College junior Kiri Baga lives two exceptional lives: one as a world-class figure skater and another as an Ivy League undergraduate.
After finishing her freshman year at Simmons College in Boston, Baga did not have the experience she had envisioned. She attended Simmons so that she could figure skate at an Olympic Training Center while taking courses. But Baga realized almost immediately that she was unsatisfied with waking up at 6 a.m. to commute one hour to the skating rink, spending the afternoon in class, and then returning to complete her afternoon training.
In the end, Baga was presented with an incredible choice to make: spend the next three years at Penn or at the rink training in the hopes of qualifying for the next Olympics. For Baga, it was a no-brainer. Acceptance to Penn provided her with an irresistible alternative, an offer that she could not refuse.
Though Baga knew she wanted to transfer, she also knew that moving away from Boston meant discontinuing the countless hours spent at the rink and her promising skating career.
Baga learned how to walk and figure skate almost simultaneously. At the ripe age of two, Baga went on the ice for the first time and upon turning five, she skated in her first of nearly 70 competitions.
After winning the U.S. Junior Nationals Figure Skating Championships at the novice level at age 14, Baga rose to world-class figure skater status.
Between the ages of 14 and 19, Baga found herself in a whirlwind of international figure skating competitions. As a member of Team USA — a governing body for figure skaters that sends them to competitions around the world — she competed in dozens of countries, including Japan, Amsterdam and the Czech Republic.
“I was kind of thrown into it … It was cool getting the Team USA jackets and just realizing that I could do a lot with skating,” Baga said.
By the time she was a freshman in high school, Baga was ranked 32nd in the world for figure skating. In the midst of her compounding accomplishments, Baga was sent on whim to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in place of Ashley Wagner, who would go on to win a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in the team event. Despite the spontaneity of this assignment, Baga ended up placing seventh in the international competition, which was the highest out of any of the other Americans who attended.
Her last and most notable competition was the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Growing up, Baga went back and forth between enrollment in online schools and high schools. By her senior year of high school, she moved out of her house to Chicago so she could train at a more prestigious rink.
As she enrolled in Simmons, Baga became partial to committing to her studies full time.
“Doing it all is very, very, very difficult,” Baga said.
Skating at such an elite level was an all-consuming endeavor. Her training schedule left Baga with little mental and physical energy to devote toward extracurricular and social pursuits.
“Its a lot of pressure giving your all to one thing," Baga said. "It came to the point where I just didn’t like that feeling anymore.”
Baga has not competed since coming to Penn, but continues to coach and skate recreationally. By becoming the co-president the Transfer Student Organization, pledging service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and also completing autism research, Baga feels that she successfully secured the balanced college experience that she transferred for.
“I joined organizations that were very different from the intense athletic life I had before,” Baga said.
She now majors in Biological Basis of Behavior and intends to pursue a career in the mental health field.
Even though Baga has no defined plans to return to skating in any capacity, skating ingrained in her self-discipline, confidence and the ability to put into perspective her achievements or shortcomings. Countless hours of training and performing under intense pressure and scrutiny has also made her somewhat resilient.
“When you are able to perform under lots of pressure, it shows you that you are capable [of] more than you think you are,” Baga said.
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