Simon Shnapir is a Marketing Communication major at Emerson, but he hasn’t taken classes in two years.
At least he has a good excuse.
The 25-year-old from Sudbury, Massachusetts, won the pairs title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 26 along with his partner, Marissa Castelli, 21, of Cranston, Rhode Island. They are the first pair from the Boston Skating Club, where they train, to win the title since 1961.
Born in Russia, Shnapir says he first got into figure skating at 6 years old—and it’s something that has always been with him.
“Until I got to Emerson in 2005, I never really talked about it, especially in high school,” he said. “When you’ve got 17-year-old boys playing football, lacrosse and baseball, and you tell them you’re a figure skater, their first question is, ‘Do you like wearing tights?’”
“When I got to Emerson, it was so much more accepted,” Shnapir continued. “I was so welcomed and supported, it helped me open up and become more comfortable with it.”
Shnapir was on track to graduate from Emerson in 2009, but became a part-time student when his figure skating career suddenly took off.
“If you had asked me [eight years ago] would I be where I am now in skating, I’d say definitely not,” Shnapir said. “I would have said that’s massive training, that’s something I don’t even picture myself doing.”
But within a year of starting as a full-time student, Shnapir parted ways with his former skating partner and teamed up with Castelli—beginning a partnership that is already viewed as longer than average in the figure skating world.
“I moved back home and was training, still going to school and skating with Marissa when things started to move really fast,” he said. “Pretty soon I cut down to part-time at Emerson, taking just two classes a semester. We were on the ice five days a week.”
The pair competed in national and international competitions at novice levels, then quickly moved up the ladder with the help of a new choreographer—Julie Marcotte, of Montreal, Quebec—winning the U.S. and World junior bronze medals in 2009.
Shnapir’s coach is Emerson graduate Bobby Martin, MA ’01.
“You go to competitions and see these skaters and realize all they’re doing is skating,” Shnapir said. “Some go to school and do other things, but their No. 1 priority over everything they do is skating.”
“I realized that if I was on this upward swing and wanted this success, I probably needed to focus a little more on skating and less on school,” he said. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed yet.”
Despite a misstep during their performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in Omaha, Nebraska, Shnapir and Castelli finished with 180.61 points, almost eight points ahead of the second-place winners, according to the Associated Press.
Are the Olympics on Shnapir’s mind? “Absolutely,” he said.
Next year’s figure skating championships will be held in Boston, where Shnapir hopes to get noticed for the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in his native Russia.
“They are kind of a qualifier for the Olympics,” he said. “Next year the Nationals are right here in Boston, which is very exciting. My home club [Boston Skating Club] is hosting it, and it’s the 100th anniversary of the championships.”