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17-year-old skating phenoms headline top-tier ‘Stars on Ice’ tour

Nathan Chen competes in the Men's Free Skate program during the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Sprint Center on January 22, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. | Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Competitive skating requires intense precision and impeccable timing. But sometimes, when you are 17 years old, you just want to get out on the ice, crank up your favorite music, and have a good time.

2017 STARS ON ICE
When: 7:30 p.m. May 6
Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim Rd., Rosemont
Tickets/info: ticketmaster.com

That’s exactly what 2017 U.S. ladies figure skating champion Karen Chen is looking forward to doing during the “Stars on Ice” tour, which arrives at the Allstate Arena on May 6.

“I absolutely love Katy Perry,” Karen said during a recent interview. “One of the programs I am doing at ‘Stars On Ice’ is ‘Rise’ by Katy Perry, and I just can’t wait. Competing is only stressful if you make it stressful, so I’m looking forward to taking the feeling I will have in a non-stressful environment like this and figure out how I can skate with that feeling [I have] when I am competing. You know, just letting your body do its work.”

Chen will accompany a number of her fellow skaters during the show, including fellow skating champion Nathan Chen (no relation). Also 17 years old, the two have become “pretty close friends” in the past few years. “We have gone through a number of the same experiences and we have both been pretty successful thus far in our career so I have looked up to him a lot for help,” Karen Chen explains. Nathan Chen, the first man to land five quadruple jumps in one program, placed first to win the gold medal and become the 2017 U.S. men’s figure skating champion in January.

The similarities don’t stop there, as the two are the first to admit that they were once a tad shy when they were kids. “I was pretty introverted, “ said Karen, who first stepped on the ice at age 4 and started lessons at age 6. “Skating was always a way for me to express myself, and I had always loved to dance when I heard any sort of music, so that part of it came pretty naturally to me.”

Karen Chen competes in the Championship Ladies Free Skate during the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Sprint Center on January 21, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. Chen placed first and won the gold medal and became the 2017 US Ladies Champion. | Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“I never wanted to sit in one spot,” laughs Nathan, who is known for his technical prowess in competition. “But I was shy and would spend a lot of time watching my brothers play hockey. I was born in Salt Lake City, and in 2002, there were a ton of ice rinks built. I went to public skate and that was it — I loved it.”

These days, their spare time is collectively spent doing schoolwork or chatting with fans or trying to get their creativity down on paper. “I recently took up writing in a journal, so I can best process everything going on with my life these days,” Karen says.

“I live in California, so I love hanging at the beach watching my friends surf,” Nathan says. “I also love listening to music. We skate to a lot of classical sort of music, but to be honest, I usually have some sort of rap playing in my headphones, something like Eminem or someone like that. It gets me pumped up.”

And of course, they are both dreaming about next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “Just thinking about it gets me a little nervous, because it’s something I have dreamed about forever,” says Karen. “There is truly no room for mistakes, but so far this season we are heading in the right direction. It’s definitely pressure, but it’s something I’m working to get more balance with.”

To stay in competitive shape, they also make sure they stay as healthy as possible, working out with a weight training emphasis and eating small meals throughout the day. But let’s remember – they are teenagers.

“I absolutely love chocolate,” says Karen.

“On my ‘cheat day,’ I love pizza,” says Nathan. “So I hope to get some while we are in Chicago.”

And while neither of them have been to Chicago before for very long (“does the airport count?” they both ask), they are looking forward to performing for a Chicago audience alongside fellow skaters such as three-time U.S. Champion and 2016 world silver medalist Ashley Wagner, two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, reigning Olympic ice dance gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and four-time U.S. champion and Olympic bronze medalist Jeremy Abbott. And in that audience, there will undoubtedly be a large number of little ones with big skating dreams.

“I do feel like I was that kid,  looking up to my own role models in skating,” Karen says. “I had skaters who served as an inspiration to me, and I would love to be that person to someone else. Maybe they too are shy and love skating? They can see that if I can do it, they can do it.”

Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.