Discipline & Ambition: a figure skating physician
Many doctors have a laser-like focus in their professional life and seek less intense activities outside working hours. But some crave challenges beyond medicine. One such example is Valtter Virtanen, a Finnish doctor - and a top level figure skater.
We reach Virtanen over the phone at his home in Oberstdorf, Germany, and ask if he has a moment to talk. “Yeah, now’s a great time”, he tells us. “Just sitting out on my terrace.”
31-year-old Virtanen is preparing for the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships that are approaching on March 18. He is a five-time Finnish champion and has competed seven times in the European Championships. Serres is sponsoring and supporting Virtanen, for whom this year’s Championships in Saitama, Japan will be his third time on the world stage.
The Olympic Dream
Virtanen started figure skating at the age of five. The sport has been a major part of his life for more than 25 years now. What has kept him going at the top level for so long? Virtanen tells that around the ages of 17 and 18 he was showing a great deal of promise.
“After that, I started my medical studies and my progress kind of stalled. That was the hardest phase in my career. But with time, I got over it. I moved to Germany with my then coach, and got into a completely new kind of groove: I put more time into skating and my results improved. I think the best season of my whole career was last year - and it’s very rare for a figure skater to have that at 30”, he describes.
“I got into a positive cycle: I had a bit more time for training, which paid off and through that my skating improved. I enjoy skating a lot right now and feel my performance is relaxed and mature in a way that lets me connect with audiences on a new level. The last few years have given me so much and I’m so grateful for that. That’s a major thing that inspires me.”
Although he’s a seasoned veteran of the international championships, there’s one goal still driving him, one that many athletes will undoubtedly relate to.
“I haven’t yet skated in the Olympics, and the thought of that still motivates me.”
Off the Ice
Chasing the Olympic Dream would be challenge enough for most of us. But while he’s at it, Virtanen has also graduated from medical school and now works as a doctor. That must be quite a challenge to handle? Actually, not as much anymore, he says.
“I work at the Central Hospital of Central Finland in Jyväskylä for 7 to 10 days a month”, Virtanen explains. “I can schedule my working days a couple of months ahead and rest of the time focus on training. It’s actually easier and more flexible now; when I was in medical school, arranging my calendar and focusing on training could be really difficult at times. Now I just plan everything so that when I’m at work, I have a lighter period of training.”
Being both a practicing physician and a figure skater at the same time sounds like quite an intense and demanding endeavour. Are there any similarities the two share? What qualities come into play both on the ice and when putting on the white coat?
“I think a certain kind of discipline and ambition are requirements for both skating and medicine”, Virtanen says. “They are both things where you don’t want to make any mistakes and that demand your full concentration. But of course whenever I need to choose between placing my full focus on work or training, work has to come first. With patients, it’s a matter of their health and sometimes their life, so when you have limited time and energy, you have to put it all into medicine and keep a sharp mind at work.”
Focus where it matters, exactly the way we at Serres like it.
The sponsorship co-operation with Serres and Virtanen started out in a quick and straightforward way. Virtanen got in touch with Serres CEO Juha Silvennoinen, who was quickly interested in meeting the figure skating doctor. The two compared calendars; one available time was when Virtanen was returning to Germany from a work stint in Finland.
“We then just scheduled a meeting with Juha outside the office - at the airport! We got on well and quickly agreed that a sponsorship deal would be a great fit. So it was quite a dynamic start!”
Right now, Virtanen concentrates on final training and is looking forward to the Championships in Japan. In February, he presented his PhD dissertation on pediatric surgery and is now waiting for the papers to come through.
“I feel really good at the moment. The PhD was a big professional push and it’s relaxing to know it is wrapped up. It’s a great time to focus on skating and on Japan.”
At the World Championships, Virtanen aims for a spot in the final among the Top 24 skaters. We’re cheering for you, Valtter!