By Jacqueline Aguilar/El Inde
It was a warm Friday morning when I met 31-year-old Kimberly J. Becker. I spent the last year conducting interviews via Zoom and meeting someone face-to-face was nerve-wracking. I think it was our decision to initially grab coffee that put me at ease because we related on something we both enjoy splurging on.
I took the initiative of ordering our coffees ahead of time so that we could get to talking without a loud Starbucks line in our way. And a coffee order says a lot about a person and Kim’s was uncomplicated.
“I’ll take a grande vanilla iced coffee!” Kim texted me.
As an ex-barista, Kim’s order shows that she enjoys reliable people and things like Amazon orders that won’t break down after one use.
Embracing our first encounter with a warm hug and a smile stretching from ear to ear, I knew I was about to unpack much about why she is so kind.
I sat down and was at ease as I began to unravel and understand over a decade of Kim’s “past-life” in figure skating in her home state and with a big-time company. Figure skating led Kim into her new career as a team reporter for Arizona Athletics at the University of Arizona. Taking a leap of faith in your ultimate goal was how Kim got to where she is now.
I first noticed Kim’s healthy, auburn-colored hair. It was voluminous and freshly-curled looking as though she had just left the blowout bar. She resembled exactly what I imagined a professional athlete would: cute, higher-end athleisure and lustrous hair. She looked as though she just got out of a workout in which she didn’t break a sweat.
Kim is 5’9” and lean, with an inviting face and a scar on her collarbone that came from her time as a figure skater.
She grew up in an athletic family and lived in Denver, Colorado. Her father, Dave Becker, played for the Chicago Bears before she was born in the 1980s. Kim’s two younger brothers, Van and Jake, have dwelled in sports as well. Although Kim and her siblings aren’t athletes anymore, they all scored sports related jobs.
Twenty-five years ago, the first ice skating rink in Boise, Idaho, Idaho Ice World, opened and Kim’s father decided to take Kim and her younger brother for a fun skating session. At nine years old, Kim laced up her first pair of skates and kicked off a life of skating.
Since Kim was just nine-years-old, she was just having fun. There was no rush for a competitive career or even thoughts of wanting to pursue it professionally. The bragging rights were the only things running through Kim’s mind as she describes how she would feel cool being the only one who had her own pair of skates amongst her group of friends.
Her competitive career didn’t begin in Idaho as the Becker family moved to Denver, Colorado when Kim was 12-years-old. Kim and her parents decided that she had a knack for skating. It was a natural thing for Kim to be on the ice.
After a few years of practicing on her own, Kim’s parents hired a professional and well-known coach, Eddie Shipstad, who had skated for Disney on Ice in his prime. Her coach aided in her time as a competitor and remained close to the family.
Reminiscing on her time as a competitive figure skater starting from the time she was 11 opened up a door of complexity because her career in skating led to many opportunities for Kim.
“It was tough and it would wear me down. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by falling, I didn’t want my family to be embarrassed by me. Like I just wanted to win. So, it was really hard. I struggled with a lot of mental self-doubt before competitions,” Kim said.
Being a competitive athlete is grueling on the mind just as much as the body. Whether it may be landing jump after jump that makes a significant impact on your ankles, falling on the ice, meeting physical requirements and dealing with body image. From a young age, Kim decided to begin competing. The thing about being an athlete before 2021 is that there was not much help for those who were struggling with their mental health.
Tennis player Naomi Osaka handled her mental health in the best way she could. She took a break. If you are an athlete, so many people and businesses are depending on you, but what about if you’re truly having a bad day and you still have your obligations to work? The four-time Grand Slam tennis player, Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 for withdrawing because she refused to attend press conferences after her match for mental health reasons.
Keeping your head clear when competing is tough because in a single-person sport like figure skating, you have nobody to rely on but yourself. Having a clear mind before stepping onto the ice was pivotal for Kim.
“And listening to other person’s music, but trying to stay in your head and only think about your program…knowing she’s skating and she just landed something and all of the audience is cheering. Your coach is right next to you saying, ‘Don’t look back, don’t look at the ice, think about you, just think about you.’ That was really hard for me because I would hear them cheer and think ‘Oh my gosh she’s better than me’,” said Kim.
Recalling her past life of competitive figure skating still shakes Kim’s core. Skating preoccupied her life and an on-and-off struggle with keeping a high morale affected her performance.
“It’s a very terrifying three minutes. Thinking about that right now I’m getting chills. Like oh my God, I never want to have to do that again. It was bad, yeah,” Kim said.
