By EmmaKate Austin
At the 2014 USA Figure Skating national championships, Jason Brown joyfully Irish-danced his way to a silver medal and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He did it his way: He had ignored advice to train away from home.
Even after representing the U.S. in Sochi later that year and winning gold at the 2015 national championships, the 21-year-old still feels most proud of his “Riverdance” performance.
“In that moment, I knew I did what was right for me,” he said. “I didn’t move away. I didn’t leave my family. I didn’t let skating define me.”
Two years later, Brown withdrew from the 2016 national championships in January with a back injury that developed from overuse, he said. Despite being off the ice for a month, he never let it discourage him.
The timing, however, frustrated him. He had been landing his quad in practice and was looking forward to debuting the jump this season. Instead of asking, “Why me?”, Brown said he asked, “Why now?”
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Brown decided to “make the most of it,” he said. Devoting about an hour and a half each day to physical therapy, he worked on how to hold the correct posture and engage the right muscles.
He returned to the ice on February 1, a day after a quick trip home for his dad’s birthday. He is “taking it slow, taking it step by step,” he said.
Brown grew up in suburban Highland Park, Illinois, where he graduated from public high school. It’s also where he followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Jordan, who attended a skating birthday party and then started taking lessons. Later that year, he saw her in an ice show and fell in love with the light and costumes. “I wanna do that!” he told his mom. She agreed to sign her 5-year-old son up for eight lessons with Kori Ade, his coach then and now, as long as he didn’t quit midway. His first thought was how much fun it was.
He remembers thinking, “’I love my skating play dates with my coach.'”
That feeling never ended.
“As time went on, I did it more and more, and it became something I loved,” he said.
— Jason Brown (@jasonbskates) February 25, 2016
Brown spent summers training in Lake Arrowhead, California, but he and his parents resisted the suggestion that he should train there full time.
“Just the idea of him moving away to become a skater didn’t seem worth it to us,” said Marla Brown, Jason’s mother, who never skated herself. “Giving up a normal childhood…We didn’t understand that as a worthwhile trade-off.”
He stayed home until 2013, when he graduated from high school and moved to Colorado Springs to live and train at the Olympic Training Center before the 2014 Games. In Sochi, Brown won a bronze medal in the team event and took ninth place overall in the singles event. Although now he lives among other elite athletes, he appreciates being able to go home.
“Looking back on it, I’m so unbelievably grateful that my parents stuck to their guns,” Brown said. “That support system — that would have been something I would have lacked if I would have been away.”
He credits a great deal of his success to his dad, who co-owns a lighting business, his mom, a former TV producer, his older sister, Jordan, 23, and his younger brother, Dylan, 17.
“My grandpa has this really good quote,” he said. “‘When you share your joys, you double them. When you share your sorrows, you cut them in half.’ I really feel like that’s true.”
When Brown is in his normal routine, training consumes most of his day. He’s usually at the rink from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., then spends time working out and recovering until about 7 p.m. In his free time, however, he likes to go to the movies and get dinner with friends. His favorite foods include ice cream and bread.
“I would live off of bread if I could,” he said.
Brown posts a couple times a week, sometimes in Japanese, to his more than 54,000 followers on Twitter and his more than 47,000 followers on Instagram. He traveled to Japan in 2010, after developing an appreciation for the country’s food and culture. He also values the strong skating following there.
“The [Japanese] fans are absolutely incredible,” Brown said. “I wanted to be able to communicate with them in some way and let them be a part of my journey.”
While he isn’t fluent in the language yet, he’s being tutored on the side. He said it’s a dream to be “bilingual by 50.”
His mom always insisted he stay a few days after competitions to travel and experience the cities.
“He’s a more well-rounded person because everything hasn’t been through the lens of skating,” she said.
She and her husband, Steve Brown, attend all of their son’s events around the world.
“I see them more out of the country than in the United States,” Jason Brown said.
Though he wants to make another Olympic team and win a gold medal, he said he gets inspiration from Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, his childhood idol.
When Hamilton skated, “the whole audience was rooting for him,” Brown said. “He was so accessible…He’s an amazing role model. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”
Like Hamilton, Brown truly appreciates his fans and wants to make them a part of his story.
“When I go on the ice, I want people to feel something,” he said. “I want them to take a journey with me.”
Japanese fans send him the most mail, and he writes back to all of them. He takes the time to respond in their language, which he said takes an hour or two for each letter.
“I recently just sent 25 cards to Japan,” he said. “It’s crazy to think about, but that means I spent about 35 to 50 hours writing the responses.”
He also cares about young skaters and wants to encourage them.
“I don’t want people to ever stop because they don’t think they’re good enough or they’re made fun of,” Brown said. “I feel like so often people get discouraged if they’re not improving. If you love it and it’s fun to do, do it no matter what.”
— Jason Brown (@jasonbskates) February 24, 2016
Brown is known as the skater with the ponytail. He embraces the trademark, which makes him stand out in a good way, he said. Still, he recalls being teased about it.
“It was something that built my character and opened my eyes to so many things,” he said. “I’m so honored when people like it. I know I’m not going to have it forever, but I don’t have a plan of when I’m going to cut it off.”
He knows his skating career won’t last forever, but he hopes to keep competing through the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. He has thought a lot about his career off the ice.
“Skating is a part of his life, but it’s not his whole life,” Marla Brown said. “I think he understands that. When skating ends, which it will, he won’t feel like his life is ending.”
Brown would like to be a TV commentator and a motivational speaker who talks to athletes about what it means to set goals and work hard and what it means to succeed, he said.
He also could see himself coaching in some capacity because he wants to take what he has learned and pay it forward, he said.
“I feel fortunate to have experienced so much and be so young,” he said. “I love to share that and remind people they’re not alone.”