A Different Kind of Gold: Stern Sports Stars

Masha Leonov, Class of 2015

Written by Maria Xing

Quincy Korte-King, Class of 2017

Major: Finance and Marketing

Minor: TBD

Hometown: Ottawa, Canada

Sport/events: Freestyle snowboarding (half pipe and slope style)

How did you get started in the sport? At what age did you start? 

My family is very into winter sports… My mom was on the Canadian National Alpine Ski Team when she was a teenager so you could say it’s in my blood. I started skiing when I was two and when I was five, I asked for a snowboard for Christmas. The rest is history.

What specific competitions have you participated in, and can you describe those experiences? 

I’ve competed in the Canada Winter Games, various World Cups, the Youth Olympics, and different Grand Prix events. 

Who is your biggest inspiration? 

There are so many people that I look up to and feel inspired by, from my parents and friends, to pro athletes and successful business people. I think the constant between all of them is a sense of hard work and ambition. That’s why I love New York so much. So many New Yorkers have these crazy dreams and work hard every day to attain them. That makes it hard not to feel inspired just walking out my door and it’s great.

Why did you decide to come to Stern and not pursue your sport professionally? 

When it came time to start thinking about college apps in high school, I also started thinking more about the bigger picture. For example, what I wanted to be when I grow up and what kind of things I wanted to be doing. From there, I think I slowly realized that although I love snowboarding and committed a lot of my life to it, being a professional athlete wasn’t actually something I wanted to do every day as a job. When I realized this, I left my specialized winter sports high school, moved back home for senior year and found that being in a more academic setting where I could pursue my interests of business and fashion was really something that I loved and wanted to pursue.  

How has your background in sports helped you at Stern so far?

Snowboarding professionally has taught me so much and I’m eternally grateful for it. Missing a huge portion of the school year to train and compete, while maintaining good grades taught me great time management skills and really developed me into a self-starter. Competing at a high level taught me how to thrive under pressure and I think it made me into the driven person I am today. Finally, travelling around the world at a young age made me pretty independent and resourceful. 

What are you involved in at Stern?

I’m in the co-chair of social media for USWIB.

Do you still snowboard in your free time? 

Yes, but not very often. I think I only went three times last year, but I love to keep up with all my friends’ results and watch the competition webcasts. Last year was extra special because a lot of my friends were competing in the Sochi Olympics.

Michael Landers, Class of 2016

Major: Finance

Minor: Psychology

Hometown: Old Westbury, NY

Sport/events: Table Tennis

How did you get started in the sport? At what age did you start?

Funny story! Starting at age 2, I played recreationally every night with my father (I stood on top of a couch in order to see over the table). The summer before I turned 10, I was playing hide-and-go-seek with a few friends and thought it would be a great idea to hide inside a garbage can (totally disgusting, but I thought it was a great idea at the time). However, I failed to see the two wheels underneath the front of it. The entire thing slipped out from under me, and I ended up breaking and dislocating my left elbow in two places. That summer I heard about a table tennis club in Flushing and went to check it out (I obviously couldn’t play any contact sports after the surgery and coincidentally I’m right-handed). I took a lesson from the head coach there and instantly fell in love. Having only experienced recreational ping-pong, it felt like my eyes were opened up to a new world.

What specific competitions have you participated in, and can you describe those experiences? 

I’ve competed all over the world in a countless number of tournaments, but two of the most memorable ones were the last World Championships that I played in and the final stage of the Olympic Trials. It’s difficult to describe exactly how everything felt, but having the opportunity to represent your country on an international stage is always an absolute honor. During the final stage of the Olympic Trials, the pressure that I felt was indescribable. As a 17 year-old competing with so much on the line, it felt like the world was on my shoulders and whatever happened would either make me or break me as a person. Consequently, the tournament ended up being one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.  

What is your greatest source of motivation?

My biggest motivation in life has always come from the people who have doubted me. In the United States, table tennis is mostly played recreationally. Thus, there is almost zero awareness of the sport’s intense physical requirements when played at a high level. During my early teen years, I dealt with a lot of negativity from others around me, telling me that I was wasting my time with a silly game that wouldn’t get me anywhere in life. This of course only caused me to train harder and strive to reach my goals more than ever.

Why did you decide to come to Stern and not pursue your sport professionally?

To give myself the best chance to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, I made the decision to enroll in an online school for my last two years of high school to live abroad and train full time. After being within one match of qualifying for London and living alone for almost two straight years, I decided that I’d had enough and wanted to go to college. With a strong interest in business and the desire to be close to home once again, Stern was the obvious choice.

How has your background in sports helped you at Stern so far?

