A champion figure skater’s new pursuit: fighting racism

Michelle K. Hanabusa
Courtesy Michelle K. Hanabusa
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Michelle K. Hanabusa spent 14 years as a competitive figure skater through high school, training with Olympian Mirai Nagasu and twice meeting her childhood sports hero, Michelle Kwan.

“That was such a different chapter of my life,” Hanabusa, a 29-year-old from Southern California, says now.

She co-founded Hate Is A Virus last spring. What started as a grass-roots social media movement to combat xenophobia and racism against Asian Americans, fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, became a nonprofit that has raised more than $400,000. The goal is $1 million.

The money is earmarked for organizations fighting for racial justice and programs that directly support the AAPI community.

Hanabusa, who previously started her own commerce brand, cited a statistic — 94% of women executives have a background in sport, according to an Ernst & Young and espnW study.

“Perseverance, self-determination and consistency that I learned through my competitive figure skating career has 100% translated to my work ethic today,” said Hanabusa, whose mother immigrated to the U.S. from Japan and father is a third-generation Japanese American.

Growing up in Southern California, Hanabusa woke at 4 a.m., six days a week, so her parents could drive her to skating practice from age 6.

Her Olympic dreams faded at 16 due to right hip pain. After seeing specialists, she tried to stand one morning and could not put weight on that leg. Surgery led to a month in bed, strapped to a machine that rotated her leg every 30 minutes.

“It was a pretty brutal experience, but that ultimately led to the conversation of where I want to take my skating career,” she said.

Hanabusa returned to the rink and focused exclusively on showcase skating, which is judged on artistry and entertainment. Unlike Olympic-style skating, jumps are not required. She won her fourth national title in the discipline in 2009, performing to Liza Minnelli‘s “Mein Herr” from the musical Cabaret.

Michelle K. Hanabusa
Michelle K. Hanabusa after a skating competition in 1999.

Hanabusa went to college and pursued arts, communications and business. She also joined the USC Figure Skating Club, where Tiffany Chin, who in 1985 became the first Asian American to win a national title in singles, served as a coach.

It evolved into the USC Ice Girls, which performed in shows during hockey game intermissions.

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Hanabusa worked in corporate digital design after graduating in 2013. She later founded UPRISERS, a community-driven clothing brand described as combining “the boldness of MTV in its heyday with the political savviness of an alternative newspaper.” It was officially incorporated as WEAREUPRISERS in 2019.

On March 12, 2020, Hanabusa posted an Instagram note, writing that UPRISERS would do its part to combat a surge in racism amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“As fear and misinformation about COVID-19 has been spreading, that fear has led to hate and racial profiling towards not only Chinese people but Asian Americans as a whole,” she wrote. “This is being felt directly by many small businesses and restaurants in Asian-dominated communities.”

She signed off with the hashtag #HATEISAVIRUS, coined by UPRISERS teammate Kari Okubo.

Hanabusa turned the words into action, starting with a food crawl to support Asian-owned small business restaurants. When Los Angeles went into lockdown, her group found other ways to lend support.

Hanabusa connected with Tammy Cho, founder and CEO of BetterBrave, a nonprofit dedicated to tackling sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. And Bryan Pham, CEO of the Asian Hustle Network, which brings together the Asian professional community and has more than 70,000 members on Facebook.

They turned Hate Is A Virus into a digital platform to raise awareness within and outside the Asian American community.

“Not only have we experienced racism growing up and in recent times, but we were seeing story after story about the hate crimes against our Asian American community fueled by the fears and misinformation around Coronavirus,” Cho wrote. “We were seeing 6, 7, 8-year-olds getting bullied by their peers and the elderly getting brutally attacked in broad daylight.”

They fundraised for those affected by the pandemic, beginning with an event that brought in $15,000 to spread among area small businesses and restaurants.

That included Sushi Kiyosuzu, the Arcadia restaurant owned by Nagasu’s parents. During lockdown last spring, they had to let go all but one employee, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Michelle K. Hanabusa, Michelle Kwan
Hanabusa with Michelle Kwan.

“There’s a great community of people, especially in Los Angeles, the Japanese American community is so well connected,” Nagasu said. “I respect so much that Michelle is able to stand up for the things that she believes in, and standing up for a community where we don’t always voice our opinions.”

When Hanabusa and Nagasu were pre-teens, their parents sat on the bleachers together and chatted while their daughters trained on the ice.

The skaters reconnected after Nagasu’s last competition, the 2018 World Championships. Nagasu underwent the same hip labrum surgery that Hanabusa had a decade earlier and now lives in Boston.

Sushi Kiyosuzu, also aided by the restaurant relief initiative Power of 10, remains open for takeout. Just last week, Kwan messaged Nagasu to say she ordered sushi from the restaurant after an acupuncture session.

“You don’t understand how cool that is,” gushed Nagasu, who, until she was 14, slept in the storage closet of the restaurant when her parents worked at night. “That is a reflection of how strong our community is. The message to support small businesses has been really strong. To see that my own role model, Michelle Kwan, is doing that means a lot to me.”

In February, Hate Is A Virus launched a GoFundMe seeking $1 million this year to support organizations and programs related to mental health, elderly care, AAPI representation, solidarity building and more. They’re nearly halfway to the goal.

“I didn’t know about [Hanabusa’s] background in figure skating until half a year ago,” Cho said. “In many ways it almost clicked into place. It explained so much in terms of her resilience when it comes to navigating these issues. It does take a huge mental and emotional toll to be constantly exposed to this information and also try and unpack and unprocess these situations and then also try to be there for the community.”

There are also contrasts between the solo sport of skating and community activism.

“A lot of times I felt kind of alone on this [figure skating] journey,” said Hanabusa, who counted more than 15 people playing meaningful roles with Hate Is A Virus over the last year. “Culturally, my family dynamic was not necessarily about speaking up for yourself. It was kind of assumed that by continuing to put your head down, do good work and not cause any commotion that things will just work out. So, when I started my journey of entrepreneurship in 2016, I was intentional about doing the complete opposite. UPRISERS came to life as a means to not be silent anymore and stand up, unapologetically, for what we believed in. That was the same feeling I had when Hate Is A Virus began. I just can’t be silent right now. This is really hitting home, and I have to do something about this.”

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Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw