This is the third installment of our semimonthly series following the life of 2010 U.S. figure skating champion and 2010 Vancouver Olympian Rachael Flatt, focusing on her adjustment to college and the pursuit of her career.
STANFORD, Calif. -- As Rachael Flatt prepares to board a long flight to Moscow, she knows two things: 17 hours of travel, spread over two plane flights, will give her a chance to catch up on her sleep. And she also knows there's nowhere to go but up.
Flatt is headed to Russia for the Rostelecom Cup, part of the ISU's Grand Prix Series. It is her second competition this fall, and she's hoping to take a big step forward from her first.
It started so well for Flatt, at the Skate Canada Event on Halloween weekend near Toronto. It was her first competitive skate since the 2011 worlds in April -- an event in which she skated on a stress fracture in her right leg.
Flatt was in third place after the short program in Canada, in view of the top position and showing her Stanford-and-skating experiment was working just fine.
And then came the long program.
Two falls and a slow-paced skate left Flatt tumbling to 10th place in a 10-skater field.
In the kiss-and-cry, Flatt held up a Stanford T-shirt, a nod to her school. In the media room, she admitted she was tired.
Internet speculation from skating pundits called Flatt's desire to study and skate a failed experiment. With a couple weeks of hindsight, Flatt says she probably shouldn't have been surprised at the poor outcome in Canada.
"My main goal was to go there and perform a really solid short program and I obviously accomplished that," Flatt said, back at Stanford, buried in her studies and working on a paper for her Humanities class.
She sees where her long program went wrong, and much like an active student, wants to fix her mistakes.
"It was pretty rough," Flatt said. "But I learned a lot from it. It kind of shows what a huge adjustment I've been making to college life and new coaches and moving out of state. It's a lot to juggle."
Flatt said her struggles weren't a result of fitness.
"I haven't been struggling with my cardio, even though it might have looked like it in Canada. I think there was some anxiety and nerves," Flatt said. "I hadn't competed in a while and I think it was a lot to handle. And the good thing is that I was able to push through, even though it was pretty yucky."
But Flatt says the experience has given her something to work with, and the impetus to work harder.
"My training has definitely been getting better," she said. "I think we are getting the kinks out."
Flatt went straight from the Skate Canada finale Saturday to a rink in Toronto on Sunday with her choreographer Lori Nichol to "rework" some segments of her long program.
"It works better now. They were appropriate changes," Flatt said. "Hopefully, it's going to go better the next time."
Next, she headed back to California and the dorms for trick-or-treating on Halloween night for about 20 minutes before she went to bed.
Flatt has increased her commitment to her training in the past few weeks.
She and coach Justin Dillon have worked out more ice time for her in San Jose to keep her from having to make the long 40-mile drive to Oakland three days a week. Bay Area traffic is keeping her in her car for long stretches.
"It's taking three or four hours on the road a day when I go to Oakland and that's nine to 12 hours a week," Flatt said. "It's a lot."
She and Dillon have also pushed her training later in the day to eliminate the 6 a.m. wake-up calls.
"I am tired, but that's part of being a college student," Flatt said. "This will allow me more time to get my homework done."
She will also be adjusting her academic load in the next quarter to make it "more evenly dispersed."
"Right now, I have such heavy loads on Tuesdays and Thursdays that I'm not getting optimal training time," Flatt said. "At this point, I feel like I'm still kind of learning the ways of college and how you function as a student and an athlete."
Flatt will leave just before Thanksgiving weekend for Moscow and will celebrate the American holiday in Russia with her parents. It's a six-hour flight to Washington, D.C., and another 11 to Moscow.
And she's hopeful that she will take a step forward in another important competition, with the U.S. nationals in San Jose just two months away.
"I'm not expecting to have a perfect program in Russia. I am not where I want to be yet, but I can only go up from Skate Canada," Flatt said.