Sports

Cedar Rapids native Timothy LeDuc wants next Winter Olympics to be his

Figure skater seeks '22 medal, and to be voice in gay community

Timothy LeDuc skates at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids last week. LeDuc, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, is an alternate on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Timothy LeDuc skates at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena in Cedar Rapids last week. LeDuc, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, is an alternate on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Timothy LeDuc is in his Cedar Rapids hometown this weekend. He’s just back from a figure skating competition in Asia as opposed to heading to that continent for this Friday’s start of the Winter Olympics.

LeDuc — and his pairs partner Ashley Cain of the Dallas area — are third alternates on the U.S. Olympic Team. Which means they won’t compete in the Olympics, or even be among the U.S. delegation in PyeongChang, South Korea.

But in 2022, when the Winter Games are in Beijing? That could be a different story, one LeDuc and Cain are already working to make theirs.

One step was taken toward that a little over a week ago when the pair finished second at the Four Continents Championships in Chinese Taipei.

“That’s one of the most-prestigious events in figure skating,” LeDuc said. “Last year we were ninth. This year we won the short program and finished second overall. To win a medal at the Four Continents Championships has always been a dream. It’s absolutely fantastic.”

That only buoyed LeDuc’s belief in future success.

“Right now,” he said, “it’s about setting ourselves to be at peak performance by the time the 2022 Games roll around.

“For the upcoming season we want to be the top team, we want to be national-champions, and maintain that level as the top U.S. pair over the course of the next four years. That’s our first goal. Also, we want to be one of the top teams in the world.

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“We want to build and build until the 2022 season so we can qualify for those Games, obviously, but also enter as a contender for an Olympic medal.”

But as LeDuc spoke last week in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, he noted there’s more he wants besides reaching the top of his sport.

“A huge part of my platform is being an openly gay and visible athlete,” he said. “When I was growing up there were not a lot of visibly gay athletes in figure skating or sports in general. It was something very foreign to me, something I didn’t understand growing up.

“Every gay person goes through a period of self-discovery, and that can be a very difficult and stressful time in a person’s life. It can lead to a lot of self-deprecating issues. I think that’s why we see a lot of young people taking their own lives. They don’t have an understanding of what they’re feeling. They don’t have the vocabulary or the equipment to process what they’re experiencing.

“They may be in environments that tell them what they feel is wrong, that being gay is wrong, that they’re aberrations. As somebody who has experienced that and gone through that in my life, now being on the other side of it and having wonderful people in my life who supported me and helped me through that, I feel it’s my responsibility to pass on that to the next generation and help other young people ... that they can say ‘OK, maybe this isn’t wrong. Maybe it’s OK to be gay, maybe it’s OK to accept what makes me different.’ ”

LeDuc is 27. He said he came out when he was 18, but interviews he’s done in the last year on the heels of competitive successes have brought attention to it.

“I choose to be out because I want to be visible and open, and help the next generation,” he said. “I have received a lot of messages from people saying ‘Thank you for your visibility, for being open and out.’ I had a parent contact me recently saying ‘I think my daughter is gay. What should I do?’ It was such an honor for me to be able to have that conversation and to know being out and being open is going to help people.

“As my career grows and I continue to gain a larger platform, I want to continue that visibility. Eventually, if that turns into being an activist for the queer community, I can definitely see using my competitive career to promote that in whatever way.”

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LeDuc was home-schooled, but took some classes at Jefferson High School. His skating life dates to 2002. He and his sister, Leah LeDuc, watched that year’s Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City on television, and were mesmerized by the figure skating.

“I was playing soccer and football at the time,” Timothy said. “After seeing this incredible mix of athleticism and artistry, and this performance happening on the Olympic stage, I was hooked immediately. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Leah and I were just enamored with the sport.”

They joined the Learn to Skate program at the Ice Arena, “using classic rental skates, trying to do all the tricks we saw in the shows. Eventually, our parents saw how passionate we were about it, how committed we were, and bought us our own skates. We kind of took it from there.”

In 2008, LeDuc finished seventh in the novice men’s category at the U.S. Championships. And away he went.

“Cedar Rapids has a great training program for single skaters,” LeDuc said, “but there wasn’t a coach here for pairs. At that time I was pursuing pairs skating, so I left to train in Indianapolis where they have a very high-level pairs coach. I trained there for four years.”

He had three different pairs partners over that period, and there was a lot of placing in national and international competitions. LeDuc said Chinese Taipei was the 50th country he has visited, “because of skating.”

But four years ago, he put his competitive career on hold.

“After the 2014 season I was an alternate for the Olympic team,” said LeDuc. “Having not made that team was very difficult. I was burned out at the time and also I didn’t have any money to pay for training anymore. Figure skating is a very expensive sport. Adding everything up, it can exceed $35,000 a year at an elite level.

“I knew if I wanted to continue my Olympic dream I needed to find a way to pay for it.”

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So he and he sister spent two years performing in ice shows on Royal Caribbean cruise ships. He saved money and got to breathe a bit.

“I allowed myself to live sort of the life I’d never been able to live as a competitive skater because of the time commitment and the commitment of the resources involved. It gave me a better perspective, and I think it gave me a better ability to connect with an audience.”

In 2016, LeDuc was rejuvenated, better-financed, and ready to resume his competitive career. The U.S. Figure Skating Association encouraged him to try out with Cain, who had left pairs skating four years earlier to focus on singles competition but was looking to again have a pairs partner.

“It all happened superfast,” Cain said by phone last week. “We clicked so well. He moved to Texas the next week.”

“It was an immediate fit,” LeDuc said. “We have great trust in each other. One of my favorite qualities in Ashley is her commitment. I never doubt she’ll give 100 percent in practice and competition. I know how competitive she is, how serious she is about being the best skater she can be. That gives me strength to push myself and be the best because I know she is going to match all the effort I give.

“We both want to be elite, have the same goals.”

Cain said LeDuc “is incredibly strong. He has stayed a rock. He’s always going to stand by my side.”

LeDuc will return to Texas Monday. As he spent time last week in the Ice Arena, a two-minute drive from his boyhood home, he reflected on his first skating days in that facility.

“I love it,” he said. “This is home. This gives me perspective of where I came from and what I’ve been through on this journey.

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“During the grind you get tired, sore, maybe discouraged. This place reminds me I do this because I love the sport. I want to push boundaries. I want to exceed boundaries.”

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