Jenny Yu, age 12, excels at everything she tries

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A portrait of Jenny Yu. The West Linn girl has a mild exterior, but her interior churns with talent, dedication and ambition.

Jenny Yu is quiet, humble, a little shy and absolutely great at everything she does.

When it comes to blowing her own horn, the 12-year-old West Linn girl ranks very low. Tell her she is great and Yu will just giggle with embarrassment. But when it comes to figure skating, ballet, scholarship and music, she ranks very high indeed, even though the people who teach her and coach her tend to underrate Yu at first.

“I didn’t expect Jenny to turn out this way,” admitted Elizabeth Stern of Lake Oswego, who has a sterling reputation as a piano instructor. “At the beginning, three years ago, I didn’t realize her potential.”

Yes, Yu can sneak up on people. In September she did that in the figure skating juvenile division of the 2013 National Solo Dance Championship in Colorado Springs, where she won first place in the Pattern Dance Championship — Bronze and the Combined Event Final — Juvenile Solo Free Dance. In the process, she upset the defending champion.

At the rate she is going, Yu will go from being the unknown outsider to being the target. Undoubtedly, she will be up to the challenge.

“The first year I skated in competition people didn’t know me,” Yu said. “But I was confident I could do well. There were a lot of good skaters at the national championships. I just wanted to give the best performance I could and hope for the best.”

“Jenny was pretty fantastic,” said Kathy Gregg, assistant principal at Athey Creek Middle School, where Jenny is in the seventh grade. “She is very humble and private. Only her friends know about what she did.”

One of the people Yu surprised along the way is her proud father, Honggang Yu. When she first took to the ice at age 6 at the Lloyd Center in Portland, she did it “just for fun.”

“She learned very fast,” Honggang Yu said.

That is an understatement. Jenny Yu turned out to be the Little Engine That Could. Before the national championships last month, she competed in five competitions and won every one of them.

“Jenny practices two hours every day,” Honggang Yu said. “She wakes up early before school and goes to (ice rinks in) Mountain View or Sherwood.”

It was in practice that she formed the habits that put two gold medals around her neck at Colorado Springs.

“Jenny has great potential. She has worked really hard,” said Nathan Fast, who is one of Yu’s skating coaches, along with Patti Gottwein. “Now she’s ready to move up to the novice or junior level. Technically, she’s a great skater, and she’s just a good performer overall. She does extremely well in all events.

“She surprised me in a good way. She worked very, very hard. She spends one hour taking a lesson, then spends an hour and a half on the ice by herself.”

What Jenny has developed as an ice skater also serves her well in her other activities.

“She brought to the piano the self-discipline skills she had in skating,” Stern said. “She is so detailed. I never have to tell her something five or six times. She is very methodical.”

Jenny made Stern proud when she won the top prize at Concerto Competition in Portland last April. She blew the judges away with her rendition of a Mozart concerto.

Still, Jenny was not quite busy enough. So, she joined the Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy of Lake Oswego.

Piano, iceskating, ballet. That is a lot for one young life. But Yu’s top priority is her academics.

“Jenny is a young lady who takes school very seriously,” Gregg said. “With all of her activities she makes sure she does not fall behind. She is a TAG (Talented and Gifted) student so obviously her potential is huge.”

“It’s hard to keep up,” Yu said. “But I try to.”

Yu also makes sure she has time to dream. Olympic dreams, in fact. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her idols, the American ice dancing team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, silver medalists at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the current world champions.

With all of her success, Yu has created a dilemma for herself, although it’s one that many other people would dearly love to have: Will she eventually have to limit herself and decide on just what she wants to do most? Stern has taught many remarkable students and she has given a lot of thought to Yu’s future.

“She will have to choose sometime,” Stern said. “All of the things she does are very expensive and time-consuming. But with bright kids it is hard for them to settle on what to do.”

Yu cannot make the decision now. She’s too busy. Her biggest problem now is finding some relaxation time. But she is hard-pressed to come up with an answer to the question, “What else do you do?”

“Sleeping,” Yu said. “Does that count?”

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