Q&A with Carlijn Schoutens
U.S. speed skater Carlijn Schoutens answered some questions from NBC Olympics in early 2017.
How do you pronounce your name?
What’s your family like?
My parents are Dutch and all of my family lives in The Netherlands.
My parents were living in the U.S. temporarily in the nineties, which is why my older sister (Lisanne) and I were born in New Jersey and became dual Dutch-American citizens. I don't have any memories of this time, because our family moved back to The Netherlands when I was still a baby.
Luckily in 2001 we moved to the U.S. again, because my dad, a physicist, took on a project in Charlottesville, Virginia. This time I got to attend an American school, learn English, and experience the American way of life. Although we moved back to The Netherlands again within a year, I had fallen in love with the USA and I still have very fond and happy memories of our time in Virginia.
In 2014, I was seriously into speed skating and looking to find a different training team, and I decided to include American options into my search. I came in contact with Matt Kooreman, the current national team sprint coach, and after Skyping with him a couple of times I made up my mind. I was thrilled to move to America once again in April 2014, this time to live and train in Salt Lake City. At the time I was just 19 years old and I knew no one at all.
My parents are not speed skaters but they are fanatic recreational athletes (lately they have gotten into marathon running!). It is very common in the Netherlands to put your kids in speed skating lessons so that they learn the basics of the sport, similar to swimming in the USA. When people ask how I got into speed skating I always say "one day I started and then I just never quit." My sister was the first to try speed skating races and then my mom suggested I follow her and join a club (Ijsclub Haarlem). I was very hesitant and scared but I also wanted to be like my sister so I ended up joining the club. That's how it all started.
How influential were your parents in your athletic career and in what ways?
My parents encouraged me to try the sport and then as the intensity of training kept increasing over the years, they supported me every step of the way. They used to drive me to practice and races all the time and woke up at 6 a.m. every Saturday for years so that I could skate. Their attitude was always that I should have fun and take skating seriously, but also reminded me that the world's fate does not depend on how fast I skate around a track. They would stress the importance of education over sport, but also see the unique experiences and learning opportunities now that I have gained from skating.
When I announced that I wanted to move to America by myself at 19 years old, arrange my medical school college education so that it could be done long-distance, and join Team USA, they were not immediately convinced that that would be a great idea. We talked about it for hours and hours and then we decided as a family that I was going to go. Looking back it was an amazing display of support that they gave me this much freedom so early in my life. Thanks Mom and Dad!
Do you have another full-time job or business? How do you balance work and training?
I am a medical student at the Free University of Amsterdam. I was enrolled there as a full-time student before I moved to the U.S. When I left the country I studied long-distance for two years so that I could make it to the halfway-point of medical school (in the Netherlands this is where you receive your Bachelor's degree in Medicine). I could not continue on past that point, because I would have to start clinical rotations. So I have temporarily paused my studies, although I am still doing some medical research at the University of Utah. I plan to re-enroll in medical school after I retire from the sport, and finish the remaining three years.
In your hometown, what are your favorite spots to relax, eat out, etc.?
I am a huge outdoor enthusiast so in Utah I love to get out into the wild. Whenever we have a break from training I try to go camping, usually in one of the National Parks. Whether it is by myself or with friends, I love to go off the grid and hike and explore the wilderness. Zion National Park is currently my #1.
How much time do you spend training each day?
Between 3 and 5 hours depending on the day.
What’s your typical training day/schedule?
In summer we frequently start the day with a bike ride of about 2 to 2.5 hours (intervals or endurance). In the afternoon we lift weights, do dryland (exercises/jumps in the skating position), skate short track, do slide board (skating imitations), do sprint training, or inline skate.
In winter we usually skate long track in the morning, and do one of the above workouts in the afternoon. Before getting on the ice we do an extensive warm-up with lots of technical rehearsals, so the morning workout will easily take three hours.
How do you work to achieve your daily goals?
I keep a training journal in which I write all my training breakthroughs, technical ideas, future goals, race evaluations, mental training notes, advice I receive, memorable experiences.... This is a huge help for me in keeping me focused and making sure I make the most out of every training day.
What is your favorite workout or fitness trend?
My favorite on-ice workout is interval training, because you get so many chances to do something right.
What’s the most grueling work out you’ve ever done?
Maybe not the most grueling I have EVER done, but for summer training sometimes we have to run up the stairs along the Olympic ski jumps in Park City. This is the longest flight of stairs you will ever see and running up them is pure pain. At least the views are nice!
What would people be surprised to learn about training for the Olympics?
That it is year-round, and that for speed skaters the summer training is even harder than winter. Because you never have to be super rested to race, you can stack workouts on workouts on workouts.
Is there anything you do for training that’s out of the ordinary or experimental?
Not a lot of countries use the inline treadmill for training the way we do. About once every week we get on a huge treadmill on inline skates, to rehearse technique before getting on the ice. This is an important part of my training.
Have you ever been seriously injured? What did it take for you to come back from that injury?
Yes, in September of 2015 (just before the start of racing season) I fell in training and hurt my head. The next morning I kept throwing up and I was too nauseous to even sit up straight. I was taken to the hospital, where they diagnosed a concussion. For months I could do no training at all because of serious headaches and dizziness. I made several attempts that season to return to skating but never fully successfully, because my symptoms kept returning. It took me about a year to recover completely.
It was a super tough injury to deal with: not only could I not train, I could do nothing at all. It was extremely miserable at first because I felt so sick, and then it became really frustrating that I kept having setbacks every time I tried to resume my training.
