So that movie The Cutting Edge, where D.B. Sweeney plays a hockey star who later competes in the Olympics as one half of an ice skating pair, is totally unrealistic, right? Not entirely. Because about a decade ago outside Detroit, Charlie White helped his high school hockey team win the state championship. Flash forward to Sochi, Russia last year, and he’s standing atop the podium, with partner Meryl Davis, as an Olympic ice dancing gold medalist.
The two-time World champ went on to make a helluva run on Dancing with the Stars with partner Sharna Burgess, then proved to be the Chazz Michael Michaels of the US team, if you will, when he tied the knot with Canadian-American ice dancing beauty Tanith Belbin this past spring.
You could say he knows a thing or two about success, much of which he attributes to those around him. We caught up with White at the Road to Rio event in Boston during the Head of the Charles Regatta, to learn his secrets.
“A lot of the judges and competitors said we were too small; we were never going to go anywhere in a sport dominated by long-legged people. Clearly, that’s not us. That was never going to be us. But we loved it and we never let that get in the way.”
On overcoming challenges:
I grew up when Mighty Ducks had just come out. I got into hockey, and I started basic skills in figure skating, and so I did both at the same time. I just loved being on the ice, and it’s a completely different feeling from anything else you could do. [Meryl and I] started off, and we didn’t speak to each other for about three years, we were both too shy. We had a blast improving and just being on the ice. We never got tired of it, we never got sick of it and we ran into a lot of obstacles. A lot of the judges and competitors said we were too small; we were never going to go anywhere in a sport dominated by long-legged people. Clearly, that’s not us. That was never going to be us. But we loved it and we never let that get in the way. We just kept enjoying ourselves day in and day out and proved that we had something to offer in the sport.
What we love about ice dancing is the ability to combine that athleticism that is inherent obviously in hockey with the artistic side—being able to tell a story, especially when you have a partner; you’re able to create a relationship with the music, the storyline and convey a message that’s powerful. I think we both just got hooked on that. It wasn’t always our strongest point, but we fell in love with it. We worked on it and worked on it until we could truly say, especially with these last Olympics, that we had mastered it.
There are a lot of different experiences that you go through that sort of allow you to handle challenges in your life. Having someone to go through it with makes your life so much easier, and being able to be respectful and understanding and empathetic of the people around you, it just—no matter what you’re going through, no matter what part of your life you’re in—is going to make your life more enjoyable; it’s going to be easier; you’re not going to be wasting so much energy. And, thankfully, our parents really harped on this at a young age and made sure that we went out into the world as respectful people, and that helped us to really create a bond that strengthened our partnership on and off the ice and allowed us to be one of the very few teams in the world to stay together since the beginning.
On the importance of a good night’s sleep:
Going through college and being around everyone who never gets enough sleep, you really feel the difference. We were so lucky to be able to partner with a company like airweave that is so focused on allowing you to get your best sleep so you can come out fighting and be the best version of yourself. That’s always been our philosophy—whether it’s how we train, how we eat, how we sleep—how do you be the best version of yourself? Sometimes you can’t do it by yourself, and that’s where amazing companies like airweave come in. In the United States, we don’t have the government fund the USOC or the athletes directly. It all comes from amazing [sponsors] that make our Olympic dreams possible. It’s so worth mentioning because they take on a huge supporting role in what we’re able to accomplish.
On being the best you can be:
Be able to run into challenges and overcome them and believe in yourself. And sometimes you don’t overcome them and you get knocked down, and you have to figure out a way to kind of kick back a little bit. You need people to be there to help you figure that out. Now you have momentum and now you have a habit and an idea of how you can get to where you want to go. And having a community and teamwork, taking on responsibilities and setting goals for yourself—through school, through sports, through your passion as you come up through the years—that will help you become a more productive and happier person.