by Anne Calder | Skating Photos by Liz Chastney
Cathy Reed, two-time Olympian, seven-time Japanese national champion and popular IDC blogger, retired from competition at the conclusion of the 2015 season. She has since transitioned to a career that includes serving as a coach, choreographer and national technical specialist and conducting backstage interviews at international competitions. In this recent Q&A, she recaps her career and shares a glimpse into her post-competitive life.
Tell us about growing up in a figure skating family.
My mother introduced us all to the sport of figure skating since she loved watching the sport herself. We all were given the opportunity to do several sports. I took up tennis and ballet while my brother did soccer and karate, and my sister did horseback riding and fencing. After school, we had music lessons. I played the flute and Chris the trombone, but we all took a big interest in figure skating, and just truly love the sport.
Why do you call your mother, Super Mom?
We all had a very interesting childhood, waking up at 4 am to go to our morning practices, then to a full day of school. After that, we went to practice and off-ice session in the evenings. It was a very busy lifestyle and looking back I don’t know how we did it. I remember it was very difficult to balance both skating and school.
I am a perfectionist, and I always do my utmost to exceed at everything I do. I remember at times, sleeping only three to four hours a night, but even with this crazy schedule, we never wanted to quit. We all love figure skating. My mother was defiantly a key to our success. We wouldn’t be where we are today without her. She is Super Mom!
Describe skating with your brother, Chris.
Our first time on the ice was at an outdoor ice rink in Tokyo, Japan when I was five and Chris was three. From there we just continued to take lessons a couple of times a week.
Chris and I actually started with singles first. I then started doing solo ice dance with coach Andrew Stroukoff, and he was the one who put Chris and me together as a team, when I was twelve and Chris was ten. At that moment, we definitely didn’t think about competing together professionally to the World Championships or the Olympics. We started ice dancing together for the pure enjoyment of it.
We continued skating together for another 15 years, which brought us to two Olympics, eight World Championships, and seven Japan National Titles. It was full of ups and downs and lots of unfortunate injuries, but it was truly such a wonderful and memorable career. I am so fortunate to have this one of a kind life experience with my brother, and I will cherish it forever.
You and Chris were the 2006 U.S. Novice ice dance champions. The next season you moved up to seniors due to your age. You also chose to represent Japan. Those were big changes. Tell us about those adjustments.
One of our best years as a team was the 2005-2006 season when we were still Novice and representing the U.S. We won every competition we entered that season, from the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships to the U.S. regionals, sectionals and Nationals.
The season before that, we both were contemplating ending our skating careers. We took a chance and worked with Nikolai Morozov and Shae-Lynn Bourne. We worked hard to improve our skating. Our goal that season was just to go to the U.S. Nationals, so we couldn’t believe that we won it!
After becoming the 2006 U.S. Novice ice dance champions, we had big decisions to make. I was already 18 and Chris 16, so I wasn’t age eligible for juniors even though Chris was. Therefore, Chris and I both made the decision to compete at the senior level for Japan.
My brother, sister and I were all born in the U.S., but we went to Japan every year to visit family. We were very accustomed to the culture even though we didn’t speak the language. When we decided to skate for Japan, it wasn’t a big adjustment for us. It felt very natural because we are half Japanese.
Ice dancing often suggests a romantic edge to the performance. Music selections can be limited for a sibling team. How did you and Chris address that situation?
Yes, as a brother and sister team we both always made our music choices carefully. Even though we always considered ourselves partners and not siblings when we were on the ice, we are indeed brother and sister so we had to stay away from romantic storylines and music like Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.
Chris and I always used our sibling bond to our advantage. We’ve known each other inside and out our whole entire lives, so we did portray a love story suited to our brother/sister bond.
You and Chris competed for nine seasons. What were your favorite original/short and free dances?
Our favorite short dance was our Japanese original dance from the 2009-2010 season, which we competed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. The OD theme was folk dance, so we decided to try Japanese folk dance on the ice.
In Japanese folk dance, women and men dance separately, so we had to find a way to make a dance together. Also, dance teams were not allowed to use a prop on the ice unless it was connected to the costume. We wanted to add fans, but it was a risk. We would both receive deductions if the judges considered it not part of the costume, or if we dropped them. We decided to go for it since it significantly added to our overall Japanese cultural theme.
We took many dance lessons on the floor to get the right angles and movements and to learn how to use and dance with the Japanese fans. With our coach and choreographer Nikolai Morozov, we translated all we learned on the floor and created the program on the ice.
The previous season at the 2008 NHK Banquet I had worn a red kimono, and had fallen in love with the color and design. My mother shortened it so I could skate in it on the ice. She then made an Obi – a yellow sash/belt to hold the kimono together. My brother’s kimono was black with my mother’s family crest on it. She made striped pants to resemble the traditional hakama.
We skated in real Japanese kimonos and used real Japanese fans, and together we produced the first Japanese folk dance on the ice. It was a very special program for us.
We have many different free dances we love, but our favorite would have to be our 2011 Blues free dance, to “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Al Jarreau and “Think” by Aretha Franklin. This program was made late in the season, so we didn’t have as much time to perfect it, but we worked very hard to prepare it for Worlds in Moscow.
We skated one of our best performances of our lives with that program, placing 13th – our highest placement as a team at Worlds. Blues is such feel good music and is one of my favorite genres. To perform our hearts out with this program was such a memorable moment for me, even though Chris fell at the end.
After you retired, Chris continued with a new partner and you became their biggest supporter. Talk about what it meant for you to support him in this way.
