Rachael Flatt arrives at The Farm
Elite figure skater starts her freshman year at Stanford
On a recent morning, Rachael Flatt, like any college freshman, was anxious to meet her roommate, get her class schedule figured out and soak in the campus atmosphere. But not every incoming frosh is an Olympic veteran and figure-skating champion.
"I'm a little nervous. It's pretty exciting," said the down-to-earth Flatt, who's starting her first year at Stanford University this fall.
Flatt is used to balancing a busy course load with her athletic pursuits. As a high-school honors student she won the 2010 United States Figure Skating Championships and came in seventh in the Vancouver Olympics. She's the reigning national silver medallist. Though injury-plagued with tendonitis and a stress-fractured tibia last year, Flatt said she's back in good health and looking forward to kicking off a new season — while immersing herself in academics.
She'll leave campus before dawn each day for early-morning training in San Jose, with supplementary practices in Redwood City and Oakland. Her first major competition will be Skate Canada, at the end of October. During Stanford's Thanksgiving break she'll be off to Moscow to compete in the Cup of Russia.
Flatt came out to the Bay Area over the summer to try out local coaches, eventually choosing Justin Dillon, Lynn Smith and Sergei Ponomarenko. Conveniently, the 2012 national championships will be held on Flatt's new home turf: San Jose.
"It'll be neat. It will feel like home by then," she said. She also has her eye on another Olympic trip, in 2014, but said she tries to take a day-by-day approach to her goals. "Otherwise it becomes a bit overwhelming."
She said she's loving her new West Coast headquarters so far.
"I was driving around with family friends thinking, 'Gosh, I could live here.' I'm pretty happy."
She'll miss the good friends she made at her skating club in Colorado but said she's looking forward to meeting new classmates.
"I'll be making a lot of great friends. It's a different social scene. I'm just excited."
Flatt had a difficult time choosing between her top two picks, Princeton University and Stanford.
"I liked the quarter system; it's more conducive to taking different classes," she said, of The Farm's 10-week terms. "And academics were a huge part."
Plus, "I couldn't turn down the weather. I really missed being in California."
She's a native, growing up in the San Diego area before relocating with her family to Colorado Springs, Colo. With her dad still working in San Diego and Flatt now back in the state for school, she said her mom is happily returning to Southern California, along with the family's beloved Old English Sheepdogs, Fred and Ethel.
Though Flatt doesn't "foresee the luxury of time" for much socializing or sight-seeing once school starts and the skating season is in full swing, she's spent some time getting acquainted with Palo Alto and the surrounding area.
"I like the vibe. I've been exploring on University Avenue, looking at all the great shops and restaurants," she said, adding that Italian and Mediterranean foods are particular favorites. She's visited San Francisco, too, taking in Fisherman's Wharf and Lombard Street.
While calling herself "an avid tennis fan," she also enjoys water sports, as befitting her San Diego roots. "Surfing, swimming, I love that."
Though her time is limited, she's been a spokesperson for the nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental since 2008 and recently visited an elementary school in San Jose where she read with students and presented them handmade gold medals, which they'd created.
"That was pretty cute," she said.
Flatt also strives to be responsive to her fans, answering emails and keeping up her Facebook and Twitter pages.
"Staying connected is very important, but I have to find a good balance. I gotta keep up with those chem texts."
She plans on majoring in chemical engineering, inspired by her biochemist father, who is currently working on a renewable-energy project.
But though she may be following her father's footsteps into a career in science, her dad is a U.C. Berkeley alum, while daughter is already a full-fledged Cardinal supporter.
Joked Flatt: "I think we'll be sitting on opposite ends of the couch for the Big Game."
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