Interview: Dalia Rivkin – The Youngest Jewish Skater Around

Recently we caught up with one of the youngest and brightest Jewish athletes Dalia Rivkin. Dalia is quickly becoming a top skater. We thought rather than our traditional interview, we would hear from Dalia and her mother Cheryl. This might lend some insight to those of you with talented young children (my wife already knows that my future children will be basketball stars…so hope she is reading). We asked Dalia the tough questions about skating and of course Bieber Fever. Enjoy!

Dalia’s Answers:

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am 11 years old and will turn 12 on August 6th. I have a 17 year old brother, 15 year old sister and a 7 year old brother. I have two dogs; one is a 180 lb. Newfoundland and the other is a 7 lb. Bichon Frise named Addie (which is short for adrenaline). A few years ago when I begged my parents for a Bichon Frise, they casually said that I could win one with a national skating championship. I am sure they thought they would not be making good on this for years since I haven’t been skating very long. I play the piano (and have not managed to escape practicing even with my skating). I LOVE listening to music (but not to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus). I have been homeschooled since last June. I love to read, every moment I am not on the ice.

2) How did you get into skating?
It was all an accident. I was 7 years old and had been invited to go skating, and as soon as I went I just loved it. From there everything took off.

3) Are there any skaters you look up to?
There are some skaters that I like more than others, but I think that every skater has something to offer.

4) What are your goals in life both skating and outside the rink?
My goals for the rink are to win the 2018 Olympics. When I am older I would like to become a forensic scientist.

5) When you aren’t on the ince or in school what do you do for fun?
In my free time I like to go on the computer and video chat with my friends. It’s pretty easy to keep up with everyone nowadays.

6) Have you seen “Never Say Never” and are you a bigger Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus fan?
I have never seen “Never Say Never”, and I do not particularly listen to Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus. I like Bruno Mars, Enrique Inglasias, Avril Levigne, Katy Perry, and anything with a beat for dancing or skating.

Answers from Mom:

1) What has it been like being a parent and watching your daughter perform at such a high level?
Watching Dalia compete at such a high level is extraordinarily exhilarating—but not until after it is extraordinarily stressful. I have always had a tough time watching our kids perform (I can’t breathe when they play piano, for example), but skating is even worse. At least a child playing the piano can only hurt their pride. The stakes are much higher for a skater. When we are not at the moment of competition, there is a lot of work for a parent. While we don’t have time to watch Dalia practice each day as some parents do, I am constantly working to arrange competition opportunities. This involves locating competitions, speaking with them to try to figure out whether and how Dalia might be able to participate without skating on the Shabbos, booking hotels within walking distance of the rink (or a camper to sleep in by the rink), tons of paperwork, driving, hauling equipment, packing kosher food for the road, getting costumes made, etc.

2) What is your role as she continues to skate?
Our role as parent is to facilitate—we spend just a ton of time on logistics as described above. We work on Dalia’s school work with her as she is homeschooled. I drive—a lot—and spend a lot of Jewish Sabbaths and holidays in hotels awaiting sundown so Dalia can skate. We work like crazy to finance her skating, and we are working now on publicity in the hopes that we will find some sponsorship help for Dalia. A lot of our time together is spent not only on schoolwork, but also on the psychology of competition. Dalia works at this as adults work at building a career. Although we fell into the world of skating completely by accident, we work hand in hand with Dalia and her coach, Julia Lautowa, as Dalia methodically plans her success.

3) How do you build make sure she has a Jewish identity with her little time she has outside of the rink and school?
I think Dalia’s Jewish identity is more vibrant now in some ways. I know that every time she steps on that ice, she is confident in who she is and what she represents. People constantly comment that Dalia skates with more conviction than anyone they have ever seen. I think that conviction comes from Dalia’s skating from a higher purpose. I can’t say that it has not been challenging. Sometimes Dalia cannot skate in a competition at all because of a timing conflict with a Jewish observance. Other times, she has skated a first round, only to not be able to skate the final round for which she has qualified. I think she has handled it at times better even than I have. We have certainly, along the road, spoken to lots and lots of people about our Judaism, and about how we observe. It is a most unexpected role of emissary.

From an educational perspective, we keep up with Dalia’s Limudei Kodesh studies with the help of a wonderful tutor—she was the favorite of both of our daughters at their yeshiva. Dalia has her for one-on-one lessons now, lucky girl! Dalia keeps up with her Jewish friends through the web, phone, texting, video conferencing—and Bat Mitzvah season.

4) What are your ambitions for her?
We are ambitious that Dalia live up to her fullest potential. She is a great skater—but that is mostly because she is a tireless worker and strong, stubborn, competitor. She should take these characteristics into all of her activities. We are waiting to hear where the 2018 Olympics will be. Mnich is one of the three choices, and it is choice full of meaning and memory for Jews.

5) What is next for Dalia?
Next up for Dalia—more work! She has moved up a level in skating from Juvenile to Intermediate. She is incorporating her first triple jumps into her program this year. She has her first upcoming show on April 3, 2011 at Rockefeller Center in New York, and then the competition season opens for her. She has new, tougher programs, and new dresses (nothing fits from last year), and she still has to practice piano—She’ll be playing piano (G-d willing) in Merkin Hall in June.

Thank you to both Dalia and Cheryl, for taking time out of their schedule. Good luck and hope you keep TGR updated on your progress.

And Let Us Say…Amen.
– Jeremy Fine


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