Chan/Howe (USA) on a mission to inspire diversity among future Skaters’ generations

Emily Chan and Spencer Howe (USA) pose during the 2022 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Sapporo (JPN). @ISU

Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe, American Pair Skaters with Asian heritage, praise Figure Skating for being a safe space for inclusion.

Chan has Taiwanese and Chinese roots, while Howe’s mother is Japanese. 2023 marks their fourth season skating together and they are proud to have participated in their first ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Torino (ITA) in 2022.

Emily Chan and Spencer Howe (USA) compete during the 2022 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Torino (ITA). @ISU

Cultural diversity

Historically, Figure Skating has been predominantly a white sport, so having Asian-American role models paving the way meant a lot to young generations. “Definitely, such as Michelle Kwan!” Chan pointed out.

Kwan, one of the most popular female athletes in the USA and in the history of Figure Skating, broke all kinds of records and stereotypes as a five-time ISU World Champion, a nine-time US Champion and a two-time Olympic medalist. As one of the most decorated Figure Skaters in the US, she became a reference to which generations are looking up to, including Chan and Howe.

Michelle Kwan (USA) poses during the 2002 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles (USA). @GettyImages

“She was a big inspiration for me and because of her Asian background I saw that Figure Skating was a place for everyone” added Chan.

Driven by Michelle Kwan’s successful career and legacy, Chan and Howe ultimately created their own motto when teaming up: “inspire and empower others through love and joy in skating” Howe shared.

“Of all places, in skating I felt very included” said Chan. “I believe that Figure Skating is very inclusive and cross-cultural, even with our partnership, and I think it brings different dynamics to the skating community.”

Having competed this season at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating and ISU World Figure Skating Championships, Chan and Howe travelled to Japan twice and were able to appreciate Howe’s culture.
Emily Chan and Spencer Howe (USA) compete during the 2022 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama (JPN). @ISU

“This season we got to compete at the NHK Trophy Grand Prix and the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama (JPN), and that was super awesome for us to experience” said Howe. “We got to see a culture that I’ve been exposed to through my family and I’ve been able to embrace it from up close.”

Chan also reflects on her skating career as an opportunity to connect with her Chinese family roots in the future. “I’ve never been to China before, so for me it would always be a dream to skate where my parents grew up” added Chan.

Career purpose and challenges

With Figure Skating providing a great space for creativity, Chan and Howe view their beloved sport since their young age as a safe place free of discrimination.

“I was able to be a little like an actor while growing up” said Howe, “as I would leave school and go to the rink to perform my programs and learn about myself through my movements. That was definitely a form of expression that only skating would have given me”.

Emily Chan and Spencer Howe (USA) compete during the 2022 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama (JPN). @ISU

But being part of a minority, cultural challenges already started for Chan at elementary school. “I was one of the very few Asian students in my school” said Chan, “so through kindergarten to 5th grade I was a minority, and at a certain point I experienced bullying”.

Chan’s story is, unfortunately, a very common one, but overcoming these obstacles through the practice of Figure Skating taught her a life lesson. “When I would go to the rink, that was the one place that felt safe for me” she continued, “because I felt treated equally and I could just have a space to express myself like everyone else, working towards the same goal and around creativity”.

Despite a rise of hate incidents against Asian Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic (see study published here) Chan and Howe found their safe space at the rink. “Personally I was fortunate because I did not experience it so much as we were going from home to the rink” said Howe, “but we definitely felt a lot of what was happening out there”.

Sport plays a role to inspire positive change in our societies, which Chan and Howe are proud to advocate. “Taking things on a positive note, I think that COVID happened to be a time for change” Howe continued, referring to the different social movements that arose during the pandemic. “It has taught us that, despite our differences and regardless of race, we are all humans and we are all the same”.

Spreading joy

Figure Skating has the potential to keep on striving to be one of the most inclusive sports in the world, which Chan and Howe would like to embody and transmit through their performances.

Emily Chan and Spencer Howe (USA) celebrate during the 2022 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Sapporo (JPN). @ISU

“One thing about our skating is that we’ve always set a goal to bring people positive emotions” said Howe, “and when we talk about diversity around the world, I would like to look past any type of race and just love each other like we are all brothers and sisters”.

Strongly believing that Figure Skating has the power to impact people’s lives, Chan and Howe skate with the objective in mind to “go out there and give our hearts away, sharing our joy with everyone.” concluded Chan.

We hope you enjoyed this first article of a series in collaboration with former international Figure Skater and Olympian Javier Raya, part of the IOC Young Leaders’ program and founder of Compete Proud; a sports platform highlighting athletes’ inspirational stories in relation to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Stay tuned for the upcoming ones!

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