Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introductionwhere Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.
Name: Kaitlyn Saunders
Profession: Student and figure skater
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Hobbies: Playing tennis, dancing, swimming, drawing
Empower Onyx: Figure Skating is beautiful to watch. How does it feel when you’re out there on the ice?
Kaitlyn Saunders: What I love about figure skating is the feeling. I feel like I’m flying. I’m free and floating like I have a superpower and am unstoppable and limitless. It’s so powerful.
EO: I’m sure anyone who has watched figure skating is in awe of the power and movement. Would you consider it a sport or an art?
KS: Figure skating is both a sport and an art. The art aspect is you can express yourself and how you’re feeling. You are telling a story. The sport aspect: You train hard. You need certain stuff to do figure skating, like flexibility, strength, time and balance.
EO: Share the story behind your Black Lives Matter Plaza performance in your hometown in 2020.
KS: The time was overwhelming. George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, COVID and me even being scared for my dad. When he would leave the house, I would tell him to be careful because what happened to George Floyd could happen to him. I wanted to get out there and protest, too, but still stay safe because of COVID. When I was skating on Black Lives Matter Plaza, I was just skating from the heart. I was putting all my emotions out there from what I had seen and everything that I was thinking. I feel like people really connected to my emotions.
EO: Were you surprised the video went viral?
KS: When I was looking at the comments on Instagram or Facebook, they were very inspiring, and they made me feel a lot better. I was shocked one little skate could impact so many people, like such a little thing could do so much.
EO: What are some things about figure skating we don’t know?
KS: People just really see the nationals that’s on the TV, they don’t get to see behind the scenes of figure skating. My competitors train eight hours a day. They have conditioning, stretching, a bunch of lessons and practice time. I go to school, so I train before and after school. But a lot of skaters are at the rink for a lot longer, so they are homeschooled.
EO: Since figure skating isn’t a team sport, how do you encourage yourself when you’re out there by yourself on the ice?
KS: I like to set small goals, so when I achieve them, it really lifts my spirit. It makes me feel so happy and excited to learn something new. My parents are so supportive. My mom comes to my practice. If I’m upset about something I’m not getting that day, like a certain move, or jump, I would look up at my mom, she would tell me stuff to keep going, like, you’re doing great. Sometimes she would even give me small corrections, in my spin or tell me I’m traveling or to stay centered. She’s amazing. She helps me with figure skating and all sorts of stuff.
EO: If you could change anything about the sport, what would it be?
KS: The strict rules of figure skating—like you can only have this certain type of music and wear this certain type of dress or outfit and do your hair this way. I want people to put their own personality into it and whoever they are and just have fun being themselves in the figure skating world.
EO: How do you have fun on the ice?
KS: I really like to skate to Michael Jackson because I can moonwalk on ice and add some of my own dance moves. It is so upbeat and gets my blood pumping.
EO: Fast forward 10 years—what do you want to be doing?
KS: I want to study the outer space and learn more about the unknown part of it. You can discover so many things because nobody really knows what’s out there.