Rachel & Michael Parsons have been skating together since the 2010-2011 season and are the 2011 U.S. novice ice dance champions as well as two-time medalists at the junior level (2012 and 2014). They took a few moments out of their busy schedules to answer some questions for IDC.
IDC: How were you each introduced to skating and, particularly, ice dance?
Rachel: Our mom was a freestyle skater growing up in Buffalo, and she thought it would be good for us to learn how to skate. I always loved watching the skaters on television during the Olympics and that really sparked my interest.
Michael: I wanted to play hockey, like a lot of my cousins do. Our family is mainly from the Northeast and a lot of us, including my Dad and I, are big hockey fans. So when I was four or five I started taking figure skating lessons because my mom said I had to if I was going to play hockey. I happened to love it so much that I never stopped.
Rachel: We were in the public sessions at the local rink and I remember doing little “ice shows” with my younger sister Katie and our cousins. Then this new group of coaches started up an ice dance program, the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA), and at some point they noticed us and asked if we wanted to give it a try. That’s how we met Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, Dmytri Ilin, and the whole team we work with now, and they’ve been our coaches since the beginning.
IDC: You each started ice dancing with different partners. Discuss your journey and what brought you to skate together?
Rachel: We both started out with different partners and had lots of success as we moved up from Juvenile through Novice. Michael is older so he was a level ahead of me. I think we both grew a lot with our previous partners, and learned a lot about what it means to compete as a team. Skating together gave us a chance to continue to grow in the sport and we’re really happy with how it’s going.
Michael: We were always really close growing up, so skating together gave us a chance to grow even closer as siblings and use that relationship and that energy as an advantage on the ice. We know each other so well, which helps us to trust each other on the ice every time we skate.
IDC: What has been your favorite skating memory in your career so far?
Rachel: For me it was our first international medal we won together at the 2012 Junior Grand Prix in Croatia. We had competed in a couple of international events before that, but winning that first medal, then standing there on the podium and watching them raise the American flag was a feeling I’ll never forget.
Michael: My favorite memory has to be the first time we medaled internationally too. There’s a real sense of pride and accomplishment in earning something, not only for yourself, but for your partner, your coach, and your country. Moments like that justify all the hours of hard work we put into this sport every day, and they help us see that we’re on the right track.
IDC: What do you like most about ice dancing? And which program has been your favorite?
Rachel: In ice dance you have a chance to tell a story and relate to people on the ice. That’s what I really love about it, it’s so expressive, and so athletic at the same time.
Michael: I really just enjoy the artistry and beauty of ice dance and the fact that you can share in that artistry with a partner and the audience, in real time. It is just such a cool feeling to be out there on the ice and doing what you love.
Rachel: As for favorite programs, I think every year is my favorite. Seriously, each program has gotten better and better as we’ve gone along. Our coaches are so good at choreography, and they know us so well, they really find ways every year to help us keep moving to higher levels in our performance. So this year is my favorite program, and next year probably will be too!
IDC: Tell us about a typical training day.
Michael: We wake up to a 5:45 am alarm, have a quick breakfast, and head over to the rink. We skate a few sessions in the morning, then I drop Rachel off at school and either go back home to sleep or go to my college classes, depending on the day. Then I pick up Rachel early from school and we head back to the rink for a few more skating sessions. In between we work in either a ballet lesson, ballroom or an off-ice work-out. Then we have a late dinner, do our homework, sleep, and repeat.
Rachel: It’s kind of a sleep, eat, skate, study, skate routine. But sometimes we do something radical like go to a movie or a friend’s house, or see a Washington Capitals game with our family, or travel to a competition somewhere fun. But mostly we train, study, eat, sleep and train some more. It really helps that there is this whole group of us who train together every day, and we’ve all become pretty close over the years, so I think training as part of a big group and all the friendships we have make it a lot more fun than it probably sounds.
IDC: What is the best thing about having a sibling who is a skater?
Michael: I think the best thing about skating with my sister is I get to share these experiences with someone I’ve been sharing experiences with my whole life. We also really know each other’s limits, which helps in training and competition.
Rachel: I like that we don’t have to hold back, we can be really honest with each other. We can also both be really confident that both of us are giving 100%. As family there’s a bond of trust that comes naturally and you couldn’t find that with anyone else.
IDC: It seems likely that you (and your training mates McNamara & Carpenter) will be the first WISA-grown teams to compete at the senior level in the U.S. How does this motivate you?
Michael: There have been some senior skaters at WISA before, but all came here after starting out somewhere else, so in that sense I guess you could say we (hopefully) will be one of the first WISA-grown teams to reach that level, and that’s pretty exciting.
Rachel: I know that every day we’re setting an example for the younger skaters, so I think that makes it more important that we really do our best. The fact that there’s more than one strong team here pushing each other really helps too. Since there are no older teams to look up to right now, we find inspiration in each other’s success. We love training with another strong couple because that pushes us, but that positive motivation to compete never gets in the way of our friendships, so it’s great.
Michael: We’re proud to be one of the trail-blazers for this program and excited about our future. We feel like we’re ready to be one of the premier ice dance teams in the country. That’s what all of us at WISA have been working towards for all these years.
IDC: As role models for the teams that train at WISA, what advice would you give them as they follow in your footsteps?
Michael: I would say two things: Enjoy every moment, and learn from every mistake you make and every obstacle you have to face, because that’s what will make you a better skater and better person. The more mistakes you make and obstacles you overcome, the more you learn.
Rachel: I would tell them this is not an easy road. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears just to get to the point where we are, and we still have a long way to go, so it’s really important to give it your all and make sure that you really want it, because if skating is what you really love, then it’s all worth it.
IDC: It has been said that sibling teams have less options for music choices/program themes. How do you come up with your programs each season? Do you think there are obstacles sibling teams face that others do not?
Michael: This is a question brother-sister teams are always asked and I believe there is kind of a stigma brother-sister teams sometimes face on this point. To me, skating is like acting, and every piece of music tells a story that can be interpreted many different ways. So, although we can’t always tell the same romantic story line other teams might, we are every bit as able to tap into the real emotion in a piece of music. We can tell a story in a lot of ways, and our coaches are great at helping us with that, so I don’t think being a brother-sister team limits us at all.
Rachel: We’re both really into the music and I agree with Michael: There’s very seldom only one story line to a piece of music, so we just come up with other creative ways to really engage the audience. It’s not a limitation for us at all. I think we’re ready to be one of the top U.S. teams and don’t see any limit to what we can do. Just watch us!
You can follow Rachel & Michael on their website at www.TeamParsons.us.