By Dave Paone
“Basically, I’ve had a pretty crazy life.”
These words were spoken last month by 20 year-old Rena Ikenishi, after a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships that were to take place the following week.
Her “pretty crazy life” started when she was born in Tokyo to a dad who works for AIG, a global insurance company, and a stay-at-home mom.
When Rena was two years old the family moved to Connecticut… and then to New Jersey… and then back to Japan… and then to Chicago (where her father attended business school)…and then to Hong Kong (for five years)…and then back to Japan…and then to Long Island, where Rena has been for the past five years.
Pretty crazy, indeed.
But the best part is Rena spent just about the entire time on ice skates, honing her skills for participating in professional figure skating competitions.
At first, her parents encouraged her to try different sports because she was such an energetic child. She tried gymnastics, soccer and tennis, but it was when they discovered she was happiest on ice, that they put her in group lessons.
Her first time on ice she was two and a half and started skating seriously at four.
This made her father very happy, since he competed in ice hockey in his high school and college days.
Rena began competing and winning. “I have a lot of trophies from when I was younger,” she said.
Rena’s first time at the US Figure Skating Championships was three years ago.
“That crowd is so different [from] all the crowds I’ve ever experienced because I’ve never competed in an area,” said Rena.
Prior to this, all her competitions were local with small crowds in attendance.
“But at Nationals, it’s fully packed and the lights are so bright,” she said.
Rena was 17 at the time and was attending the Waldorf School in Garden City, Long Island. In her young lifetime she attended just about every type of school there is. For first and second grades in Chicago, it was public school. In Hong Kong, it was an international school. In Japan, it was “a very strict, Japanese school.” She finished up at the Waldorf School, a private institution, which Rena describes as “a whole different realm.”
If Rena′s parents were in the army, she would have been called an “army brat.”
“I’ve met a lot of army brats,” said Rena.
“She′s an insurance brat,” said Rena’s coach, Mary Lynn Gelderman.
Although her parents speak Japanese at home, somewhere along the line Rena learned English, but she doesn’t remember actually doing so.
While Rena’s parents have been supporting and encouraging her skating career all her life, they also feel education is very important.
Rena had very little say in where she’d attend college. Pretty much her father chose New York University for her. Her parents wanted a “prestigious” school and it wound up being NYU.
“Dad was pretty adamant,” said Mary Lynn.
Additionally, attending college in New York City allows Rena to practice daily at the Dix Hills Ice Rink.
Rena is in her second year at NYU, having taken a gap year after graduating from the Waldorf School. Her father allowed this so she could take the time to qualify for the US Championships, which she did. Once that was accomplished, it was back to school.
Prior to COVID-19, Rena had a long, daily commute to NYU. It started after a three-hour practice session with Mary Lynn in Dix Hills— which Rena still does—beginning at 6:30 AM.
First there was a drive from the rink to the Syosset train station, followed by an hour ride to midtown Manhattan, followed by a subway ride to the Washington Square section of the city, and ending with a walk to the school, making her daily, round-trip commute about four hours.
Rena put that hour-long train ride to good use, bringing her laptop along to do homework.
“I tried to pack all my classes into two or three days so I wouldn’t have to commute too much into the city,” she said.
Fortunately, Rena has an academic advisor at NYU who helps her make a flexible class schedule conducive to having a skating career.
One way of doing this is to take fewer credits during the skating season (August through January), and then making up those credits during the off-season.
Things changed in her sophomore year when COVID-19 made all classes online, temporarily suspending her commute.
NYU has its own figure skating team…
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