CHICAGO >> Illinois native Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and husband and pairs partner Chris Knierim helped the U.S. win bronze medals in team figure skating at the Winter Olympics on Sunday. But before they trekked to Pyeongchang, South Korea, they revealed what life has been like for them behind the scenes.
1. The Knierims turned their hobbies into side jobs.
Chris and Alexa estimated skating-related expenses for an elite pairs team range from $30,000 to $50,000 per year — “on the low end,” Chris said.
The couple gets some money from sponsors such as Wintrust Bank and U.S. Figure Skating, as well as occasional prize money, but they have to supplement it. “So I work on cars to help pay for some skating,” Chris said. “Alexa’s done some jobs for some of the girls at the rinks ‘stoning’ their outfits and things like that.”
“Like, rhinestones, adding the rhinestones,” Alexa added.
Chris said they save money by living inexpensively. “Our focus is on skating. We don’t have a big fancy house or big fancy things. We don’t make a ton of money being an athlete until we start getting sponsored, and in order to do that, we have to win big events and go to the Olympics and win medals.”
2. Alexa’s parents and siblings “sacrificed” for her dream.
Neither Alexa nor her parents, Tom and Tina Scimeca, knew the financial burden they were signing up for.
“My parents took out a second mortgage on their home so that they could pay for skating. I was at a point where my parents were going to have to pull me out of skating because they couldn’t afford it,” said Alexa, adding that a scholarship kept her dream going.
“It took a huge toll on my family, took away a lot of opportunities for my brother (Derek) and sister (Olivia). They supported me, all of them. … I made it a mission not to only make my own dream come true but to make the sacrifices that my family made be worth it.”
3. Leslie Jones loves them.
If you’re an Olympian, you probably want to fly under the radar of this “Saturday Night Live” comedian, who has been roasting some of the competitors while the show is on break, but Jones seems to be infatuated with the Knierims.
“She got an incredible story, man. That’s so crazy some of the stories they have coming into here,” Jones says in one Twitter video. “I’m really glad that she survived her (abdominal) stuff and now they’re about to tear it up.” (Alexa had three surgeries in 2016 to address a rare and potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness.)
In other videos, Jones admires Chris’ outfits and screams when he was about to catch Alexa during a triple twist, but only Jones could drop an F-bomb and in the next breath coo, “So beautiful.”
4. If they ever make “The Walking Bachelor,” the couple might agree on a TV show.
When they’re not playing with their “four furry children” (“two large dogs and two cats”), they binge watch Netflix shows together but sometimes have to watch separate TVs. “Usually when I tune into ‘The Bachelor,’ that’s when Chris leaves to go into the garage,” Alexa said. “Chris is a big ‘Walking Dead’ fan, ‘Game of Thrones,’ which I’m not really into.”
5. Next to a medal, Alexa has her eye on some other hardware.
“Oh my God, OK, I want to be on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ I want to win the trophy at the end. I wouldn’t mind having Chris on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ but I have a feeling he would beat me because he’s a really good dancer on the ground. … If a professional dancer was with him, they would probably kick my butt. But I would love to be on that show because the costumes are crazy.”
Chris’ skills seemed like news to him: “I mean, I don’t see myself as a good dancer, but apparently my wife does,” he said. “So that’s a good thing.”