Katrina Hacker '13
When Katrina Hacker began skating at age 6 in Westchester County, N.Y., she wasn’t thrilled with the sport. She could do without the cold, and she didn’t like having to make conversation with her teacher. But she stuck with it. By age 8 she was doing jumps and spins and was totally hooked.
“Very quickly it became very serious,” she says. “Even from fifth grade I didn’t have a normal schedule.” Soon she was skating four hours every day, squeezing in ice time before, after and even during the middle of the school day, and competing in local, regional and national events. Every competition required a week off from school. Hacker qualified for her first U.S. Junior Championships in sixth grade, and qualified for her first of five U.S. Figure Skating Championships in eighth grade.
As her skating continued to improve, Hacker felt she needed to train at one of the few elite training centers in the country, so in 11th grade, she moved to Boston to new coaches. In 2008 she finished sixth at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning a spot on the United States Team for the Four Continents Championships in Seoul and placing sixth again.
A month later, Hacker was accepted to Princeton. “So I was faced with a dilemma,” she recalls. “I was at the peak of my skating career, and I didn’t know what to do. I knew I would always go to college, but I wasn’t prepared to give up skating yet. I decided to take a year off and devote myself completely to skating.”
The next year, 2009, was event filled. She injured her back from training so hard, but skated in competitions in China, Japan and finally the World Junior Championships in Bulgaria, where she finished fifth internationally. Her choice at that point was between training for the Olympics or coming to Princeton. She says it would have been very difficult to do both, and it was one of the hardest choices she ever had to make. “I don’t know anybody who simultaneously trained at an elite level and went to college,” she explains. “A few have tried, but it just doesn’t work.”
Hacker says she ultimately chose Princeton, where her mother was an alumna, because she believes the shelf life of an athlete is short and the risk of injury is always lurking. Besides, even to a world-class athlete, a strong academic experience has appeal. “Always in the front of my head I knew that academics was equally competitive. A lot of competitive skaters are home schooled on-line, which must be very difficult. I’m thankful that I went to a school that supported me academically, even during the times when I wasn’t physically able to be in the classroom.” Hacker believes that the intense discipline required to train for a sport at the world-class level provided her with the foundation to tackle Princeton’s rigorous academics.
At Princeton, Hacker expects to major in history or anthropology and earn a certificate in global health and health policy. She plans to do a post-baccalaureate that will position her for medical school, her final goal.
Out of the classroom, Hacker works with Special Olympics skaters. She also volunteers as a peer counselor with the University Health Service. And to stay mentally focused on her studies, she still skates. Early in the morning, before the hockey team takes to the rink, she practices her jumps and spins. For the occasional and lucky onlooker, it is a visual treat.