BOSTON — Grant Hochstein wakes up at 5 a.m. most days, not to work on his own skating but to teach the sport to others.
The 25-year-old American is accomplished enough to set a goal of qualifying for the next Olympics, but not famous enough to earn big endorsement deals to pay for all that goes into that. So he spends 12-hour days at the rink, alternating between coaching and being coached.
Just listening to Hochstein describe his typical schedule is exhausting.
“I usually teach 6:15-8, and then I skate 9-9:45,” he explained Monday. “Teach 9:45-10:30. Skate 10:45-11:30. Teach 11:30-12:15. Skate 12:30-1:15.”
And on and on it goes. But not this week, when Hochstein will be competing against the best skaters on the planet on national TV in front of a sold-out crowd at a big-name arena.
He’s the oldest American man to make his world championships debut since 27-year-old Rudy Galindo two decades ago. Before this season, Hochstein had gone to senior nationals six times, never finishing better than seventh — and that came in his first appearance way back in 2010. It had been five years since he’d received a spot in the sport’s elite Grand Prix series that takes place each fall.
So as this season started, he didn’t know how much longer he wanted to compete. The decision hinged partly on his results, but also on how soon he hoped to get going on life after skating.
Now that he’s had the most successful season of his career, Hochstein plans to stick with the sport for another two years to try to make the 2018 Olympic team. And he’s comfortable with that commitment because, in many ways, he’s already entered his post-skating world.
“I’m doing this because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to hang onto something,” Hochstein said. “I see where my life is going, and I’m very, very happy about that.”
He lives with his girlfriend, fellow skater Caroline Zhang, and their dog near a rink outside Los Angeles and contentedly jokes about their unglamorous lifestyle: “That’s how you know you’re getting very domestic, when you spend your weekends going to Sam’s Club and being excited about it.”
Zhang, 22, was the 2007 world junior champion but has not made it to senior worlds; she missed this season because of hip surgery. Hochstein talks about getting married and having kids, and when they return from worlds they plan to start budgeting to save up to buy a house. He wants to keep coaching after he retires.
“Skating is just a part of my life now, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’m doing better,” Hochstein said. “You go home, and I have my girlfriend; I have my dog. I have to go take out the garbage.”
He studied history at Wayne State back home in Detroit for four years and is 33 credits short of his diploma. College has been on hold since he moved to California in 2012 to work with coaches Peter Oppegard and Karen Kwan-Oppegard, but even if he never uses the degree, he wants to eventually figure out a way to complete it.
“My advice once he finished up high school,” said his mother, Joyce Eberling, “was knowing that one day he’d be a husband and a father, it was very important to have a degree.”
When this season began, Hochstein knew he had an outside chance at a spot in the Grand Prix series. He found out he got one early one morning while teaching lessons and called home to wake up Zhang and tell her. Hochstein wound up going to two Grand Prix events, twice finishing fourth to build confidence.
At the U.S. Championships in January, he came in a personal-best fourth, well behind third-place Nathan Chen but good enough to earn a spot at Four Continents, a major international competition in February. The men’s field at nationals was thinned by injury, with two of the top three finishers from 2015 out, including defending champ Jason Brown. Brown petitioned for a spot on the worlds team but did not receive one, and Hochstein was selected as the first alternate.
Hours later, Chen aggravated a hip injury during an exhibition, and when he required surgery, Hochstein took his place. It was bittersweet for Hochstein, who trains at the same rink as Chen.
On Wednesday, he’ll skate his short program at Boston’s TD Garden. He doesn’t have the multiple quadruple jumps to match the world’s best skaters, but at the national level, neither do many of the top Americans.
At a practice session Monday, Hochstein landed two quads and didn’t try any more — he’s learned not to push his body too far.
“He’s training more smartly,” his mother said.
That’s especially important with his rigorous teaching schedule. Sometimes he can’t help but be a little jealous of those skaters who simply go to the rink for their workouts then head home. Tuesdays are “heavenly” because he’s there for only six hours.
“When you are financially independent and you know that you need to work in order to pay for your training, you have to be very organized in your daily schedule,” Zhang wrote in an email. “You don’t have the luxury of doing additional sessions and adding in extra lessons if you have an off day because you already have lessons scheduled that you need to teach. You need to prioritize training while still being able to earn enough for your necessary expenses such as food, rent, and life expenses.”
As Hochstein put it: “When you have to work for it and really know what it’s like to earn it, it’s so much sweeter.”