By Hannah Brown
With Americas Prime Time television under mesmerizing spell of the 2018 Olympics, it's easy to get caught up in the stories behind the Olympians. The athletes who represent our nation on the world stage certainly represent the best. But as you stare at the screen, cheer for your favorites, bite your nails as they speed to victory, consider this: for every athlete on that Olympic stage, there are, quite literally thousands who were contenders for the spot. Often, it is just one second, one point or one mistake that separate those who are now in South Korea as 2018 Olympians. Doylestown is home to one of these fierce Olympic trial competitors; Team USA ice dancer Damian Dodge.
Damian began figure skating when he was just three years old. His interest budding from a birthday party for a friend at an ice skating rink, he originally wanted to play hockey. Growing up, balancing school and skating has always been a difficult feat for Damian.
“I was extremely lucky to have a massive amount of support from the Centennial School District during my academic career.” He attended William Tennent Senior High School. “The administrative staff was extremely helpful in finding solutions to accommodate my full-time training schedule for skating. I was able to take some online classes as well as join the dual-enrollment program with Bucks County Community College. My schedule was grueling most days as I would go from the rink in the morning, to my high school during the day, back to the rink in the afternoon, then to Bucks for night classes. I fit in homework during my car rides to and from Delaware, where I was training for skating,” said Damian.
Damian started to get really serious with figure skating when he switched disciplines from being a solo skating to ice dancing.
“I never thought I would enjoy skating with a partner until I gave it a shot,” said Damian. “I had never really thought of doing it, but my coach insisted I give it a try. I instantly fell in love with the feeling of skating with a partner and how technical, yet artistic, ice dancing is.”
Damian got involved with ice dancing because a coach at another rink saw him skating and contacted his coach. He asked Damian if he would be interested in trying ice dancing with one of his students. Later on, he met his current partner, Julia Biechler.
“I met Julia through a website called Ice Partner Search. It’s essentially a dating website but for finding a partner. Skaters who are looking for a partner can upload a profile and connect through the website. Julia had seen my former partner and I compete, and already knew what my skating style was because of it. Within hours of being on the site, she contacted me for a try-out. We immediately connected and realized we were a great fit for each other. We just finished our 6th season competing together. In our 6 years we’ve gone to 6 national championships and have been on Team USA competing internationally for 4 years.”
Throughout his college career at Drexel University, Damian balanced full-time training (4-6 hours a day) with being a full-time student. During his competitive season, Damian and his partner Julia travel at least twice a month for competitions, both domestic and internationally. Damian had many professors who were extremely understanding of my situation, which he greatly appreciated.
Damian has a a huge support network for skating and competing, which is compromised of his family and friends.
“My family has always pushed me to strive for my goals and not give up on my dreams of skating. Without this support, I don’t think I would have continued skating as it’s a sport with many ups and downs. My friends and family have been supportive during the hard times of skating and have been my biggest fans during the highs. My mother has sacrificed a lot to afford me the opportunity to continue to skate and compete, and I wouldn’t have been successful if it hadn’t been for her,” says Dodge.
When it comes to recovery time, icing, and stretching, Damian is no stranger.
“I spend a massive amount of time recovering from skating and the training associated with it. I go to a muscle therapy doctor twice a week for deep tissue massages as well as adjustments and treatment for minor injuries. Each night I stretch and ice or heat my sore muscles, sometimes adding an ice bath in. Recovery and injury prevention are one of the most important aspects of proper training. Eating healthy, as well as stretching and receiving treatment for minor injuries, is key to recovery.”
To Damian, the most rewarding part of skating is being able to have a clean performance at a competition, which in turn makes all of the training and hard work pay off. It can sometimes be mundane training the same programs every day for a whole skating season, but when things go well at a competition, he says he is reminded of why he works so hard on every detail. It just shows that setting goals and working hard can lead to success. Damian notes that it is also an amazing feeling when younger skaters tell you they look up to you as a skater and want to be like you one day.
Dodge hasn't yet competed in the Olympics but hopes to qualify for the next Olympics in 2022.
“Competing at the Olympic trials was an awesome experience that I hope to experience again in four years. There was so much pressure on everyone to bring their best, yet everyone knew they were there because they deserved to be. You’ve trained your whole season, even your whole career, for the opportunity to try and qualify for the biggest competition in the world. It’s an experience like no other,” says Damian.
Damian also volunteers through the Olympics.
“I have been fortunate enough to be able use this platform of being on Team USA for good through volunteering. I volunteer as a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line and also as a skating coach for the Special Olympics. I have always loved volunteering but being on Team USA has afforded me more opportunities to help out in many ways.”