At 14 years old, Alysa Liu is already being called the most exciting woman to watch in U.S. figure skating — and she's not even old enough to compete in senior competitions, like the Olympics.
In January, the bubbly teen from Richmond, California, then just 13 years old, became the youngest woman in history to win the U.S. figure skating championship, breaking a record previously set by Tara Lipinski in 1997.
While she has her eye on the Olympics — eventually, as she won't even be eligible until 2022 — winning nationals is so far the most exciting moment of her career, she told TODAY Style, as part of our Groundbreakers series for International Day of the Girl.
"That was a really special moment for me," she said, although becoming the first American woman to land a quadruple jump, an achievement she marked off in August, was "pretty cool, too."
Liu, the oldest of five siblings, started skating lessons when she was 5 years old. Her father was a fan of Michelle Kwan and took Liu and one of her sisters to the rink one day, just for fun.
"I seemed to enjoy it, so he asked me if I wanted to do group lessons, and I said yes," Liu said. That turned into private lessons and eventually a coach, trainers and junior competitions.
"I knew when I was younger I liked to skate a lot," she said. "I just wanted to be the best skater I could be. I didn't care if I beat anyone else. I just wanted to beat my own personal scores."
Like any young person, Liu has entertained many future career ideas — she's thought about becoming an architect, a firefighter or a veterinarian. She loves animals and has two bunnies and a family dog at home.
"Now I see these jobs where you take care of wild animals and help them recover and bring them back to the wild," she said. "I don't know what kind of job that is, but I want to do that someday."
For now, though, her life revolves around figure skating. She's at the rink twice a day for practice, with a break in between to rest and eat lunch. She's home-schooled, so she does her homework in her free time or on weekends.
Now that Liu has proven she can nail the big jumps — she landed three triple axels to win the championship in January — she's shifting her focus to other skating skills.
"I'm mainly working on my speed on the ice, because I am pretty slow," Liu said, laughing. "And I'm working on how well I do each movement, my flow in between each movement and trying to become more flexible."
Earlier this year, Liu told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb that she has a good-luck ritual she does before every competition.
"I jump up and down eight times into my landing position. It's like a superstition if I don't do it," she said.
But now, she's noticing that the pre-competition butterflies are fading, at least a little bit.
"I do get nervous, but not so much anymore," she said. "Now I think of (competitions) as practice: 'I'm just doing another program in practice; it's no big deal.'
"I kind of go on automatic pilot and rely on muscle memory when it comes to competition," she said.
Liu knows she has a long career ahead of her, if she wants it. When asked where she sees herself in 10 years — when she'll be 24 — she said, "still skating, hopefully ... and maybe living in a house with all my best friends."