ASU student Max Aaron still remembers saying goodbye to his home in Scottsdale to skate three sessions a day, work in the gym, and relentlessly practice his routines to chase his goal of winning an Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating.
Aaron said watching Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson compete for the all-around gold in the 2008 Olympic Games was a defining moment in the trajectory of his athletic career.
“At that moment, I knew that I wanted to do something big in the sport that I choose,” he said. “I had a talk with my parents and decided that we were going to go with figure skating.”
Aaron began hockey skating when he was 3 and began figure skating at 9. As he got older, both sports began to take a toll on his body, which ultimately culminated in a spine injury in 2008.
Julie Patterson, a longtime family friend, coached Aaron for several years.
“He really had to make a decision, because he was also a travel hockey player at the same time he was a national competitor figure skater, and I think it was a lot on his body,” she said.
Despite the injury, Aaron was able to return to the rink, and Patterson said she believes he can go all the way.
“He’s up there right with the top in the world as far as the jumping ability goes,” she said. “I think he’s got a wonderful chance to be on our U.S. team.”
Aaron decided that even though he had to hold off on hockey to further pursue figure skating, he could still come back to the sport as a walk-on athlete.
“I went very far in hockey,” he said. “I’m very fortunate for being a smaller athlete, in making the developmental team in USA Hockey and playing AAA Hockey for many years.”
Unlike his hockey career, he knew he had more to accomplish in the sport of figure skating, Aaron said.
“What I really wanted to be a part of was to make my name and be a part of Team USA and represent the United States of America,” he said. “So I decided to (choose) figure skating and see how far I can go from there.”
Aaron said he went into the 2013 United States Figure Skating Championship competition with no expectations, and he did not intend to become the senior men’s National Figure Skating Champion last January.
“I just wanted to skate clean, and I decided to do that this last season for my parents, ’cause they’d never seen me skate clean at a big event,” said Aaron. “I’ve always wanted to have a performance of a lifetime where my parents are there and my grandparents can see it on TV.”
Figure skating has been a family affair for the Aarons. Aaron’s sisters, Molly, 23, and Madeline, 18, also grew up in the sport and have trained in Colorado.
Madeline said her sister and brother moved to Colorado before she did, and their move was hard for her.
“Both Max and Molly were off training in Colorado, and I was kind of by myself trying to keep motivated,” she said. “It’s not the same when you don’t have your siblings there to help you out when you need them.”
In 2009, Aaron moved from Scottsdale’s Ice Den and now trains with coaches Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin at the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Now that Madeline has moved to train in Colorado as well, the 2013 U.S. bronze pair medalist said she enjoys training with her older brother.
“He definitely motivates me. I get to watch him skate all the time. He watches me, and it’s just really motivational for me,” she said. “In training every day, he works so hard. You never see anyone train like Max does anywhere else.”
Under Zakrajsek, Aaron has won the 2013 U.S. Championship, placed fourth at Four Continents, seventh at the World Championship and helped the U.S. win the World Team Trophy in the past year.
Aaron will attempt to defend his national title in January, and if he places first or second, he will qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Despite Aaron’s meteoric rise, he has not yet taken the time to appreciate how far he has come.
“I definitely don’t want to get a big head ’cause that’s where I get in trouble,” he said. “I think the minute I start looking behind me is the minute that the men in the world and the U.S. start going in front of me.”
As for the future, Aaron said he wants to return to Arizona for classes at the W. P. Carey School of Business, where he has been accepted, but not before checking a few more goals off of his to-do list.
“Of course there is the 2018 Olympics, and I’m still young enough to qualify for that, so I’m definitely looking forward to hopefully becoming a two-time Olympian,” he said. “Not only being a two-time Olympian, but defending my national title over and over again, and hopefully becoming an Olympic champion one of these days.”
Aaron said he hopes to be able to share his story and inspire those that are told they can’t achieve their goals, just like people once told him.
“If I could choose one thing … I hope to inspire others to do something great in their own aspects of life,” Aaron said.
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