For the first year that Ryan Dunk tried his hand — or, more appropriately, feet — at ice skating, the 8-year-old wore rented skates because his mother fretted about whether it was simply a phase.
“It’s nice to try things, but I wanted to make sure,” Terri Dunk recalled.
Ryan Dunk understood her stance, even if it meant some ridicule from fellow skaters.
“Some of the other kids would say snobby things like, ‘You don’t have real skates. So you shouldn’t do this jump,’ ” he remembered. “So that was kind of embarrassing.”
Ten years later, Dunk, who was born in Towson and hails from White Hall, is now one of the most popular figures of the American figure skating community. Last month, he was crowned the junior national champion at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.
Dunk, who placed third and fourth at the 2017 and 2018 junior championships, respectively, is still slightly shocked by his accomplishment.
Asked to describe his emotions after the win, he replied: “I’m not really sure. I felt really good about myself, but I’m not the most confident person, I guess. So when they said my name, I was pretty proud.”
I think it was something that I was naturally good at, and that made it easier for me to get into.
Ryan Dunk, Hereford High senior and White Hall resident, on starting his skating career
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Dunk, 18, finished with an overall score of 201.43, the first time he eclipsed the 200-point mark, and completed his first triple flip-triple toe loop combination. But he, his mother and his father, Joseph, had to wait until the final four skaters competed before they could celebrate.
“I thought maybe he had [won] because it was a good program, but there were still four more skaters to go,” Terri Dunk said. “But I kind of said to my husband, ‘No matter what, he should be happy because that was a great program.’ ”
Ryan Dunk’s introduction to ice skating began when his mother took him and older son Patrick to a rink in Reisterstown after Christmas when schools were closed for winter break. A friend suggested that he participate in a Learn to Skate program that offered ice skating in a group-wide setting.
“I just immediately took to it and really enjoyed it as soon as I started,” he said. “I think it’s mostly just the feeling of gliding and going fast. I think it was something that I was naturally good at, and that made it easier for me to get into. And I’ve always liked skating to music.”
Dunk, who played soccer and lacrosse, began taking part in local competitions and fared well enough to commit to ice skating. Terri Dunk, however, insisted that her son vary his interests, which include playing tennis, performing on the violin and being a member of the National Honor Society at Hereford High School, where he is a senior.
Like a dutiful son, Ryan Dunk listened to his mother, but also convinced his parents to permit him to pursue ice skating on national and international levels.
“I give him a lot of credit because he’s been very persistent and patient with his dad and me,” Terri Dunk said. “He’s kind of brought us along, and we could see how dedicated he was and his passion and how he juggled his schedule with school. … Finally, I think it was around his sophomore year when we tried to get him out of school an hour earlier for training was when I said, ‘OK, we’ve got to try to help him and really support him.’ ”
Ryan Dunk said his passion for figure skating is self-motivated.
“There are kids whose parents are pushing them on and forcing them and paying all of this money, and the kid doesn’t even enjoy it,” he said. “I think for me, it was always me wanting to go and my parents were saying, ‘You can quit at any time and live a normal life.’ But it’s always come from me.”
In July, Dunk, with the blessing of his parents, moved to Boston to train with coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson and choreographer Colin McManus. A typical day will involve three 50-minute skating sessions, a 50-minute workout and homework from a pair of online courses in criminal investigation and psychology through CCBC-Essex.
“I think the biggest thing was that he committed himself full-time to skating,” said Mitchell, a three-time U.S. national medalist. “I think when he lived in Baltimore, it was school and skating and balancing everything. I think skating became a priority when he moved to Boston, and I think by being on his own, he took charge of his own life, and I think he’s growing up, and that really showed in his skating this season. He really took ownership of it.”
After finishing second in the short program Jan. 22, Dunk said he surprised himself by how relaxed he felt before the free skate portion the next day.
“I was able to sleep in and wake up naturally,” he said. “And it’s hard to make myself eat sometimes, but I had a full lunch and snacks and stuff. All of it hit me right when they were about to call my name, but once I landed my first jump, I started to feel normal again.”
Dunk won the free skate program despite falling on one of his jumps, a Lutz. That mistake continues to haunt him.
“It was going really well, and then I think I got too excited that it was going well because I had done all of the hard stuff,” he said. “And then I have seven jumps in my program, and on my fifth jump, I actually fell, and that jump is the one that I always hit and I’m always confident on. So I was really surprised, but it was a good learning lesson about staying focused the whole time and not getting too excited.”
With his victory, Dunk was invited to World Junior Camp, an NFL combine-type event in Strongsville, Ohio, where three male skaters were selected by U.S. Figure Skating to compete at the International Skating Union World Junior Figure Skating Championships, set for March 4-10 in Zagreb, Croatia. While Dunk wasn’t picked as one of the top three, he was named second alternate, meaning he’d be the second choice to replace one of the top three skaters if they were forced to sit out.
Mitchell said Dunk has the potential to represent the United States at world or Olympic competitions in the very near future.
“He’s a strong jumper, he’s really strong in his spins, and he’s really strong artistically, which in today’s judging system is what they’re really looking for,” Mitchell said. “As far as a weakness, I don’t think he has any great weakness, but moving up to seniors next season, he’ll have to learn how to do a quadruple jump or two, and that will help keep him competitive at seniors.”
Besides Dunk, 16-year-old Pikesville resident and Towson High School junior Ting Cui placed fifth at the U.S. championships last week. Dunk said he and Cui, who was one of two U.S. ladies selected to compete at the ISU World Junior Championships, always greet each other with hugs and openly root for one another.
“I think it’s exciting for Ting and I both,” he said. “Baltimore holds a special place for us because it’s where we first learned how to skate and where we did the majority of our skating up to this point. So I’m really happy we did well in representing Baltimore.”