A positive thing that I gained from this experience is that it really reinforced my love of the sport. All along I missed skating deeply and I remember the first time I could get back on the ice (not even in a skin suit, not getting in the skating position, wearing a helmet and moving super slowly) the pure joy I felt to be on the ice.
What's your earliest or favorite memory of watching the Olympics?
I did not watch this race (it happened before I was born) but Yvonne Van Gennip is a Dutch speed skater that won three gold medals at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. She is a member of my home club and her success is a big inspiration to me. The realization that I wanted to be an Olympian did not come early for me: I only started having this dream once I moved to America. I was making big improvements very fast and all of a sudden I started realizing that I was headed towards the top of the world. That gave rise to many new ambitions and goals and dreams.
What's something cool, weird or intense about your sport that people don't normally see? What’s the hardest part of your sport?
The funny thing is that the better you skate, the easier it looks. If you can make a grueling 3000m look like a smooth effort, you are probably having a great race. Many people say that TV broadcasting does not do justice to the speed we have; if you watch in real life it looks much faster.
Are there any misconceptions about your sport that you would like to clear up?
I think a common misconception is that it is mostly technical. The technique is definitely important but I don't think many people realize what kind of fitness (strength and endurance) skating requires.
Who is your coach? How long have you been working together and what’s your relationship like?
Thomas Cushman. He became my coach in 2015 when I first got on the U.S. national team. Tom and I work great together and I get along very well with him as a person to. We regularly have long conversations where we exchange ideas about training or technique. I think some of my biggest training breakthroughs have happened during those talks.
Usually going into a competition we each make a race plan for me separately, and then compare them together. A lot of times we have laughed because we individually came up with the same race plan, down to tenths of seconds.
Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist? If so, how did it help you?
Yes, Alex Cohen. He was very helpful working through the perks of my lengthy concussion and overall performance improvement
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
"You know how to skate" (going into a race, a great thought to have, trust in your abilities and experience) and "I think you should think about moving to the USA" by my last Dutch coach in 2013.
What advice would you give to a young child just starting out in speed skating?
Have fun and always keep looking for ways to improve.
Who is your biggest rival? Is it friendly or contentious?
Mia Manganello is a strong competitor in my events, we feed off each other and work together well as training partners, but outside of the sport we have our separate lives.
Have you become close friends with any competitors from other countries?
I still have some Dutch friends and contacts from back in the day, it's funny to run into Antoinette de Jong or Melissa Wijfje now that I am an American skater, because I used to race them all the time growing up.
Which Summer Olympic event would you like to try?
Rowing! Similar physical demand (maybe?) and it's still on water, although not frozen.
What are your pre-competition rituals?
I plan my preparation out by the minute and write it down, from waking up to getting on the ice, and keep the note in a pocket while I warm up. That way I don't have to keep track of what I'm supposed to be doing at each moment leading up to my race. It helps me feel super prepared and it makes me calm to work through each item on that list.
Do you have a lucky charm?
No, but I do carry a picture of my grandparents in my skating bag
Are you superstitious? What are you sure to do/not do around competitions?
No, I stick with certain habits but that's because I rationally believe that they make me skate faster.
Do you have a nickname?
My name gets mispronounced a lot because it is spelled with a 'j', so a long list of nicknames has stuck from that. Some teammates stopped trying altogether and now call me Carol.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I used to play the violin and piano, I'm good at tutoring high school kids (my long-time first job), I once was the secretary-general of a Model United Nations conference at my school with 500 international participants.
What charities do you support? How did you become involved?
I volunteered for a neuro rehab center nearby for a long time, I was looking for a medically-related side activity while I was on my leave from medical school to skate. It was very fun to assist with therapies and interact with people who are trying to gain their mobility back.
If you were not an athlete, what would you be doing?
When you have time off, what would constitute a perfect day for you?
Make a nice breakfast, get out into the mountains or a farther Utah destination, wander around in the wild, set up camp for the night, make a fire and have good conversations with friends.
How do you unwind after a competition?
Call my family or one of my friends who have been long-time followers and supporters of my skating journey.
Do you like to travel? What has been the most special place you have traveled to and why?
Most surreal: Antelope Canyons in Arizona.
Favorite: Zion National Park. Such good views and hiking and beautiful terrain.
What's your personal motto?
The road to success is always under construction. To me that means you always have to keep looking for new and innovative ways to keep improving the route you are taking.
What is your music of choice while training?
Coffee house genre. I don't use music while training but I like to relax to Coldplay, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eddie Vedder.
What are your personal care indulgences?
For recovery I like to put two or three pairs of sweatpants on and wrap myself in a blanket like a sushi, and make my legs hot and glowy for a short time that way
What are five must-have items you always keep in your gym bag?
Pen and paper for notes, photo of my grandparents, a spare of all skate parts, neck warmer to wear over my face when I train.
Have you been to South Korea before? What are you most looking forward to about the Games being hosted in South Korea?
No. I'm curious to see what kind of nature is around and how culture is different.
What will success look like for you in PyeongChang? What are your goals?
Still to be formulated precisely. I want to have the best races of my life and leave the ice knowing that I could not possibly have gone any faster. I am not ready to share goals for times or placement.
Will you head home for the holidays prior to the Games? What do you most look forward to? If not, where will you celebrate and with whom?
Will not be celebrating much because our Olympic Trials are in early January. I expect that we will have a get-together with the skating family but we will be mostly focused on our upcoming performances.