Arts & Entertainment

Mahbanoozadeh Jumps Onto the International Scene

“Adrenalin has pretty much always been a good thing for me,” says figure skater Armin Mahbanoozadeh (Photo: Leah Adams)Armin Mahbanoozadeh, who lives in Fairfax and trains in Reston. “I feel I have much more energy in competition than I do in practice. Stamina isn’t an issue for me at all in competition, which is good.”

After winning the Novice Men’s title at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash., Mahbanoozadeh, 16, moved up to the junior level. Earlier this month, at his first ISU Junior Grand Prix competition, he won the gold medal over competitors from Russia, Japan, France, Germany and Canada.

“He is a tough competitor,” says choreographer Nathan Birch, who has worked with Mahbanoozadeh for the past two seasons. “He’s not just talented, he’s a competitor. He’s there for game day.”

Mahbanoozadeh was grateful that his first major international competition was on U.S. soil. “There was no time zone change or language change,” he says of the event in Lake Placid. “So it was a bit more down to earth and familiar. There were a lot of different languages. Not many of my competitors were speaking English. It was a lot of fun to meet all those different people.”

He’ll get the chance to garner new experiences Sept. 27-30 when he competes in Zagreb, Croatia, where he’ll be aiming to place in the top four and earn a berth in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final scheduled for Dec. 6-9 in Gdansk, Poland. Unlike some of his fellow U.S. skaters, Mahbanoozadeh has to do some advance planning before traveling abroad. Of course, everyone has to make sure their passports are valid and they pack sufficient clothes, but he has to make sure he’s squared away his school assignments with his teachers.

“Home schooling has never been an option,” says Mahbanoozadeh, a junior at Langley High School. “It brings stability and a normal lifestyle. Skating isn’t your life completely. When you have time to get your mind off of skating with school and homework, then when you’re skating you can bring more focus to that skating.”

His longtime coach, Traci Coleman, says most of her students excel academically. “You have to do well in school,” she says. “Skating is something you get to do.”

Coleman describes Mahbanoozadeh as a “special person. He’s been that way ever since he was a little kid when he used to question me about stuff. We have to have an ongoing dialogue about things. Armin questions things. He wants to know why.”

Sometimes his teachers want to know why he needs a week off, but most work with him to stay on top of his course work. “I have to get assignments ahead of time and complete assignments ahead of time,” he says. “When I come back, being open to come after school to make up any quizzes or tests that I’ve missed. It’s probably the hardest thing about competing—making up all the school work.”

The easiest part is getting to compete and perform. Last weekend, Mahbanoozadeh performed at the Michael Weiss Foundation annual benefit show in Reston. A couple of years ago he received a training grant from the foundation, so he considers it a privilege and a pleasure to skate in the show.

Birch, an award-winning choreographer based in Baltimore, continues to work with Mahbanoozadeh on a regular basis to fine tune details in his programs. “I’ve been encouraging him to go outside his comfort zone in terms of how to move his body,” Birch says. “After a year and a half, I really think he’s improved his movement and he wants to continue to go along that path. It will be interesting to see his talent develop.”

“The things I love most about skating are the feeling you get when you’re actually out there with the wind on your face and the roller coaster feeling you get when you jump,” says Mahbanoozadeh. “That’s what gives me the most joy.”