2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Spotlight: Jessica Smith
January 24, 2014
Jessica Smith was involved in a lot of different activities when she was growing up in Michigan – inline skating, ballet, modeling, tap dance and hockey.
But, as she got older, she eventually came to the conclusion that there was only one thing she really wanted to do – skate.
"When I was younger, my mom put me in ballet, tap modeling – she just wanted me to have a variety, just to get out and do things and have fun," Smith said. "But the moment my mom told me I had to wear kneepads to skate, I realized I didn’t want to model."
Staying scrape- and injury-free while skating was just too much to handle.
"She’s like, ‘You have to keep your knees nice. When you get scabs on them from falling, nobody wants to look at that,’" she said. "So I was like, ‘Yep, modeling’s done.’"
Eventually, it came down to making a choice between hockey and skating.
"My dad used to coach me [in skating] when I was younger," Smith said. "He’s the one who was thinking ‘Let’s put you on hockey skates and then you can get some agility and speed for your fast starts.’ So then I started doing open sessions with my dad. Then, all of a sudden, next thing I know, I’m like, ‘I want to play hockey.’"
Her hockey career took her all over the northern United States and Canada before she finally had to give it up.
"I got into the hockey thing and I was in a girls’ and a guys’ league for a few years, traveling through Canada and stuff," she said. "Next thing I know, it’s like, ‘You’ve got to choose. Are you going to inline and make it to that next step, or are you going to do hockey?’ So I decided to keep going with inline – I like to do a sport that’s not so team-oriented."
But, after reaching the top of the inline skating world, Smith had to give up the sport in which she competed in her first race at age 2.
"I was on inlines for 25 years," she said. "I had my first pair of skates on at 1 and my first competition at 2. It wasn’t a race, but it was a race. I was just waddling off the line. But it was pretty good – people were impressed."
Simply put, inline skating wouldn’t get Smith to the Olympics. So she switched from the track to the ice and moved to Utah to pursue her dreams.
"I decided to pursue my final goal and dream of becoming an Olympian," she said. "The only way to do it was to make the switch, so I ended up coming over to the ice and trying to live the dream."
In making the switch, Smith followed in the footsteps of some of her idols and mentors who also made the switch – Chad Hedrick, Jennifer Rodriguez and Derek Parra.
She immediately noticed one big difference between the sports.
"Inline is aerobic – you can get away with a lot just by keeping your feet moving and keeping your body moving," she said. "But for ice, it’s anaerobic. You get that lactate feeling building up and it’s hard to push through it."
Though she was successful on the ice, she found herself on the outside looking in when it was time for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, where she was named an alternate on the short track team.
"I was a little devastated," she admitted. "I’ve always put my mind to setting up goals and I’ve always achieved them – from the very first Junior Worlds team I made on inlines. I was feeling good about making that team in 2010, but I fell short."
But, she managed to turn a negative into a positive, refocusing on her sport and chasing the 2014 Olympics.
"After I got over it for a day or two, I sat back and thought about it and it’s like, ‘Did I really want to go to the Olympics and be mediocre?’ No, I want to go there and be the best I can possibly be," she said. "I know, in 2010, I definitely wasn’t at the level I needed to be at in order to compete with the best of the best."
Now that she’s qualified for the 2014 Olympics, Smith feels that she’s ready to shine on an international stage.
"If I skate right, I can make something happen," she said. "I think I’m capable of doing that. I think it will be a really good experience."
Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will profile an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for the final profile in the series.