Dual-Sport Athlete: Battle of the Blades

Autumn Willsey poses for a picture during hockey practice on March 11, 2021. She was listening to Head Coach Chris Haney explain the new drill the team was about to do.

When Autumn Willsey was 8 years old, her dad brought Autumn and her brother, Elson to a Thai Kwando class which is above the ice rink inside the I.C.E. Arena in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Instead of watching the class, Wllsey and her brother looked out the windows and down at the rink where the Learn to Skate Program was going on. Her dad noticing them staring decided to sign them up for classes. Little did young Willsey know that she would end up loving figure skating and it would become her favorite sport.
12 years later, Willsey is now a junior at Central Michigan University studying Bio Medical Cellular and Molecular Biology and minoring in Nutrition with the dreams of becoming an ear, throat and nose specialist. She is still doing figure skating and now coaches during her private lessons and Learn to Skate while she is working at the CMU Bookstore, being a full-time student and now a hockey player.

Autumn Willsey, right, red and white jersey passes the puck to Ashley Neuenfeldt, left, gray jersey during a drill at practice on March 11, 2021 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. “The hardest part of hockey is the stickhandling because I can keep up with everyone, I am just not skilled with moving the puck around like other girls,” said Willsey.

Last year the former CMU Women’s Hockey coach, Brittnay Knopp approached Willsey to see if she would want to join the team because there were not enough girls. Willsey decided to join because she thought it would be fun and make her a better overall skater. She unfortunately was not able to play in a game last year because there was no season due to not having a goalie, but many of the players joined C League which is the adult league at the rink and formed a team there which Willsey joined. This year the season was cancelled because of COVID but that has not stopped her from going to practices and still participating in C-League.

Autumn Willsey skates backwards preparing for a jump during Figure Skating Drop-In on March 11, 2021 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Her favorite part of figure skating are the jumps because she feels powerful.

“Transitioning from figure to hockey was kinda difficult because the way you have to stand in figure skating is all the weight are on the ball of your feet, so you are ready to go, and ready to jump,” said Willsey. “Then in hockey skates you’re bending your knees more and you're on your heels. The hardest part was the weight shift because I would forward on my toes in my hockey skates and flip over because there is no pick to stop me.”
She has noticed the differences between the two sports like how figure skating focuses on the small details of skating and looking pretty while hockey focuses on details of puck maneuvering, bending knees and being aggressive. Because she does both, she found that she is a better coach because she understands how to teach the basics to both type of skaters.
“The mentality behind both sports is the biggest difference. Figure skating is a performance art in a way on ice and hockey is considered a dirty sport,” said Willsey.
Her favorite part of hockey is if she falls it will not hurt and does not feel bad if she hits someone while her favorite part of figure skating are the jumps. She loves figure skating because of all the friends she made and the opportunities she has received.

Autumn Willsey gets a COVID test so she is able to attend hockey practice that week on the campus of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan on March 16, 2021. “Every week I have to get a COVID test in case of an outbreak after a practice. We are kind of the test to make sure this system could work for other club sports,” said Willsey.

Between being active with two sports, she must juggle her classes, lessons and working at the CMU Bookstore. She does not feel as stressed or burnt out if this was a normal year. First of all, most of her classes are online or have prerecorded lectures which helps her plan her week. Two, her boss at the Bookstore understands she is a student and studies come first. Next, when she coaches her private lessons and Learn to Skate it is twice a week during Figure Skate Drop-In so she can do her lessons and practice what she wants. Lastly, it helps that both hockey and figure skating never overlap because there is only one ice rink in Mt. Pleasant.
“Everything lines up because there is only one rink so hockey and figure skating do not go at the same time and it helps that many of my classes do not require attendance and many lectures are prerecorded so I am flexible to an extent with my schedule,” explained Willsey.

Autumn Willsey, left, and Jawaher Dabas, right, talk about Willsey's last jump she did on and ways to improve on March 11, 2021.

Autumn Willsey tightens her figure skates before she goes on the ice for her private coaching lessons with her four students and practice on March 15, 2021.

Autumn Willsey’s mom, Mercy Willsey is extremely proud of her daughter and all her accomplishments between coaching, figure skating and joining hockey.
“I’m proud of her and her being able to juggle it all,” she said.
Willsey’s dad, Joseph Willsey was the person who accidently showed Autumn figure skating but he too is proud of his daughter and her accomplishments.
“I’m so proud of my daughter for being able to manage her time between family, two sports, college and work while doing well at all of them,” he said. “She really rocks!”
Willsey plans to keep playing hockey since there will be a season next fall, continue coaching and enjoying figure skating.
“I love hockey, but my heart will always be in figure skating since that is what I have done the majority of my life. I’m not sure what I would do if I could not figure skate,” said Willsey.

Autumn Willsey, left, and her brother, Elson Willsey, right, try to convince each other to do different dances together on March 15, 2021. Autumn and her brother have been skating together as pairs for couple of years now, but they never got the chance to compete as a pair.

Autumn Willsey is straightening the shirts on display while at work at the CMU Bookstore on March 23, 2020 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.

From the survey I conducted, I chose the top 6 respondents with Football and Track being the top two sports for college athletes according to the respondents. ​​​​​​​

This is from the survey I conducted, 29.4% of the who answered said that dual-sport athletes spend 60 hours between school and sports.