No dream is too big for Bemidji figure skater Wren Warne-Jacobsen.
At just 5 years old, she laced up her first pair of skates and glided across the ice for the very first time. Fast forward to 14 years later, Warne-Jacobsen is now preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime competition — the 2023 FISU World University Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Chosen to represent Team USA and the University of Minnesota in the women’s figure skating event, 19-year-old Warne-Jacobsen, who hails from Puposky just north of Bemidji, will be competing alongside some of the world’s best skaters. The event features 12 other winter sports and more than 1,500 student-athletes from 600 different universities all over the globe.
“I like to describe it as like the Olympics for college universities where various winter-sport athletes come together and compete,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “It’s a really cool community and I’m so excited to meet other student-athletes. I haven’t found a community quite like (it) before — the dedication and passion you have to have to be a college student and a serious athlete is so important.”
Held every two years in Lake Placid, N.Y., the 11-day international festival and competition starting on Thursday, Jan. 12, marks the 31st year of the FISU World University Games and includes a whole slew of winter sporting competitions such as curling, figure skating, ice hockey, snowboarding and skiing.
Warne-Jacobsen is the 2022 U.S. Collegiate Championships Bronze Medalist, an eight-time Minnesota State Champion and a three-time U.S. National Competitor. She made her Senior Nationals debut last season at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville and her Senior International debut earlier this season at Cranberry Cup International in Boston.
But as she prepares to skate during one of the most extravagant competitions of her career, she can’t help but think about where her passion for figure skating first began.
When her mother, former figure skater and now coach, Debbie Warne-Jacobsen, gifted her first pair of skates there was no turning back. Warne-Jacobsen spent every day out on the ice during Christmas break and soon began skating at the Bemidji Figure Skating Club’s Learn to Skate program where she skated for several years and even won her first Minnesota State Championship title.
“The skating community (at Bemidji’s Figure Skating Club) was a small group, but it was really special to me. I didn’t know where I would go with it, but that’s where I started,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “Just the memories of that rink and thinking about where it all began is so special.”
But Warne-Jacobsen admits skating didn’t always come naturally to her.
“I was very slow when I started. I remember being in the beginning skating classes and all the other kids would be all the way on the other side of the ice and I’d still be taking my little steps,” Warne-Jacobsen said with a laugh. “I kind of took it at my own pace, but I did find enjoyment in it right away.”
Throughout her entire skating career, Warne-Jacobsen experienced everything from triumph to defeat — winning championships, recovering from injuries and even temporarily losing her passion for the sport. But she said if there’s one thing that keeps her going, it’s learning to appreciate the journey.
“I think it’s very important to appreciate the process, nothing happens overnight. I’ve certainly had to push through difficulty and reconnect with my love for skating many, many times in my career,” she said. “I think no matter where you, or where you started, if you have a passion for figure skating or for anything, follow it. If you put in dedicated work, you’re going to get something out of it.”
Although many things tie in with the love and passion Warne-Jacobsen has for figure skating, her favorite part is connecting with the music and channeling a more artistic outlook of the sport.
“(My favorite part) is the artistic component. Being able to perform and skate to music that speaks to me while telling a story and connecting with people through my skating,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “I don’t find anything quite like that anywhere else in my life. It’s just such an important emotional connection that I have with the sport.”
One can’t deny figure skating is a demanding sport. Warne-Jacobsen manages to find balance in her life while training for 25 hours each week, being a full-time college student and still making time for friends, family and other hobbies.
“I train full-time five days a week and that includes both on-ice and off-ice training. I work several hours on the ice and I combine that with all my strength and conditioning work,” Warne Jacobsen said. “I fit school in there as well with classes earlier in the morning so I can spend the majority of the day in training. It keeps me busy, but it’s fun.”
She was salutatorian of her graduating class at Minnesota Virtual Academy in June 2022 and is now in her first year at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She’s still going back and forth between a major in journalism or political science but has a deep appreciation for her education and the journey of figuring out her dreams and goals outside of skating.
“I started online schooling in kindergarten right around the time I started skating so I was able to train at the rink during the day for many years. It was helpful in balancing the two for me and having a flexible schedule. Then, I’ve recently started college at the University of Minnesota which I will be representing at my upcoming event,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “Generally I have an interest in society and media communication. I also want to look at how to connect what I do on the ice — the art, the storytelling — and see how I can connect that to my education as well.”
Being an elite figure skater takes an abundance of dedication from not only the athlete but their families as well. Luckily for Warne-Jacobsen, her family has supported her and helped her achieve her dream since day one.
To kickstart her skating career, Warne-Jacobsen and her family moved to the cities from their home in Puposky so she could skate with the St. Paul Figure Skating Club when she was 10 years old.
“It is a family journey, my mom was a figure skater, too, and she really helped me find my way at the beginning,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “She’s definitely played a huge role in my career and my whole family continues to play a role in my training and supporting me. Even as I’m getting older, they are listening and helping me as I figure out where I want to go in life and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family.”
When Warne-Jacobsen takes the ice this weekend at the FISU World University Games she hopes to inspire young skaters to pursue both their athletic and academic passions. She knows first-hand that having both can complement each other, as figure skating and college do for her, too.
“I’m incredibly grateful and honored to represent the United States and the University of Minnesota at the World University Games and I can’t wait to join the many other dedicated student-athletes,” Warne-Jacobsen said. “I wanted to thank the Bemidji community as well, they have been so supportive of me as I’ve moved in and gone on more adventures in my life. I’m really, really grateful for all the support I’ve received.”