Winter Olympics

Illinois Native Alexa Knierim Perseveres Through Partner Change, Other Challenges in Olympic Journey

United States figure skater Alexa Knierim is no stranger to adversity and challenges in her career, but that didn’t stop her from achieving a feat that no American pairs skater has accomplished in the last 20 years.

Knierim, an Addison, Illinois-native, became the first American pairs skater to qualify for back-to-back Olympics since 2002 when she and Brandon Frazier were named to the U.S. squad earlier this month.

Even that accomplishment came with its own set of challenges. Knierim and Frazier were expected to be the top contenders to grab one of the two pairs skating spots for the U.S. team, but that status was put in jeopardy when Frazier tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the national championships.

After experiencing what he called “pretty bad” COVID symptoms, he says he is fully recovered and ready to compete in Beijing next month.

“To Alexa, who showed so much strength and support last week, thank you, and no way would I be where I am without your dedication, devotion and everything you do for our team,” Frazier said.

Because they didn’t compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the pair had to petition USA Figure Skating to be considered for inclusion on the American roster. Their petition was accepted, as was that of Alysa Liu, making them the first skaters to successfully appeal for inclusion on the U.S. squad since Michelle Kwan was named to the team in 2006.

The quest to get into the Olympics is just the latest triumph that Knierim has experienced during a career that has been full of challenges.

In 2017, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition that ultimately required three separate abdominal surgeries, but she was able to recover in time to qualify for the 2018 Olympics with her husband and former partner Chris Knierim.

Even though the pair finished 14th in PyeongChang, the fact that she was able to compete was something that she has treasured ever since.

“I remember crying because I was so happy, but it was so cold that my tears felt like they were freezing, and my cheeks were going numb because it was cold, but I was smiling,” she said.

Knierim and her husband continued to compete together for the next few years, but Chris ultimately retired from competition in 2020, citing injuries and mental health concerns.

The move led to Alexa seeking out a new partner, and she ultimately found one in Phoenix-native Frazier.

She says that amid the rollercoaster of emotions that she’s experienced in recent years, partnering with Frazier has helped bring a sense of calm to the proceedings.

“That’s a lot of pressure and a lot of noise in your head at times, so it’s best that when our music starts that we connect with each other and silence that by only listening to our bodies at that moment,” she said.

Now, Knierim and Frazier are busy preparing for a run at a medal in Beijing, something that no American pair of skaters has achieved since 1988, and she says that the adversity that she and Frazier have experienced in recent years will only strengthen their resolve to achieve their goals.

“I think it teaches us a lot for our lives out of sport too,” she said. “We’re going to hit a bunch of road blocks and trips and turns here and there, but you’ve just gotta keep moving forward and find the people who are going to support you no matter what.”

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