for her travel and training, Amber’s father, a Plano police officer, works about 30 hours of overtime per week in side jobs, while her mother stays home to ensure Amber gets to where she needs to be for training.
“When she was 6 years old, Ann told us, ‘She has a lot of talent, but it is up to you to decide how far you want to take it,’” said Cathlene, her mother. “I think when your child shows that much potential that you owe it to them to do everything you possibly can to help them reach their goals. … The entire family has to sacrifice, including her younger sister, who can’t do all the things she wants to do because we can’t afford it.”
Her devotion to skating also means Amber is not able to have what most would consider a normal childhood. While Amber spends almost every waking hour training or doing school work, she said she would not change a thing.
“What I really love is when all the hard work finally pays off in competition,” she said. “I struggled a lot at the beginning of this season, but when I saw all of the hours I put in pay off, I was so happy.”
Amber spends about five hours a day on the ice rink, but that is only half of her training regimen. She also practices yoga and Pilates three times a week, trains at the Michael Johnson Performance Center twice a week, and finds time to visit with her sports psychologist and mental toughness coach as needed. With about four hours a day dedicated to school work, Amber said, jokingly, that all she does is train, study and sleep.
“It is a lot of commitment, and it is unbelievable to me that at 14 she would choose it,” Brumbaugh said. “Sometimes she apologizes to me when she wants to end training after only four hours. I have to tell her that it is absolutely fine.”
The first step toward making the 2018 Olympic team occurs next month when Amber will skate for the U.S. at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. After that, Amber and her coaches will continue polishing her skills to ensure she is in a strong position to represent her country in Pyeongchang.
“You can go to the Olympics at age 15, but the way the sport has become, and how demanding it is, 17 to 18 years old is really the sweet spot,” Brumbaugh said. “As a coach, I couldn’t ask for better timing.”