Meet Brooklee Han
American-Australian singles skater Brooklee Han is a jack of many trades. Throughout her life, she's excelled at a variety of athletic, artistic, and academic endeavors, from carrying on the family equestrian tradition, founding a community orchestra, and competing in the 2014 Olympic Games to interning at International Figure Skating Magazine and diligently pursuing her collegiate studies. Brooklee has beauty, brains, and brawn, and is a great role model for anyone trying to find that magical skating/work/school/life balance.
Student, skater, coach, journalist, technical specialist... no matter what the future holds for Brooklee, we know she'll face it with the same grace and aplomb she has applied to her skating career. Read on to learn about this six-time Australian national medalist's story, what it's like skating under a small federation, and how she plans to use her skating background to plot the course for her future.
(Original header photo courtesy of Adrian Dennis, AFP)
Birthday: July 6th, 1995 (24 years old)
Born: Beverly, Massachusetts, USA
Hometown: Redding, Connecticut, USA
Currently: Bedford, Texas, USA
Job Titles: college student at Southern Methodist University, former Team Australia singles skater, Olympian
Boots: Jackson Ultima
Blades: For the past 12 years I have worn John Wilson Gold Seals, but now that I am retired and just having fun skating by working on pattern dances, I have swapped into Jackson Ultima’s Apex Dance blades, which I absolutely LOVE!
Brooklee competes in the ladies' free skate at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia
(Photo courtesy of Ryan Pierse)
Q: You were born in Massachusetts to an Australian father and American mother, both of whom competed in equestrian events. What made you choose figure skating instead of following in their footsteps - or hoof tracks, rather?
A: As a young child, I was very lucky that my parents brought me to all sorts of things, from orchestra concerts to the ballet, but my favorite was Scott Hamilton’s Stars on Ice show. Due to my parents’ involvement with horses, I had been riding basically since birth (the first time I was on a horse, I was eight weeks old, and I was in my first competition at 20 months old), but I fell in love with the skaters in the ice show and knew that was what I wanted to do. I have ridden my entire life - and I have had my pony, Fatboy, since I was four years old - but when I was little, I realized that riding was something I could do my entire life, but skating at an Olympic level can only be done when you are young, so I decided to focus on that first. Now that I have retired from skating, I don’t see myself competing in equestrian sports at such a high level as I have with skating (and as my six-year-old-self had planned), but I would like to eventually start riding more again.
Brooklee's love of horses came from her parents, as her mother worked for the US Equestrian Team and her father (pictured above) was the Australian Young Rider Reserve Champion
Q: In 2010, you began representing Australia at the junior level internationally, in ladies' singles. What role did your Australian heritage play in your life growing up, and why did you choose to skate for that federation instead of for the United States?
A: My dad had been the Junior Young Rider Champion of Australia in three-day Eventing, but he had never gotten the chance to represent Australia internationally because he chose to focus on his university studies. When I think I was about 5, I decided I wanted to represent Australia in skating. We contacted the federation about the possibility of me skating for Australia when I was about 8. My parents eventually made a deal with me, that if the day came when I could consistently land two triples, we would really pursue the possibility of me representing Australia. To everyone’s shock, that day actually came and basically the rest is history.
At the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships, Brooklee earned a season's best score for her "Titanic Symphony" short program
Q: Off the ice, you play violin and even started a community orchestra in your town; on the ice, you translate lyrical melodies into beautiful edges and lines. What is your favorite music to play or to skate to, and what do you love about music and expressing yourself through it?
A: Unfortunately, I do not play my violin very often anymore, but now that I have a little more free time on my hands, I am hoping to play a little more frequently. I love playing jazz and fiddle music on my violin. I played a lot of classical as a kid, but I like the freedom that jazz and fiddle music allow. For skating music, I always look (or well, listen) for something that really causes me to feel some big emotion. I like to structure the music in my programs where the music builds toward the end and I really like for the music to “tell” me what to do. I like for the music to dictate the layout of the elements and inspire the choreography. I love how music helps us tell a story or portray a character on the ice. When I was in school I never wanted to be in the school plays or musicals because I hated being out there and having to act, but oddly enough becoming a character and performing on the ice all by myself is one of my favorite parts of skating.
Whether with her violin or skates, Brooklee has always had wonderful musicality
(Left photo courtesy of Natalie Buck Photography)
Q: 2014 was a big year for you, as you competed in the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Tell us all about that experience! How special was it to achieve your dream of being an Olympian, and what memories stick out to you the most from that unforgettable time?