Choosing to quit competition was easy for Kim. Kim’s body language and sorrowful eyes show me that competing wasn’t something that fulfilled her skating aspirations, but rather pushed her to see where she could take her career. Both Kim and her coach knew she was good at skating and loved to perform, but was done with the unwelcoming side of being an athlete. So, Kim quit competing at the age of 16.
“He could tell which ones would thrive in that lifestyle and that atmosphere. He knew I would fit because I loved to perform,” said Kim.
Kim’s time with her coach, Eddie, allowed her to keep her identity as a figure skater because after a few years of competing and losing, Kim was, as she describes, “burnt out.” Kim knew she loved to skate and only disliked the final scoring. She was set to graduate high school and finish competitive skating in 2008. Her coach brought up Disney on Ice from time to time and finally convinced her to audition for the well-known casting director, Judy Thomas.
The ex-figure skater’s coach made an audition tape for her and when it came down to the nitty-gritty of showing up in person, Kim was instructed to create a reel of her talents to send to Disney on Ice. Three months later, after Thomas watched her tape, Kim was invited to one of Disney’s ice skating rinks for a live audition.
“They had me do some jumps, some spins, some footwork stuff, some guiding practices,” said Kim, “And then they would take notes to send over to Judy Thomas, who’s the casting director, and she would have the final yes or no say. And then she would give you a call and offer the position.”
The audition wasn’t difficult because Kim’s spunky and extroverted personality persevered. As far as the others’ auditions, many of them were experiencing the same feelings as far as overgrowing the competition life.
“A lot of us were on the same boat where we hated competing and we were burnt out, but we knew we were good and loved to skate,” said Kim, the former Disney on Ice figure skater.
She competed for about five years before taking on the performance side of figure skating with Disney on Ice for ten years afterwards.
Kim was happy and firm with her decision to take the unconventional route of not attending college for a decade directly out of high school that her parents fully supported her with.
“I know they were very excited. My mom was so excited, she loves to brag about me. I have two brothers that she also brags about, it’s not just me. I think they were excited that I was doing something different. They both went to college right after high school like most people do, nothing wrong with that at all. I think they were just excited that I could do something else because I wasn’t thrilled about college,” Kim said.
Kim outshines on the ice and in her grades as well. She had a 4.2 GPA as a high school senior and applied to the University of Southern California and was not accepted. Not getting accepted into USC was rough for Kim but she had an amazing opportunity in front of her that she went for instead.
Kim was an 18-year old nomad, living in hotels with the rest of the 100-person crew of Disney on Ice. Her bed was made daily, she didn’t need to pay rent until she was in her late 20s, and most of her meals were made for her.
Having that eye-opening moment when you realize you are living your dream life came early for Kim. I asked her to relive the moment she realized she was, “living the life.”
“Probably towards the end of my first year. I realized like ‘Oh my gosh life cannot get any better’,” Kim said
It’s a fantasy for most of us, but that was Kim’s reality for ten years. There was a switch in her love for performing as she neared her tenth year on Disney on Ice.
Living a life in which most things are done for you isn’t everything when you crave to settle down and live a “normal” life away from flights, audiences and pounds of stage makeup.
Being adaptable is important in a life of shows, makeup and travel. Finding normalcy came easy for Kim and the rest of the Disney on Ice crew. Since many of them were in the same boat and there were so many ages within the crew, it was perfect for Kim to make lifetime friendships.
“It was like 100 of us. We would stay in hotels and you’d get your roommate and we’d all just be like, ‘Come over!’ to each other,” Kim described.
Kim loves showcasing her love for performing so, not only did Kim figure skate but she did media for Disney on Ice. This included PR, interviews and helping in the wig department and costumes for the rest of the cast. The extrovert also began to host many of Disney’s live shows by herself and could easily keep the audience engaged.
Nearing the end of her decade with Disney on Ice, she found herself wanting out during her ninth year. Kim was in a long-term relationship with someone who also worked for Disney on Ice in Europe and the program had a last minute change and they were set to do a tour in Europe. Kim decided to stay and finish her tenth year with Disney on Ice and reconnect with her long-distance partner.
“Hard. That’s part of the reason why I quit because my feet especially I was having a hard time with. I had a stress fracture in my foot my second to last year, it never really healed.”
Luckily enough, her parents moved from Denver, Colorado to Orange County, California. Kim applied to Chapman University around the same time she applied for USC. Chapman accepted her but since she chose to work with Disney on Ice, she deferred her acceptance. So she moved back in with her parents and started her academic career.