I think the two largest things that my experience has helped me with thus far at Stern is being able to thrive in a competitive environment and having the ability to deal with and perform under pressure. Compared to the amount of pressure I was under during some of my largest competitions, most school-related activities seem relatively stress-free.  

What are you involved in at Stern/NYU? 

I’m currently only playing on NYU’s table tennis team, but I plan on joining a few different clubs at Stern next semester now that I officially declared my finance major.

Do you still play in your free time? 

I do still play whenever I get the chance, but obviously nowhere near as much as before. In my spare time, I mostly just teach and direct corporate events at SPiN New York, Susan Sarandon’s famous ping-pong bar on 23rd Street and Park Avenue. If you haven’t been there already, you should definitely check it out some time!

Masha Leonov, Class of 2015

Major: Finance, Global Business

Minor: Dance

Hometown: Tampa, FL; double citizen for Russia though (technically triple citizen but that’s a long story)

Sport/events: Figure skater

How did you get started in the sport?

My father wanted me to do something supremely athletic to fulfill his first-hope of me being a boy; and my mother would only allow for elegance (and we all know mother is always right). Figure skating was a perfect compromise.

At what age did you start?

Five – though I didn’t get serious about it until I realized my sister was better than me, which was around the time I aas seven.

What specific competitions have you participated in, and can you describe those experiences?

I’ve participated in competitions all over the US, as well as all over the world – though if we’re talking qualifying competitions, Team USA and US Nationals are both on my resume.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

If we’re talking figure skating hero, I always aspired to be like Evgeny Plushenko (or as I call him “Zhenya”) – 3 time Russian Olympian (gold and silver medalist). His coach pushed me to the brink, always expecting better out of me at training camps in Spain and Florida – while Zhenya would be the light in the background with his smile and perfect execution of every element.

Why did you decide to come to Stern and not pursue your sport professionally?

Ending my skating career was likely the hardest thing I ever had to do – and it wasn’t school or an injury that prompted the end. After having switched coaches to a famous Russian couple with quite a resume, I performed well at predictor competitions and was eventually recruited to compete for Azerbaijan – a previous Soviet republic that was looking to build its team before the Russian Olympics. The story made sense as I speak fluent Russian and understand some of the cultural differences between countries. While having to step down from Team USA in the process, this difficult decision meant a guaranteed spot at the Winter Olympics, as well as any other international competition of my choosing. That decision would later end my career entirely. The International Skating Union questioned my third citizenship, especially as it was from a country that technically only allowed one. Furthermore, the man “in charge” of my case, who I saw carrying the Azerbaijani flag at the Sochi Opening Ceremony, let me down on the paperwork end when it came to defending my position on the team. The ban on my Azerbaijan representation meant no team to represent, as switching from one country to compete for another is governed by a two-year-minimum rule. I went from dreaming about a spot on an Olympic team, to actually having one, to being banned from any figure skating competition in the world.

And that’s only half the story. If you want to hear the other half, come find me.

How has your background in sports helped you at Stern so far?

The truth is, I came to Stern with not only very little understanding of what I wanted to do, but also a nearly complete lack of purpose. The definition of “life” to me had been “figure skating” for so long, that doing anything else was confusing and meaningless – at least, that’s how it was for over a year after my career ended. Coming to NYU, with its million micro-communities and endless possibilities to entirely redefine life, was a chance I never thought I’d get. Being here has opened up my eyes to simple things like loyalty (beyond the trust I had put in my coaches), friendship, and pride in something other than my own work. I come home exhausted, yes, but not from attempting and failing to execute one element over and over, but rather from putting my heart and soul into my residents, my sorority sisters, and of course, my fellow Stern community.

As for the many ways being a figure skater has helped me succeed here (maybe? we still have some time until graduation…), the three most important things that I thank my forever-injured body for are my competitive spirit, my extraordinary passion, and my drive to never give up.

What are you involved in at Stern?

Stuco EBoard!

Do you still ice skate in your free time?

The feeling of power and control that I used to feel the moment my blade cut through the ice will never be there again. It’s a stab in the heart every time I see ice, and it’s a feeling I can’t begin to describe. However, I’ve recently been convinced of the fact that figure skating cannot go from being 150% of my life to 0%. I will never be the figure skater I was before, but I will forever be a figure skater. This past winter, a friend started forced me to teach him how to skate, and while I simultaneously hate him and love him for it, I can never thank him enough for getting my molded boots back onto the feet they once destroyed. This winter, you’ll find me at Bryant Park on Saturdays, doing my best to force a smile on – come join me: I’ll give you a few expert tips!

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