Growing up just ten minutes from each other in their home state of Michigan, ice dancing duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White – partners since 1997 — are currently the longest-active American ice dance team. Meryl and Charlie are the first American ice dancers to win the World Title and currently hold world records for the free dance and short dance. In addition to taking home a gold and bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, their performance scored the highest point total ever recorded in the history of ice dancing. A student at the University of Michigan, Meryl won the eighteenth season of Dancing with the Stars and was bestowed the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year Award (Team category) in 2014.
We recently caught up with Meryl to talk about her impact on social media, what the work of the Foundation means to her and what she has been up to since winning Sportswoman of the Year last fall.
Women’s Sports Foundation: You have earned many firsts during your career, including becoming the first American ice dancer to win the World title and earn an Olympic gold medal. You partnered with Charlie in 1997, when did you realize you wanted to focus on and compete in ice dancing?
Meryl Davis: Well, Charlie and I started ice dancing together when I was nine and he was eight and we just we loved it. We were enjoying it but I think it took until probably 2005 for us to realize that we really wanted to commit ourselves to it. We were very competitive and we were very driven to improve but you know in 2005 Charlie broke his ankle and so it prevented us from skating for over six months. I think taking that time and not actually being able to do what we love to do helped us appreciate [skating] even more. I think it really forced both of us to take a step back and think ‘okay,’ what role does this play in our lives’ and I think from that point forward we really acknowledged the commitment that we wanted to make to skating.
WSF: When you accepted your Sportswoman of the Year Award last year, you shared in your speech how proud you were to be a “small part of the movement encouraging young girls and women to open their doors to possibility.” Since winning, how have you continued to inspire younger generations?
MD: I think first and foremost it’s being true to myself. It’s been an interesting year following the Olympics…or year and a half. A lot of athletes, people that I’ve been friends with, had said that the year following an Olympic experience is really challenging and I found that to be very true. So, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, a lot of trying to figure out what my other passions might be off the ice. Allowing yourself to find what you’re passionate about is one thing that I try to live by myself and encouraging others is important as well. And, that being said allowing yourself to find your own voice and having that voice is so important. We all have so many things to say and it’s even more beautiful because we have our own way of expressing ourselves. So, to allow yourself to open up and share with other people can be really powerful.
WSF: You have a huge social media following – more than 170,000 followers on Twitter and more than 330,000 followers on Instagram. How important is it to you to connect with your fans? What is your favorite platform to use?
MD: It’s really important for me to connect with my supporters because I think the people who have stuck with me really allow me to be myself. I’ve appreciated their support whether it’s the people who reached out to Charlie and me when we were just coming up the ranks or the people that I connected with during Dancing with the Stars. I’ve been able to connect with people and sort of share who I am and share my story in so many different ways…I definitely am appreciative for all of that support. In terms of a platform I think Instagram is my favorite. I’m a little bit of an Instagram addict just because, it’s a little bit bold to say it but, I guess as figure skaters we think of ourselves often times as artists on top of sportsmen. Instagram allows me to capture my own moments that are meaningful and share them with other people, whether it is with fans that have never met before or with my grandma who comments saying ‘where were you yesterday…I saw your picture on Instagram.’ It’s just cool to be able to share moments of your life with people like that.
WSF: It’s safe to say that you are very successful at using social media and do so in an engaging way that continues to grow your following. Do you have suggestions for how other athletes can build their brand using social media the way that you have?
MD: Social media has to be a combination of things. You should allow it to really be indicative of everything that you are; I think that often times we can use social media for specific things, whether it’s sporting events or working with sponsors, and all of those are incredible but we’re so much more than that. I sometimes even struggle with the balance of making sure that my social media is reflective of who I am and everything that I am instead of one specific thing.
WSF: The Women’s Sports Foundation is dedicated to creating access to sports so that all girls receive the significant health, educational and leadership benefits that sports provide. We look to our champions like you to be the model for where sports can take you. How do you use your sports experience to be a leader?
MD: Well I’ve been spending the last eight or nine months working on my own foundation. I’ve been spending a lot of time going to social innovation type summits and talking with people who are involved in the world of philanthropy. I just think that people who’ve had the opportunity to find their voice and people who’ve been blessed with the opportunity to grow from those experiences owe it to help others who don’t have those opportunities. The beauty of sport is that it allows us to find our strength. It allows us to find our voice and our confidence, whether it’s on the field of play or off. So, I’m really passionate about what sport has been able to do for me personally and how it enhances my life in so many ways. I’m spending a lot of time trying to figure out how I can have the greatest impact. So, to be a part of the Women’s Sports Foundation family and share my insights with people is so important. I’m a firm believer in the work that you do.
Photo Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images©