With consecutive quadruple jumps at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Max Aaron launched himself not only to a gold medal and a national championship. The 20-year-old Arizonan also joined the ranks of Jewish athletes who have made it big.
For Aaron, that was even more exciting than executing the perfect jumps last month in Omaha, Neb., which moved him from fourth to first in the standings.
“I grew up looking to all those Jewish athletes for inspiration,” Aaron told JTA. “I always thought the list needed to be longer. We needed to have a stronger representation of Jewish athletes, and I’m so happy that I’m part of them now.”
Next month, Aaron will represent the United States at the World Figure Skating Championships in Canada. Finishing 13th or better puts him on the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
While the thought of facing some of the world’s top figure skaters might seem intimidating, Aaron is confident he’ll be prepared. After all, he’s been preparing for the competition since he was 3.
“This is a really difficult sport because you’re literally using every inch of your body,” he said. “I’m a little nervous to see who I’m facing, but we all put our pants and skates on the same way, and I’m focusing on training the hardest I can. And when I get nervous, I’ll just pray.”
Aaron’s training – and perhaps his praying – certainly paid off in Omaha. Bringing some attitude to the ice, he emptied his vault of tricks to songs from “West Side Story,” snapping his fingers and making faces to the music. His twirls had the audience and judges roaring, and his final score of 225 points was enough to send three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott to third place.
Aaron, who was raised in a traditionally Conservative Jewish home in Scottsdale, Ariz., spends numerous hours a day on the ice. As a boy his main passion was hockey; Aaron laced up his figure skates on the weekends. He would go on to join multiple hockey leagues, competing in the USA Hockey nationals in 2006 and 2007.
But after suffering a back injury four years ago that nearly ended his career, Aaron realized he couldn’t juggle two sports, and he decided to focus on figure skating. He went from placing 13th at the nationals in 2007 to eighth place in the Midwestern sectionals in 2008, to earning high marks in 2011 and 2012, and this year taking the national title.