Skating fans may remember the name Dennis Phan from the early 2000s, when he won the U.S. junior title in 2003 and the Junior Grand Prix Final title in 2004. But he never found the success on the senior ranks that he did when he was a junior, peaking at 10th at the 2008 U.S. Championships. This week, Phan comes back to Nationals for the first time since 2010, skating and competing for the love of the sport. I had a chance to get his take on his comeback and why it's been so special for him to be here.
Jackie (JW): The last time we saw you compete was at the US Championships in 2010. What have you been up to during the seven years since?
Dennis (DP): I have been coaching full time since 2010. I first coached alongside my coach Tammy Gambill, and later moved to Delaware in 2014 to be closer to my mom and ended up coaching at The Pond and University of Delaware. I knew Suzy Semanick, Jeff D, Pam Gregory, and Barbara Rolls from my years competing against their students, and so it was a comfortable and great place for me to start anew on the east coast.
JW: What prompted the decision to return to skating 13 years after your first senior Nationals in 2004?
DP: After I left competitive skating, I had many years of regret about how it ended. I started talking to Doug Mattis about how I could heal and look at my skating in a positive light, and he suggested that I come back and skate for me. And I realized that I wanted to skate - and I can skate for the love, passion, and enjoyment that skating brings me.
Another reason for coming back was for my mom. She has been wanting to attend Nationals since I retired, but I emotionally couldn't bring myself to go. And so as a surprise for her, I kept my comeback a secret until I qualified for Nationals. This is my gift to her for so many years of her support for my skating.
JW: What has been the most surprising thing during your return to competition?
DP: The most surprising thing for me has been finding out how much support I am receiving from past competitors and coaches. I assumed that people would think I'm crazy for doing this or would say that I'm taking a spot from another athlete, but everyone has been incredibly supportive. Another surprise was realizing how many other skaters went through what I did and wished that they could come back for their own personal fulfillment. I hope that I can inspire them or help with their healing.
JW: What are your goals with this comeback?
DP: My goal for this season is to skate for me and no one else, to skate with passion and love, and to compete in a different way - to do it on my own terms and to make myself happy. I'm really hoping to have a great experience and enjoy skating on the national stage again. I also hope to inspire other athletes to remember why they train day in and day out. If I can inspire one person through my journey, it makes everything this season worthwhile.
I also hope that this comeback will help my coaching and my students, pushing them to love every moment and reminding them why they are skating. I hope to be a positive influence for the rest of their lives.
Beyond that, I really have not thought about next season. We are very focused on being in the moment and enjoying every second here.