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Alumna is one of the top figure skaters in the country

Alumna is one of the top figure skaters in the country

Valentina Plazas Medina and her pairs partner are the U.S. national bronze medalists. The duo recently became the first fully Hispanic team in U.S. pairs history to compete at the World Championships

June 24, 2024 at 1:12pm

Valentina Plazas Medina ‘22 has already achieved what only a select number of skaters around the world can ever claim.

In a whirlwind season, Plazas Medina and her pairs partner, Maximiliano Fernandez, earned the bronze medal at the top skating event in the country — the U.S. National Championships.

The team proceeded to compete at the World Championships, the most prestigious skating competition on the globe outside of the Olympics. The duo made history by becoming the first U.S. pairs team comprised of two Hispanic members to compete at the event.

“The experience at Worlds was incredible,” Plazas Medina says. “You would think that you’d go to these competitions, and you’d feel scared or nervous, but actually, you feel right at home. I used to watch these competitions on TV. I realized, now I’m here. It was incredible to have that moment when I just knew, I belong here [at the World Championship].”

Plazas Medina, who was born in Colombia, adds that she’s proud to represent Hispanics on the figure skating stage.

“It’s been super special,” she says. “Everywhere that we go, we get recognized for our culture and what we represent. Rudy Galindo was a big name in Hispanic figure skating. There hasn’t really been many others after that. I was at a competition in France, and I saw a Colombian flag in the stands. I started crying. I went and got a picture with the fans. They were telling me it was incredible that I went up to them. I was like “No, it’s incredible that you are here for me!’”

The start of a dream

Plazas Medina came to the U.S. with her family when she was six years old. After going to a birthday party at an ice rink when she was 12, she fell in love with figure skating. She enrolled in a beginner class, and even though she started skating at a later age than the average skater (some kids start as early as four or five years old), she quickly advanced as a singles skater.

“I just really loved to practice,” she says. “I skated all through middle and high school. I would literally skate every single morning starting at six. Then I’d go to class and come back to the ice rink afterwards. I would also be there with my mom every weekend. Even when I’m on vacation, I want to skate. People ask me, ‘Why do you love skating?’ I don’t know why I love it so much, I just do. I love skating.”

She started her journey at FIU in 2018 as a criminal justice major in the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. Equally committed to earning her degree as to advancing her skating career, Plazas Medina dove into her studies and added a psychology minor along the way.

“I’ve always loved criminal justice,” Plazas Medina says. “I used to watch 'CSI Miami' with my grandpa religiously. We watched every season, every episode. I really want to do something with my degree. It’s one of my passions.”


She balanced studying full-time with her blossoming skating achievements. It wasn’t always easy, but Plazas Medina enjoyed the ride.

“When I was doing my capstone in 2022, all of my big assignments were due during big competitions,” she recalls. “So, there I was in Finland doing my school assignment. I actually loved being able to finish my homework and then going to skate at a competition. It took the stress away from skating and gave me something else to focus on.”

For two years, she represented FIU as a skater in the U.S. Collegiate Championships, where she earned the gold medal at the novice level and the silver medal at the junior level.

“This has been a journey. My parents made so many sacrifices for me. Figure skating is an expensive sport, and they never told me to stop. They always managed. I want to keep making my parents proud.”

— Valentina Plazas Medina

A golden partnership

In 2019, Plazas Medina made a bold change in her skating career.

She met a pairs skater at the Pembroke Pines rink where she trained. He suggested she skate with him. Initially, Plazas Medina was surprised. She had never skated in the pairs discipline. That would involve her learning new elements that singles skaters never do — things like lifts and throws. It would be too different. She said no.

But Fernandez did not give up. Fernandez, who had earned the 2016 junior national championship title with his previous partner, had already retired from figure skating. But at the urging of a local skating program director, he realized that Plazas Medina would be the perfect partner for him — they were both of similar height and had strong skills.

He was teaching skating lessons at the same rink where Plazas Medina practiced. So every morning, he would pitch their partnership to her. After six months, Plazas Medina decided to think about it. Two try-outs later, and the deal was sealed. Plazas Medina realized that pairs skating was her future path, and she knew Fernandez was the right partner.

“From the beginning, I realized I wouldn’t be able trust anybody else to be my partner,” Plazas Medina says. “It’s special too because Max’s mom is from Peru and his dad is Cuban. His parents can speak in Spanish to my parents. We can all communicate. That was a big win. It felt right. Max has been great. I trust him with everything [in all the lifts, throws, etc.]. His experience has really helped me.”

As for Fernandez, he says that Plazas Medina keeps him motivated.

“Skating a program is like running three miles. It’s cardio,” Fernandez says. “And Valentina gives me that confidence to get through the program. I’m grateful for every moment she’s given me, grateful for everything we learn together. I’m looking forward to getting every chance we get to go out there and skate.”

Rising to greatness

In the midst of the pandemic, Plazas Medina and Fernandez moved to Michigan to train with coaches Jim Peterson and Amanda Evora, who herself competed in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games representing the U.S. as a pairs skater.

Plazas Medina and Fernandez got to work. They have achieved notable success in a short amount of time. Their first year skating at the senior level (the highest level), they were also selected to be part of Team USA, a distinction which means the pair is assigned to various international competitions throughout the season in which to represent the U.S. The duo’s strong showing at the U.S. National Championships and World Championships this year places them among the globe’s elite skaters.


With the Milan Winter Olympics only two years away, Plazas Medina and Fernandez have their sights set on the greatest competition in the world.

“You don’t think you’re ever going talk about the Olympics until the possibility is staring you in the eyes,” Plazas Medina says. “My coaches told me, ‘The only major competition you’re missing is the Olympics.’ It’s so surreal to me. It’s incredible. We’re planning to set ourselves apart this next season.”

The team recently announced that they will be performing music from “The Greatest Showman” and “Dune” for their short and free skate programs for the 2024-2025 season.

As for the Olympics? Plazas Medina already downloaded an app and is planning to learn Italian.

“My goal when I started pairs skating was that I wanted to earn a Team USA jacket. And then, when I got that jacket, I wanted more. I wanted the Worlds team jacket. Now that I have that one, I want the Olympics jacket.”

— Valentina Plazas Medina