Q&A with Olympians Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker

By Jaime Collins

Team USA Olympic figure skaters Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker placed 11th in the pairs ice dance competition at the 2022 Beijing Games. Now they’re here in Lake Placid training at the Olympic Center’s 1932 Jack Shea Arena and, in fact, have been coming here for training and competitions as long as they can remember. I’m a writer with the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), and during a break from their ice time today, I had the honor of talking with Kaitlin and Jean-Luc about their Lake Placid experiences and their pursuit of big dreams.

Olympic figure skaters Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker in training at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid
Ice dance partners Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of Team USA aspire to give back to their sport as well as winning a national championship. Hard work and determination at Lake Placid’s 1932 Jack Shea arena will help get them achieve their dreams.

Q: Lake Placid is a very special place for me, and I could talk all day about why I love it here. Why did you choose to return to Lake Placid for training this summer?

Kaitlin: For me it’s the history of the venue and the village of Lake Placid. There’s such a long history of athleticism. You can feel that legacy integrated within every aspect of Lake Placid, even in the stores and restaurants. As young kids that always made it super exciting to come here. We saw that Olympism everywhere here, and it gave us something to aspire to. We were always really eager to go to the Team USA shop and see all the gear, so we felt honored to be able to come and compete here in the summer.

Jean-Luc: I love it here. This was always the biggest ice dance competition when I was younger. It was such a trek because I would be coming from Washington, and it was always big for friendships. But it was also the place where I was assigned to the developmental Team USA. And then to Team USA. A lot of big stepping-stones happened here in Lake Placid in terms of climbing the ranks in our sport. This is special for us now because it’s the first time we’re coming back as Olympians. We’ve hit so many milestones right here in Lake Placid, and we’ve accomplished so much. It’s been an amazing experience to be able to be back here because we have so many memories. But it’s also amazing to see all the changes to the Olympic venues.

Q: On your website, there’s a quote that says, “Champions are just dreamers who never give up. After making it to the Olympics, what do you still want to achieve? What are your dreams?

Kaitlin: For us, still within our competitive realm, we definitely aspire to be national champions and to be on the world podium. Those are milestones we have yet to reach. We’re really excited to see where the next few years take us because there are great opportunities now, especially with the experience we have and becoming seasoned competitors. We feel we’re ready.

And on a personal level, my dream is to stay connected to skating throughout my life. To find a way to make an impact in the skating world beyond medals. That’s really important to us. That legacy to me is not the points you reach or the medals you get, it’s the impact you make on people. There are certain areas in the sport that I’m very passionate about, and I believe in the years to come, we can find ways to give back to the sport that has given us so much.

That’s also what propels Jean-Luc and I when we create new programs. We think outside of ourselves and beyond simply wanting to win and score points. Yes, we’re competitors, and winning is always an aim. But it’s not the only aim. Something that really drives us is having the intention to create new programs that make moments for people and give them the opportunity to be impacted in some way.

Jean-Luc: Our dreams are also about being able to feel the inspiration we felt as kids and being a role model for athletes of all ages and levels. Really anyone can benefit from not giving up and chasing their dreams, because realistically if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.

So, when we have the opportunity to connect with an audience, it’s one of our most favorite feelings. We love to win. Who doesn’t? But when finish our program and people are standing or we just know that the audience is connected with us, that’s the most amazing feeling. That trumps everything because that’s what we can control. We can’t control the points or the placement, but we can control what we produce. And hopefully, how we do it brings people on a journey with us.

Q: What advice do you have for young aspiring skaters and other athletes?

Kaitlin: It’s so important to know what the purpose is in your sport and to chase your dreams. But at the end of the day, it’s also important to think about someone other than yourself. So, find your purpose.

And the other really important thing I’ve learned over the years is to find your team and cultivate those relationships. That can be with your coach or trainers or your support system. I recommend really owning your own role in your sport but also finding the team who is going to help you reach your dreams.

We are really fortunate. Elite athleticism is very niche in many ways. But the sport of skating and dreaming big has also prepared us for so much outside sport. Being able to apply the things we learn in sports to other aspirations in life is a big bonus.

Jean-Luc: I echo those comments, and I’d also say don’t stop having fun. It would be easy to joke about that, but realistically, if it doesn’t wake you up in the morning and make you happy to see the people you’re training with or just enjoying the experience of it, don’t do it. Being really good takes a lot of work, so find the fun in what you do. Not just skating but everything. Just being able to really feel what you’re doing and have fun with it, that’s the right place to be.