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An Interview with Jenny Kirk

Today, I’m excited to share with you all, an interview I did with Jenny Kirk, former world junior champion figure skater who now has a Master’s in Social Work, spreading cheer and helping others. This interview was originally conducted on January 19, 2019.

Q1: First off, tell us a bit about yourself.

Thank you for having me on your site! I’m originally from Boston and spent the first half of my life as a figure skater. I had a slightly unique childhood in that I lived away from home during the week, starting at age 11, to train on Cape Cod and then came home to my family on the weekends. It definitely taught me to grow up quickly! I had a pretty full career as a skater — and learned a ton of life lessons — before retiring at 21. I then spent the next decade figuring out my next step in life and worked as a skating coach for a few years before starting my MSW a couple of years ago. I’ll be graduating in the spring and am really looking forward to continuing the work I’ve recently started with clients in both a coaching and clinical role.

Q2: You honestly have such an amazing story. Formerly, you were a figure skater — a World Junior Champion! That’s a huge accomplishment! I’m sure it must have been extremely challenging, so what gave you the strength and courage to push through that difficulty and discomfort to come out on top? Were there any moments where you felt like giving up? Ultimately, what pushed you to continue until you succeeded?

First of all, thank you for your kind words! There were definitely times when discomfort outweighed the pleasure that comes from skating your best under pressure and reaching your goals, and there were definitely days when I thought it was all too much.

As a teenager, whenever I’d have a rough day, I would always lean on the other aspects of my life that didn’t have anything to do with skating — school, friendships, family, activities outside of the rink — and would let myself get lost in those for a little bit. I found that this helped me maintain balance, particularly because skating never became my identity; there were always other aspects of my life that held importance along with skating. That said, deep down I had such a drive to succeed, and I loved skating. Even on the hardest days, I was willing to stay at the rink and push through injuries or setbacks to feel like I accomplished more that day than I did the day before. Loving what you’re doing and having a clear image in your mind of the goals you’re trying to accomplish is something that has always helped me to push through hard times.

Q3: On ‘And I’m An Athlete’, you write that you’re a figure skater turned coach and a soon-to-be therapist. That’s such an interesting change of career, can you tell us a bit about what inspired and led to this change? As a coach and soon-to-be therapist, what’s your goal?

Sure! While I was able to maintain balance during my early teen years, when I was 17, my mom passed away from breast cancer. Suddenly I had to grow up extremely quickly, and I didn’t have the emotional tools and resources to help me manage a successful career as an elite athlete and cope with the loss of my mom. I remember the day after she passed away, I was back on the ice skating because I had a show that I had committed to the following weekend and needed to train. My mom passed away in August, which was right before the start of the 2002 Olympic season, and at the time, I felt like there was really not time to pause training and allow myself to “be a human” and grieve. And, to be honest, even if I had been granted the time to grieve I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Like so many athletes, I had never learned how to effectively experience and manage my emotions. I knew how to handle pressure pretty well, but beyond that, I didn’t know anything about my needs a person — I just knew how to be a good athlete. Because of this, I learned how to push aside my emotions for years, which led to developing an eating disorder the year after my mom passed away. The eating disorder became a way for me to regulate my emotions and feel control over the pressure I was feeling from my career as a skater and a lack of balance that I had during that time in my life. I was no longer going to school; skating had become my life. I started to believe that my self-worth was predicated on every competitive result, and my world became very small.

This ultimately led me to retire from skating a couple of months before the start of the 2006 Olympic season. Since returning to the sport over the last couple of years as a coach, I have been able to form a new relationship with skating and have seen that a lot the experiences that I went through as an athlete are experiences that the skaters I have worked with have also experienced. Whether it’s been trying to find balance in their lives, learning how to experience and effectively regulate their emotions, handling the pressure that comes from performing, achieving a healthy relationship with their body and learning how to achieve personal goals, I realized that there aren’t many behavioral coaching and mental health resources available that are catered specifically to athletes. I see a need in the figure skating and athletic world for this resource, so it inspired me to go back to school for my MSW to use my degree and personal experience to help all individuals (not just athletes) to achieve their goals, better understand themselves and thrive.

Q4: I read a quote somewhere recently where Jim Carrey said: “So many of us choose a path out of fear disguised as practicality.” I agree with this quote, and found that so many people were able to relate. What do you think? What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to make some change or accomplish a set goal, but is afraid to do so?

That’s such a great quote, and I also agree with it! I think so many of us live our lives with fear in the driver’s seat — without even realizing it. I know I’ve lived like this in the past. We do what we feel we “should” do because it seems like the most practical, easiest route, even though deep down we know it’s going to make us miserable. We stop listening to ourselves, and often because of this, we become depressed, resentful and feel empty inside.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to accomplish a goal but is feeling fear is to just take one small step today. Just one. You don’t have to change your entire life or try to accomplish the goal today, but just take a step towards whatever it is that you want. It might be a baby, tip-toeing step, but take it. And then tomorrow, take one more. And the next day, take another. There is such power in just getting started. We often think that we have to have the entire plan mapped out to accomplish a goal — and, yes, that helps — but I’ve found that just starting to generate momentum is even more important than a clear plan. Once we start to take small steps towards our goals, we gain confidence, and then the steps become bigger and we realize that the fear we were feeling was just a story we were telling ourselves. We can really do anything we set our minds to, but we must be willing to take the first step to make it happen.

Q5: If there was one thing you could change about the world, what would it be?

Wow, this is a hard question! This answer may sound a bit odd, but nothing :) There are things that I am always looking to change and improve about myself, but part of that is realizing that trying to change anything external is wasted energy. I believe that if we were all to focus on improving ourselves, and becoming the best version of ourselves (which it really seems like you’ve been doing through this blog!), the world as a whole would improve immensely. Any external change is always a result of what happens within :)
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