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has a lot more transitions. I’m focusing on the movement going into the jumps, fl uid move- ment, interpretation, making sure everything is building together.” Aaron is trying to up his component score


but he also wants to pack in so many technical points that his opponents can’t catch him. “You make up the points in the air,” he said.


“If I end up doing three quads in my long, it ends up being 15 points [extra]. It’s hard to make that up in components.” T ree days after our interview, Aaron left


for Japan, where he would fi nish third in the free skate and fourth overall at the World Team Trophy, providing crucial points in a fi rst-place fi nish for Team USA. “It was amazing,” he said. “We had a great


team this year. T e whole venue was spectacular and the fans in Japan are so supportive. It’s a hard event, but it’s something special.”


Aaron played hockey through his teen years and still loves his hometown Phoenix Coyotes.


A FAMILY OF SKATERS


Aaron was born in 1992 in Scottsdale, Ariz., the middle child of three. His older sister, Mol- ly, competed as a pairs skater until 2011, and younger sister Madeline is the 2013 U.S. junior pairs bronze medalist with partner Max Settlage. “Watching [my brother] Max skate really


motivates me every day,” Madeline said. “He trains harder than anyone I know. It really moti- vates me to work that much harder so I can be as successful as he is.” T e family is Jewish, which Aaron says is


important to him. “It’s really a big part of us,” he said. “I had


a bar mitzvah, we have the High Holy Days. It’s really neat to have that bond with my family. Not that many people are Jewish in our sport.” Parents Neil, a pediatrician, and Mindy, who was formerly a neonatal nurse, had no idea what they were getting into when Max started playing hockey at age 3. “I put Molly and Madeline in learn-to-


skate,” Mindy said. “Because Max had been play- ing hockey, I was like, ‘Great, let’s just do this.’ And they loved it. It was convenient, close to where we lived, and what a great thing to do in the summer in Arizona, be in a nice, cool place.” T ere was no hockey in the summer in Scottsdale, so in order to keep skating Max start- ed fi gure skating at age 9. “If anything, it would make me a better


hockey player,” he said. “So I started fi gure skat- ing, and I came to love the sport. I did both for a while.”


Aaron’s fi rst coach was Julie Patter-


son. He then started working with Doug Ladret, who coached him for the next seven years. Aaron won the U.S. juve- nile title in 2005 and was third at the intermediate level the following year.


In 2007, as a novice, he fi nished fi fth at the U.S. Championships, and then moved up to junior. Despite his success as a fi gure skater, hockey was more important. Aaron was on a youth 16 triple-A hockey team, the highest


level for ages 16 and under. “It’s kind of a select travel team,” he said.


“It was a big deal. Before that I played on the Phoenix Firebirds. I was lucky enough to make the cut, and that team really took off . T at was the team I went to nationals with.” Aaron competed at the USA Hockey na- tional championships in 2006 and 2007. He says that almost everyone on the team ended up play- ing college hockey and some are on their way to the NHL. (One of his former opponents, Jason Zucker, now plays with the Minnesota Wild.) Aaron was scouted by some colleges, but he had his heart set on attending the University of Mich- igan.


“T at was the only team I wanted to play


for,” he said. “My father went to Michigan, and that’s something that I wanted to strive to be.” Aaron’s years as a hockey player contributed to one of his greatest assets: his breakneck speed.


24 AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2013


Coaches Becky Calvin and Tom Zakrajsek react to the monster scores received by Aaron at the 2013 U.S. Championships in Omaha. Aaron rallied from fourth place after the short program to win the event by nearly four points.


At 5 foot 6 inches — 5-7 on a good day, he said — Aaron had to be fast. “I needed my speed to get around them,” he


said. “T at was how I played. I was very aggres- sive, and I had to be.” Figure skating helped his hockey, too. “My strength was my skating skills, to get


around the big defensemen,” he said. “I learned to skate, how to use my edges, I learned how to bend my knees better and really take off .”


BROKEN BACK During the 2007–2008 season, Aaron’s back


was hurting, but he kept quiet and didn’t tell any- one. One day in early 2008, Aaron was in the gym working out with the hockey team. “I was lifting some weights and all of a sud- den I felt it, and I kind of keeled over,” he said. “I knew my back broke — I should have said some- thing earlier.” Aaron had broken both sides of his L5 ver-


tebra. He spent four months in a body cast and was off the ice for nearly a year. He had plenty of time to think about his career and decided to stop playing hockey and focus on fi gure skating. “I made it very far in hockey,” he said. “I felt like I could always come back and maybe play for a private college. But in fi gure skating I always wanted that Team USA jacket. T at was a huge thing for me.” Aaron said that he might have decided to


devote himself exclusively to fi gure skating even without the injury.


“I was coming to that decision anyway, be- cause I was getting older,” he said. “It just hap- pened that breaking my back helped me decide. I told my parents, ‘I want to commit to this and see how far I can go.’”


After he got back on the ice, Aaron moved


to Colorado Springs in 2009 to train with Zakra- jsek. Success followed quickly, with a bronze medal at the 2010 U.S. Championships as a junior, followed by a fourth-place fi nish at the


JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES


NBC OLYMPICS/USOC


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