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Denney and Frazier overcome adversity

November 21, 2017
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Determination. Perseverance. Dedication.

These are some of the core values of the Olympic movement. Great athletes use these qualities to make their mark on their respective sports forever.

Elite pairs skaters Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier certainly displayed these traits when they recovered from Denney's unfortunate knee injury and subsequent surgery in 2015 to claim the 2017 national title.

Article Photos

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier perform at the 2017 U.S. International Classic figure skating event in Salt Lake City.
Provided photo — Melissa Majchrzak

"Nationals was a highlight in our career," Denney said. "Even though it wasn't our best performance we felt proud of what we accomplished after a year off due to injury."

"I think Haven and I can both agree that [last] season was probably the toughest season of our lives," Frazier told Claire Cloutier, of Figure Skaters Online. "It was not easy. A lot of people came up to us and congratulated us on the good moments. But, it was a struggle and a fight all the way to the end of Worlds for us. I am very proud of Haven. She went through a career-ending injury that she turned into a comeback. And it was amazing to watch. But we both struggled, and it was very challenging."

The injury came in April 2015 after the team's first Senior World Championships in China. Warming up off ice, Denney landed a throw jump and heard two loud pops. Her right landing knee was ruined. Two days later, she was in Vail, Colorado, where Doctor Robert LaPrade completely reconstructed the knee.

Two weeks later, she flew back to her then training base in Florida to start physical therapy, and begin the slow and painful process back toward health.

"Physical therapy was so painful and I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to go back to competitive skating ever again, so the mental part of it was very challenging," Denney said. "However, with the help and support of family and friends and other skating teammates, I continued with each little challenge that became a triumph."

In addition to the support of others, Denney considered mindset and faith two of the most important factors in recovery.

"I went into a mental state that I took upon the challenge as I did always with my skating, (focusing on) work ethic and just working as hard as I could on getting better," Denney said. "Just like with skating, there are great days and there were days that weren't so good.

"I was frustrated and had setbacks, but you keep moving forward and keep getting up and taking on the challenge. Of course, God and prayer helped me during this time."

Denney then went to the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center to continue her recovery, this time learning to skate again.

"Just when I was getting the walking thing down, I had to learn to skate again, and I had to learn to do that with a big bulky brace which was just like another body part in the way," Denney said. "So the learning curve started all over again. (Imagine) learning how to skate again in one of the most prestigious skating facilities around (the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs) with all your top competitors and amazing skaters, and there I am, learning how to do crossovers and single jumps again."

Twelve months after the injury, Denney was cleared to start jumping again without a harness, and only had a few months to train for summer competitions to have a chance at Grand Prix assignments. Obviously, Denney considered this one of the most challenging aspects of her career.

"This was very challenging both physically and mentally," she said. "Instead of just getting back on my own and learning all my elements again with no one watching me or judging me, I had the pressure of having to do it in front of everyone on the big stage and being judged in competition!"

Denney and Frazier performed admirably, and were honored to even skate at Nationals.

"I seriously wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the national championships, it was one of the most difficult things I've ever been through, yet it has made me stronger at the same time," Denney said. "I pushed myself through hard work and love of family and friends, with my partner beside me to have the opportunity to just skate at the nationals".

Against many odds, Denney and Frazier became national champions, and are now working toward the Olympic Games.

The team certainly has longevity together, having partnered together as roller skaters in 2002, then started competing in figure skating together in 2005. In a sport where partner changes seem to occur frequently, this dedication can only help the pair. In Denney's case, elite pairs skating seems to be a family affair. Denney's sister, Caydee, is also an elite pairs skater, claiming the 2012 and 2010 national pairs titles with partners John Coughlin and Jeremy Barrett, respectively.

Denney and Coughlin also competed in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The similarities do not end there; in addition, Caydee and Haven have both, unfortunately, sustained career altering injuries. However, they went on to successful skating careers, Caydee to a busy and varied show skating career and Haven to continued competitions. Now, Haven hopes to follow in Caydee's footsteps and qualify for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea this February. To accomplish this, they plan to focus on their progress this season.

"Our goal for this season is to constantly grow and improve for each competition," Denney said. "Our goal for Skate America is to put out two personal best performances."

At the Skate America Grand Prix event, which is the last before the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, they will compete alongside fellow US pairs skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim and Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, as well as other international pairs.

Denney and Frazier train with two-time US National champion Rockne Brubaker and his wife, three-time Italian national pairs champion Stefania Berton in Chicago, Illinois. For this season, they departed from their usual classical or movie score musical choices to skate to pop and rock. Their short program is "All of Me" by John Legend, while the long program is Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever."

"We're really putting a lot of time into the short program this year," Frazier told Figure Skaters Online. "Our free skates have always been our strength. So we're trying to make the short [program] a huge strength for us."

In terms of strengths, the team identified their lifts as their strength and have been working on their skating skills and technical execution of jump elements.

Now, after going through several difficult seasons, Denney and Frazier feel ready to continue the Olympic season after competing in Skate Canada and the US International Classic in the past few months. Denney feels that she is finally making her final steps in recovering, just in time.

"Now, moving forward to the present not quite two-and-a-half years later, I am just now getting close to 100 percent," Denney said. "That extra 10 percent may take weeks (or) months, but I am grateful for having the opportunity and patient enough now to know that in time, with hard work, you can do anything you want when you put your mind to it, have patience, have a great support team of family and friends, and of course God and prayer."

Like sister Caydee, who regularly performs in the Saturday Night Ice Shows during the summer, Denney and Frazier have been in Lake Placid before, and look forward to returning for Skate America.

"We have been to Lake Placid for a Junior Grand Prix event in 2012 (finishing in fourth place)," Denney said. "It was a beautiful city and we are looking forward to going back."

You can watch Denney and Frazier perform in the pairs events on Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25 at the Lake Placid Olympic Center during Skate America. For more information on the event, including how to purchase tickets, visit their website at



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