Red Tie Class of ‘14 Senior Clare Jeong thrives on risk. As a first impression, this would surprise you. She is humble, thoughtful and deliberate with her words. In her schoolwork as well as other endeavors, she prepares scrupulously, leaving little to chance. See her on the ice, however, and her sheer speed will unsettle you.
Clare, like her elder sisters, was a competitive swimmer before the age of ten. Her parents, recognizing her athleticism but sensing she needed something more adrenaline-inducing, responded to an ad from a coach who previously worked with the national team in their native Korea, looking for students at the Puget Sound Speedskating Club in Tacoma. The family had just enjoyed watching speedskating on TV in the 2006 Olympics.
When Clare first started skating, she clung to the wall. In her first competition, she came last in several events and fell in almost every race. But she was hooked. She went on to age group nationals after only a year, and continued going to nationals every year, earning second place three years in a row. The third year, she lost by one tenth of a second.
That same year, Clare attended Scholar Search Weekend at Annie Wright, where she met fellow scholar-athlete Li Murphy ’10, now a senior at Harvard. “I saw how confident and happy she was with herself,” said Clare. “It looked like she deserved respect and respected herself. I wanted to be like that.” Clare joined Annie Wright as a freshman in 2010, becoming a Red Tie like Li. That year, while adjusting to a new community and a much more challenging academic environment, Clare also worked hard to fine tune her skating. She was rewarded with first place in nationals and a spot on the category one junior national team.
The successes piled up. In the 2012 American Cup, she placed first in the 1500 for Juniors, and third overall. She also competed in the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Germany, where she was the only long-track speed skater from the US. Last year she earned first places for both the 1500 and 3000 in the American Cup and qualified for Junior World Team. This year she went to the Olympic Trials, placing sixth in the 5000.
“Clare is very focused and knows how to set goals,” said Puget Sound Speedskating Club assistant coach Jen Zurcher. “She works hard and gives us everything she’s got in every practice.” Typical practices, around five times per week, involve an hour and a half on the ice and an hour and a half of endurance and strength training. Clare chose a particularly challenging path by becoming a long track skater. Her club has a short track - a 111 meter oval. Long track is 400 meters. It only takes Clare three straightaway strokes until she hits a corner. She competes against skaters with access to long track ice everyday.
Even more challenging has been balancing her school work and training schedule. “Having skating and school has taught me to focus and prioritize,” she said. “I get more out of each practice.” Clare’s peers come from Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Lake Placid. They have tutors and take online classes. Clare does her advanced IB coursework on planes, in hotel rooms, between races.
“She has an appreciation for good time management from swimming, where every second counts,” said her father, Je Yeong. “She utilizes whatever short time she has to get her work done.”
Despite her frequent absences, Clare not only manages to get her work done to a high standard, but also to distinguish herself by seeking deeper knowledge and understanding. “The questions she asks seek meaning and applicability to the modern world,” said her history teacher Jeff Freshwater. “Many students will passively accept information and memorize it for later use, but Clare takes it a step further and becomes not simply a worker, but a learner as well.”
Other teachers echo Mr. Freshwater’s praise, and speak of Clare’s empathy, leadership, compassion, respect, humility and commitment to service. Outside of her skating and academic work, Clare finds time to help coach her younger teammates, serve as student government president, engage in community service and develop bonds with those around her. “Clare is not only well liked by students and faculty alike, but she also has the unique ability to bridge cultural groups and form meaningful relationships with students of varied backgrounds,” said her science and math teacher, Troy Droubay.
“I’ve grown so much,” said Clare. “I look back at that girl at Scholar Search Weekend and I realize I’ve gained so many skills and the confidence I was looking for...and still had a lot of fun.”
Of course, this is just the beginning. This fall Clare will become a freshman at Princeton University and has set her sights on the 2018 Olympics. Watch this space.