Former figure skating champion Rachael Flatt on coming back after injury

Jan. 25, 2013, 4:00 a.m.
Rachael Flatt, Stanford sophomore, participates in a national event. While not on the competitive figure skating circuit, Flatt works towards her undergraduate degree. (Courtesy of Leah Adams)
Despite suffering a string of injuries last year, Rachael Flatt, a Stanford sophomore and professional figure skater, hopes to return to the rink in Feburary to compete. (Courtesy of Leah Adams)

Like many Stanford students, Rachael Flatt ’15 doesn’t know what her future holds. But unlike most of her peers, she is not attempting to figure out her first career. Instead, she is preparing to transition into her second.

Before graduating from high school, Flatt won the 2010 U.S. National Figure Skating Championship and skated to seventh at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A year later, Flatt enrolled at Stanford, intending to pursue a degree while continuing to compete professionally.

Since 2011, however, injuries have taken their toll. Last summer, Flatt re-aggravated three bulging discs in her back, and developed tendonitis in her ankles after returning to training. In October, Flatt was forced to withdraw from the rest of the 2012-13 competition circuit to give herself time to heal. She only recently began training again for an exhibition show in February.

“At this point it’s just a day-by day thing,” Flatt said. “I’m not entirely sure if I will be able to return and compete again, which would be disappointing, but I really hope I can get back out there and do some more work.”

Flatt’s skating career began at a mall in her native San Diego when she was four. After watching the skaters in the rink under the food court, she begged her dad for a ticket to rent skates.

“As a kid, Rachael loved skiing, ballet, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, piano and skating,” said her mother, Jody Flatt. “Over time, she began dropping other activities because she wanted to do more and more skating.”

Flatt said that she originally planned to pursue pairs skating, but her singles career took off when she won the novice-level U.S. National Championships in 2005. In 2009, Flatt competed in the senior World Figure Skating Championships, placing fifth.

“When she competed at the Worlds for the first time, where it was all Olympic-level skaters and she finished fifth, we were all like, ‘Okay this is real,’” Jody Flatt said. “And then when she qualified for the Olympics, that was like the sprinkles on top of the cake.”

At the Vancouver Olympics, Flatt set a new personal best score, earning seventh place.

“Everything about that whole [Olympic] experience brings back amazing memories,” Flatt said. “All the hard work that I put into my skating up to that point really paid off, and it was so refreshing to have that moment where I could think that I finally made it.”

Amidst her Olympic preparations, Flatt found time to apply to nine different colleges, including Stanford. According to her mother, Flatt received her acceptance letter while sorting through junk mail after returning from Vancouver.

“I saw the envelope from Stanford, but I could tell that it was one sheet of paper,” Jody Flatt said. “I called upstairs to Rachael, but I don’t think she heard me so I opened it up and saw that it was an acceptance letter. She was thrilled — she couldn’t stop screaming.”

Flatt ultimately selected Stanford over Princeton, but decided to defer her admission for a year to focus on skating. Since arriving on the Farm in September 2011, Flatt has commuted to San Jose and Oakland for two- to three-hour practices five days a week.

At Stanford, Flatt developed a passion for medicine after two introductory seminars, Exploring Sports Medicine and Procedural Anatomy.

“At this point, I’d love to do something in orthopedics or orthopedic surgery, but I’m not entirely sure because I haven’t had a lot of experience going to hospitals and shadowing doctors,” Flatt said. “I’m actually participating in [Stanford Immersion in Medicine] this quarter to try to get a better idea of what I would like to do.”

According to Flatt’s Procedural Anatomy professors Bruce Fogel and Sakti Srivastava, Flatt was “one of the stars of the class” from day one.

“From everything from knowledge to personality to temperament, she will be very well suited for medicine,” Srivastava said.

Her focus on academics is nothing new. According to Jody, her only daughter has always been focused on academics.

“We go by the phrase ‘student-athlete,’ and student comes first in that phrase for a reason,” she said. “By the time she was in first grade, she knew that if she had homework, it had to be done [in order to skate], but it never became an issue.”

Outside the classroom, Flatt is heavily involved in campus life. She performs with the dance group Urban Styles, teaches special-needs children how to skate as part of Special Skaters and is applying to be a Resident Assistant (RA) next year.

Toke Odimayomi ’15, who lived with Flatt in Rinconada, said she was an active member of her freshman dorm.

“She is so good at balance and organization,” said Odimayomi. “She knows what she has to do, and she gets it done, but she still has fun.”

Flatt said the key is managing her priorities.

“It’s just making sure you’re really efficient with your time,” Flatt said. “There are so many things going on at Stanford, and it’s hard to say no, but at the same time you have to stick to your guns and make sure you are following your passions.”

Right now, skating is Flatt’s passion, even as she battles back from her injuries. Though faced with the reality that her injuries may prevent her from returning to competition, Flatt said she is prepared to move on if she must.

“It’s hard to say that [my career will end] because it’s been such a big part of my life for so long,” Flatt said. “But it’s been such a great ride, and if that’s the end, I made the most of it… At this point, I have a lot of other things in my life that I would like to concentrate on too.”

Jana Persky is the president and editor in chief of Volume 246 of The Stanford Daily. She previously worked as a sports desk editor, news desk editor and managing editor of staff development at The Daily, and is majoring in Public Policy. Jana is a junior from New Canaan, Connecticut, who doesn't want to tell her mom and dad she likes the West Coast better. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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