Even though I felt in my heart it was time for me to retire, Chris still felt very strongly about competing. I wanted what was best for him and to support him the best way I could. I actually first suggested Kana Muramoto because she had made such an impression on me at the 2014 Japanese Nationals, placing 3rd in ice dance.
As soon as the WTT [World Team Trophy] was done in April 2015, Chris and Kana had their first tryout. I was there as well, and was very happy with their look on the ice. Even though I couldn’t travel to all their competitions, I did whatever I could to support and cheer them. They both took Japanese ice dance to another level, winning the bronze at the 2018 Four Continents Championships and coming in 11th at the 2018 World Championships, the highest placement for a Japanese team.
When you retired, you chose to coach in Japan. Tell us about your decision.
To be honest, when I retired I had no idea what I would do next. I had no plan except to have surgery done on my left shoulder. While I was recovering, I received an email from Mie Hamada, an elite singles coach in Japan. She asked me to come to Japan to choreograph four programs in two weeks, and I agreed without hesitation!
Even though I had no experience, I always had a strong desire to create and choreograph. As soon as my shoulder was decent, I traveled to Japan, and made not four, but seven programs in two weeks. Hamada then asked me to stay on and be a skating skills coach and choreographer on her team, which I agreed to do happily!
What was your biggest challenge as a new coach?
The biggest challenge for me was the transition from athlete to coach and choreographer. As an athlete you focus only on yourself, and do the best you can to improve and succeed. As a coach, you want all your students to succeed. However, they all learn at different rates and understand things in different ways.
Finding ways to explain or demonstrate was challenging at first, not to mention in Japanese as well. I caught on very quickly, and yes I did make a lot of mistakes in Japanese at first, but my students were happy to laugh and correct me!
What is most rewarding about coaching?
The most rewarding thing about being a coach is to watch the progress of your students and see them succeed and achieve their goals. Being a part of their journey to reach their dreams is rewarding in itself. Most of my students are still young, so we have a long road ahead of us. Step-by-step, through ups and downs, I will pass my knowledge and experience to them, to achieve my goals as a coach and theirs as athletes.
Tell us about the students you coach.
I have two Japanese ice dance teams at the moment. They are really both basic novice level, but in Japan, we don’t have basic or intermediate novice; there is only advanced novice.
My very first ice dance team is from Kurashiki; they teamed up in 2017. Their names are Sumire Yoshida (8 years old) and Ibuki Ogahara (10 years old), but I call them Sumi and Ibu.
They are full of character and energy and just love to perform. They do a lot of shows since there are not many ice dance competitions in Japan. I have made many different show numbers already including MJ’s “Thriller” and Saturday Night Fever’s “Stayin’ Alive.” Sumi and Ibu are still not age eligible for Advanced Novice in Japan. We are working hard to have a strong debut next year!
My other Japanese team is a brother sister team, who are 10-year old twins named Mao and Mako Uchida. I call them my M&Ms. They just started doing ice dance last November and are making their Novice National debut this year. Their faces light up when they hear the music, and they love to show different emotions and expressions. They both just love to dance. It is truly a joy to work with them as they remind me a lot of Chris and me when we were little.
I also work with Mie Hamada’s skaters, so I consider them my students as well. We work on their skating skills, focusing on edge work, turns, stroking, posture, speed, and expression.
I have choreographed exhibitions numbers for Marin Honda, Rika Kihira, Yuna Shiraiwa, and more. I made Rika Kihira’s programs when she was still a novice skater and traveled with her to competitions. It is a lot of work, as Mie Hamada has around 40 skaters on her team. I try to capture each skater’s distinct style and character in their programs, and to help improve their skating.
You have trained with many premier coaches. What are some of the lessons/methods that you have adopted in your own coaching career?
Every coach has his or her own method and style so I was very fortunate to have trained with many premier coaches throughout my career. Most of my students are quite young, so it is extremely important to teach them the right basics to develop a strong foundation. It is also important as a coach, to recognize each skater/team’s individual style and make them the best they can be.
As a choreographer, I am so lucky to have worked with many choreographers, elite dancers, ballroom dancers, actors and mimes. I have a broad knowledge of dance styles and expression so it is always so exciting for me to create and choreograph programs. I really love listening to all different kinds of music and playing around with ideas and storylines.
You did some interviewing at the 2017 GPF in Japan. Would you like to do more?
ISU Figure Skating invited me to do interviews, commentating and fun social media projects at the 2017 Grand Prix Final and then again this year at the 2019 World Championships. Both were great experiences for me, as I am a very shy person! I had never done media before and also had not been to the GPF, so the 2017 GPF was my first experience for everything, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Not only was it great to have the chance to see all my friends again, but also it was so exciting to be backstage to interview them about their performances and preparation for the events. I would most definitely like to do more media projects if I have the chance!
Japanese fans are very supportive of their skaters – often treating them like rock stars.
I have heard from many foreign skaters that Japanese fans are one of the best fan bases in the world, and I couldn’t agree more! Chris and I are still so fortunate to have such wonderful, caring fans.
If you could have any ice-dance team from the past or present come and give your students one lesson, who would it be? Why that team?
I would love to have Marina Anissina and Gwendal Piezerat come teach my teams! They are my favorite dance team of all time. Their Romeo and Juliet and Man in the Iron Mask programs were my favorite. I want my teams to have that passion, power and presence on the ice.
From being a competitive athlete to a coach, choreographer, and a National Ice Dance Specialist to working media backstage [at international events], I am looking at this sport of figure skating from all different angles! I am constantly learning more and more about this sport, and I am just so fortunate for all these amazing opportunities.