“She’s been to 40 countries, you know, hundreds of cities and the different things she learned in different cultures really opened her eyes to the world. I think in a lot of ways too. So, we never really felt like she’s not getting an education, it was definitely a different kind,” said Mary Jo, Kim’s mother.
Kim was in her late 20s surrounded by people who were 10 years younger than her. She’s adaptable, though, and makes friends easily with her extroverted personality. Being with Disney on Ice meant that she had friends ages between 18 and 50 year old, so it wasn’t an issue for her to be in this setting. Kim was a broadcast journalism major and quickly joined Chapman News, her university’s student newspaper.
Sports reporting wasn’t something Kim ever questioned because politics, arts and life and other forms of reporting haven’t interested her. The heart of an ice skater stuck with her as she knew she always wanted to go into sports, especially football. She loves entertainment news and still strives for finding her voice in entertainment one day.
Since she was a broadcast major, Kim didn’t need to write many stories. She produced weekly videos for Chapman News, and in her digital storytelling course, she created bi-weekly mini-documentaries—her favorite types of videos to make, where she could be honest.
Traveling and getting out of the cities you grew up in allows for growth in one’s mindset. You are exposed to different cultures, personalities and perspectives that help you understand the world differently as the years pass.
Having the world at Kim’s fingertips helped grow her perception on life outside of the luxuries in the United States. Touring 45 countries included visiting Auschwitz and developing countries where their means of living didn’t compare to life in the US. Having this experience while transitioning back into college made her even more aware of “how easy we have it.”
Kim graduated magna cum laude from Chapman University in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like thousands of other graduates, entering the workforce during trying times was nerve-wracking. She created a demo reel of her work while in college and began to send it everywhere to get her foot in the door.
“So, I would send it to anyone I knew. I would go on Twitter and make connections, I would cold call and email like all of the NFL teams to see if I could try to get in contact with their media department,” Kim said.
Since Kim was living with her parents, her mother, Mary Jo, was able to see the determination she had for landing a job. Just like how she did when Kim decided to join Disney on Ice.
“The whole COVID thing was so hard, you know, with graduating in the middle of that. Zero jobs and nobody was playing football. But she took advantage of that time and just did a lot of networking,” Mary Jo said.
Determined, Kim’s reel reached Sports Illustrated and she was offered a digital host and reporter position. She recalls keeping a notebook of 50 to 60 pages of people she contacted about available positions before Sports Illustrated reached out.
Claudette Pattison, Kim’s coworker at Sports Illustrated has always noticed Kim’s determination and go-getter attitude.
“I think one thing that’s great about Kim is she’s always willing to take the opportunity,” Pattison said, “She’s very natural on camera and her delivery is so natural in drawing the viewers in.”
Working with Sports Illustrated during COVID-19 called for remote reporting, but Kim had the opportunity to cover the Elite 11 quarterbacks camp in Los Angeles in person. She worked with Yogi Roth, Pac-12 Networks college football analyst, who referred her to a position in Tucson, Arizona.
“I know of something in Tucson. Would you move there?” Roth asked.
“I was like, ‘I’ll move anywhere, I’m ready to just do stuff in person. I’m sick of doing it all on the computer,’” Kim said.
Through this connection, Kim was referred for a team reporter role at the University of Arizona and was offered the position. Ready to relocate, Kim packed her things and set trail to Tucson To start her second dream job.
The ice skater-turned-reporter has been with the UA for nearly half of a year and thrives in her own reporting, covers social media and still covers different football teams for LockedOn Network.
Kim has lived a full life of her dream jobs and owes it to herself for following her heart and believing she was qualified enough for anything. Her time with Disney on Ice will always be kept close to her heart because she grew up with the company and has made lifelong friends.
She’s not stopping here, though. Kim is enjoying her time with UA’s football team and isn’t in a rush to go anywhere, but is sticking out for a job in entertainment one day. Although she is huge on sports and hopes to host her very own sports show, the socializer has always found entertainment reporting on the red carpet to be fascinating.
“I think probably hosting something would be the best, hosting Entertainment Tonight and then going out to do red carpets I think would be so much fun. And I still might pursue that at some point in my career, I don’t want to be completely confined to sports,” Kim said.
Disney on Ice, sports reporting and entertainment reporting is what Kim has worked endlessly for. One of her life goals is to work for the National Football League.
“Definitely, my ultimate goal is to be on NFL Network to be a studio host. I just want to stay with football as long as I can. But yeah, a TV host of any kind would be pretty sweet,” Kim said.