A: Competing at the Olympics was a literal dream come true. Like nearly every small child that starts skating, I told my parents that I wanted to be an Olympian. Once I got older, I realized that the odds of that actually happening were slim to none, but I continued working hard and training, setting small, achievable goals for myself, and eventually those small steps led me to compete on the world’s biggest stage. I have so many incredible memories from the Games, but the ones I cherish the most are all the lifelong friends I made through my Olympic experience.
Brooklee and #TeamAustralia at the Sochi Olympics
(Photos courtesy of the Australian Olympic Committee)
Q: Two years after the Olympics, you moved to Dallas, Texas, to train under Peter and Darlene Cain. I'm curious about your take on the contrast between three places very important to your life and skating career: Connecticut, Texas, and of course, Australia. What are your favorite qualities about each location, and how does the skating culture vary between them?
A: The biggest difference between each location in the climate! I grew up in the New England area and lived there for most of my life, so I wasn’t too sure how I would like Texas, but after living down here for nearly three years, I can say that the heat is honestly not that bad. I don’t miss those cold, snowy winters at all, but I do miss all the green during the spring and summer. In some places, Australia has a similar climate to Texas - it’s hot and dry, but Texas definitely gets chillier in the winter.
The skating culture is very different in each location. In New England a lot of people skate recreationally, especially on ponds and lakes in the winter - it’s definitely part of mainstream culture. In Australia (and even Texas), a lot of people are not that familiar with skating and are often surprised that we have rinks in these warmer climates. In the late 1990s to early 2000s, there was a big skating boom in Connecticut, with a lot of top international skaters training at various rinks in the state, but it has died off a bit since then. Texas, especially the Dallas area, is really growing as a major hub for skating, with many of the top US skaters training at rinks in the area. In Australia, skating is really gaining popularity. Many of our top skaters have been producing great results at major events, like Junior Worlds. For the past few years, Grand Prix and championship events have been shown on TV, which is helping to expose more and more people to skating and will hopefully help to inspire a new generation of skaters.
Left: Brooklee with coach (and fellow Australian Olympic figure skater) Peter Cain
Center: Brooklee and some of her Euless StarCenter training mates
Right: Brooklee with coaches Darlene and Peter Cain, in the kiss & cry at the 2018 Four Continents Championships in Taipei City
Q: In the past few years, you started college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, then transferred to Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Currently, you're working on your degree in German and journalism (with a possible minor in political science) and interning at International Figure Skating Magazine. What are the biggest lessons you've learned from being a student and an intern?
A: I was very fortunate that my local high school in Connecticut was willing to work with my crazy training and competition schedule, allowing me to remain in public high school full-time while pursuing my skating goals. Although at times it was challenging, I definitely learned how to manage my time well at an early age. This is a skill that has been a huge help for me in trying to balance college courses and projects for IFS with my training and traveling these past few years. While I have clearly taken my time getting through my undergraduate degree and would honestly love to have my degree by now, taking the “scenic route” through university has allowed me to find something I am really passionate about (besides skating). So, while it would be nice to be done, I am so glad that I am studying something I really enjoy.
Check out this interview from Brooklee's time at Wesleyan, where she describes a day in the life of a full-time figure skater and student
Q: This past February, you ruptured your Achilles during a practice at the ISU Four Continents Championships and ended up having to withdraw. How was your recovery process, and did that play into your decision to retire?
A: My recovery from my Achilles tendon rupture is still ongoing. I have more or less recovered my range of motion and stability, but I am still working on regaining my strength in that ankle. That being said, I am so shocked at how quickly I have recovered from this and am so grateful for everyone’s support during this incredibly challenging time. Going into the 2018-2019 season, I was fairly certain it would be my last, as my funds to pay for skating at such a high level were running low, and I wanted to get going and actually finish my university studies, so the injury didn’t really play a role in my decision.
Q: Australia is a fairly small federation when it comes to figure skating - what do you think are the pros and cons of skating under a small federation?
A: Australia may be a small skating nation, but it is definitely a strong one with a rich skating history. By having a smaller team, all the skaters get to know each other better, and we all really work to push each other to become the best that we can be. We are also all more aware of younger, up-and-coming skaters and try to reach out to them and encourage them to strive for big goals. However, being a smaller federation, we do not have the same funding or corporate sponsorship support that a lot of the bigger federations have. We also frequently have to battle to keep rinks open, as city planners don’t feel that the rinks are being used, but in fact they are often over-populated, with strong figure skating, speed skating, and hockey programs - and with daily public sessions that are completely full.
