Kristina Struthwolf-Leato grew up with a skating rink in her backyard and fell in love with figure skating after watching Kristi Yamaguchi at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Recently, winning in her home state added to her list of achievements and a life-long dedication to the sport.
At the beginning of the year, Struthwolf-Leato, 31, of Stansbury Park, made the decision to compete in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships after she learned the competition would be held in Utah this spring.
“I felt like it was a sign. Everyone asked why I wasn’t competing and I knew my students would love to see me skate,” said Struthwolf-Leato, who coaches students in Salt Lake Valley.
To qualify to compete at the Adult Championships, Struthwolf-Leato had to first qualify at the Pacific Coast Sectionals. In March, she flew to San Francisco and placed first.
The Adult Championships require participants to be 18 and over. However, in the skating world, once you’re older than 18, you’re considered old for the sport.
“We’ve all graduated from high school; dealt with injuries. It seems like we are all in the same boat,” said Struthwolf-Leato.
The Adult Championships were held at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex on April 6. Struthwolf-Leato not only won, she also broke her record that she set in San Francisco where she scored 73.65 points — 16 points higher than the silver medalist.
In her performance, Struthwolf-Leato skated to “Never Enough” from the “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack, and landed 10 double jumps, three in combination.
This was her first U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships win. Before this she had qualified at 10 sectional championships.
“At that time I thought 10 was a good number. I was happy with my career and had reached my goals,” she said.
Struthwolf-Leato’s strong point is her artistry. Judges once favored jumps but now reward skaters who have an all-around performance.
“Skating has really improved and they’re trying to make it more well balanced,” she said. “I love having people afterwards tell me my program brought them to tears or gave them the chills. Everyone who is there now is passionate about skating. It’s hard to stay in the sport for a long time because it’s so hard on your body and such a big time commitment.”
Amazingly, Struthwolf-Leato won the championship 15 months after giving birth to her baby boy, Luca. Her husband supported her decision to continue skating up until she gave birth.
“Obviously, I’m way more coordinated on my skates than on my shoes,” Struthwolf-Leato said.
Since winning the title, she has been asked to be a guest skater at different functions. In addition to skating, she also travels to judge events. In 2016, she became certified to judge figure skating.
“I thought it was more intense than grad school stuff,” Struthwolf-Leato said. She graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science, and in 2013 earned a master’s degree in Psychosocial Aspect of Sport.
With her master’s degree, Struthwolf-Leato has helped student athletes with their mental training along with coaching her own students. In addition, she finds time to train herself.
“The scoring is very complicated but it’s also very mathematical,” she said. “I like analyzing and figuring things out. Sometimes it’s not always clear, but now that I’m a judge myself, I see how it works.”
At the age of six her parents signed her up for lessons with figure skating coach Tiffany Conde Kennard, who has been with her since day one. During her first lesson at a rink in Magna, Struthwolf-Leato was hooked and knew figure skating was what she wanted to do.
Aunts and uncles sent money for her birthday so she could pay for lessons. West Valley became her home rink.
Her other lessons were in Stansbury Park where she lived with her parents. When Stansbury Lake would freeze over during winter, she’d pull on her skates and skate onto the lake from her backyard.
No matter what ice rink Struthwolf-Leato is on, she skates at the highest level. When she traveled to Colorado Springs to train, things were different. There she skated with the top World and Olympic skaters.
“There were about 20 senior men skaters. They were so much faster and their jumps were a lot bigger,” said Struthwolf-Leato.
Anyone can train at the center but skaters know that they should be at a high level to do so. Struthwolf-Leato would stay at a hotel or with a friend while she was coached.
“Skating is a very tough and time demanding sport, but the feeling on the ice is like nothing else, Struthwolf-Leato said. “It’s very addicting and makes you feel free.”
During her high school years, Struthwolf-Leato would skate three to five hours a day. She’d wake up at 4:30 a.m. to skate before school and then skate a few hours after school. Since she put in so much time skating while growing up, she now only has to skate to maintain her skills.
For over 10 years, Struthwolf-Leato was consistently in the top 18 skaters in the U.S. Twice she won the regional championships, where only nine in the U.S. win Regional Champion for the year. Her list of accomplishments, wins and performances are on the internet.
“I’ve loved skating. A lot of people get burned out, but there’s never a day I’ve been sad to have to go to the rink,” she said. “You learn a lot of life-lessons. Since it’s so competitive, you lose a lot and you win a lot, and you fall a lot and have to get up.”