As a child, Ernie Stevens would watch figure skating on TV and skate around in his socks on the hardwood floor in his house. A decade later, the Butler University freshman is a national figure-skating champion, winning the United States National Championship on Jan. 22 in Omaha, Neb.
Stevens and his skating partner Christina Zaitsev skate in the Novice Pairs division, the third highest level in figure skating below Junior and Senior levels. The pair won with a score of 124 points, a score that would have also put them in first place at the Junior level.
Stevens and Zaitsev are leading contenders for the World Championships next year. According to Stevens, Zaitsev, 13, will be too young to qualify for the Winter Olympics next year, but their hard work has set them up perfectly to compete in the Winter Olympics in 2018.
“2018 will be our year,” he said.
Stevens has been skating for 13 years. He began when he was a first grader living in Louisville, Ky. He was skating at a rink near his home when a coach asked him to try figure skating.
Stevens immediately loved skating and had been contemplating playing hockey, so his mother was thrilled when he decided to figure skate. As a child Stevens played almost every sport but always stuck with skating.
Unfortunately, during his training in Louisville, Stevens was injured and struggled with a growing pain in his knee.
“It was pretty bad. I really thought I was never going to be able to skate again,” Stevens said.
However, a coach in Indianapolis, Serguei Zaitsev, was confident that they could overcome Stevens’ knee injury with the proper hard work and training. Stevens began training in Indianapolis and became interested in pairs skating. Serguei decided to pair him with his daughter Christina.
When Stevens graduated high school he decided that he wanted to go to a college in Indianapolis so he could continue to train in skating and still get a quality education. Butler University just made sense.
“I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything in the world. It’s a great school with great people, so it worked out,” he said.
Because of the intense demands of training and being a student, “Not a lot of skaters choose to go to college,” he said. Stevens, a Strategic Communications major at Butler, finds it difficult to balance college life and training in ballet and skating Monday through Saturday, four hours per day.
“But even though skating is so competitive and it’s a lot of pressure, school helps because it takes my mind off all of that pressure,” Stevens said.