Brooklee Han and fellow Australian singles skater, Kailani Craine, give a crash course in figure skating
Q: If you could go back and give your 13-year-old self advice, what would you tell her and why?
A: I would probably tell myself to always believe in myself and to never allow anyone to knock down that confidence. I would also tell myself to keep working hard, but that sometimes it’s okay to enjoy yourself and to “stop and smell the roses.”
Q: Looking toward the future, what aspirations and goals do you have for yourself both personally and professionally? Do you hope to stay involved in skating and in the figure skating community?
A: My first major post-skating goal is to finish my university degree. Once I graduate I would love to work for a magazine or even an NPR station. I enjoy writing profiles and more long form journalism, but I am open to exploring other forms of journalism. I have also done quite a bit of academic writing and have done some research for a local author here in the Dallas area, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. In terms of skating, I definitely plan on staying involved. I am currently coaching a little and helping some friends with their students a bit, which I really enjoy doing. I hope to eventually become an ISU technical specialist and to continue coaching a little bit in my free time.
Brooklee performs her enchanting West Side Story free skate at the 2018 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany
Favorite Australian food?
Meat pies, Barbeque Shapes, Lift, Sausage Rolls — is it bad that all my favorites are junk food?`
Go-to workout song?
I’m kind of weird and don’t listen to music on headphones while working out, but on the ice, I love practicing with background music - it just depends on my mood, I just can’t listen to super loud upbeat music on early sessions though, because it wakes me up a bit too quickly.
If you were a plant, which one would you be and why?
Either a maple tree because of the bright colors they turn in the autumn (and of course the delicious maple syrup they give us) or a lemon-scented eucalyptus tree because they smell amazing.
Last book you read?
It was I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson.
Favorite costume you've ever worn?
I have two favorites: my blue dress that I wore for my short program from 2012-2014 (because it was a dress I always felt comfortable in and looked good on me) and my black and blue dress that I wore for my tango free program from 2016-2018 (because it was a dress that gave me confidence every time I wore it and a very good friend did all of the amazing crystal work on it).
Two gorgeous dresses from two gorgeous programs! "Titanic Symphony" and "Por una Cabeza" are definitely unforgettable.
What would the title of your autobiography be?
Salt, Sass, Sarcasm and Sparkles
Who makes you the most starstruck?
I was very lucky that I came up to the senior ranks during the 2012-2013 season, so I got to compete alongside so many skaters I had looked up to throughout my career. It was amazing to be at the same events as Carolina Kostner, Brian Joubert, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki, Evgeni Plushenko, Michal Brezina, Tomas Verner, and Daisuke Takahashi, but I had a rule for myself that if I was technically “competing against” one of my idols I was not allowed to be starstruck. I think the most starstruck I ever was was at 2013 Four Continents when I got my picture with Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. I love ice dance (part of the reason why I am testing all my patterns), and I had loved Meryl & Charlie and Tessa & Scott’s skating for years, so meeting them was a dream come true.
If you were an ice dancer, who would you want as your partner and why?
This question is so hard! I really cannot imagine splitting up any of my favorite dance teams because they are all so well-matched and, well, they are true teams, and I don’t think I could ever come close to filling in anyone’s shoes. Right now, I am working with Logan Giulietti-Schmitt on all my USFS pattern dance tests. I really enjoy skating with Logan and, I can only speak for myself, but I think we have fun on the ice together. So, I’d probably choose to skate with Logan as my partner, but if I had to pick someone different, I think it would be fun to skate with Ben Agosto. In 2003, as Tanith (Belbin-White) and Ben began to really gain international success at the world level, Australian ice dance champions Natalie Buck and Trent Nelson-Bond came to live with my family. For the first time in my skating life, I really paid attention to ice dance and was immediately captivated by Tanith and Ben’s ability to convey such strong emotions and powerful stories through their programs. Tanith and Ben, along with Natalie and Trent, really inspire my love of ice dance, so I think it would be cool to get to skate with Ben.
What is your favorite thing about yourself?
My work ethic and resilience.
Quote to live by?
"Worry about what you can control" and "Optimism is the cheerful frame of mind the enables the teakettle to sing, though in hot water up to its nose."
Les Mis on ice is always beautiful, but especially when skated by Brooklee at the 2018 Four Continents Championships!
KEEP UP WITH BROOKLEE
From earning her degree to continuing to make her mark on the skating world, Brooklee has a lot of exciting things in her future - follow her social media so you don't miss out on any of it!
All other photos courtesy of Brooklee Han