Skating Into Law School
Aspen Ono, a competitive figure skater for most of her life, suffered a serious concussion on the ice at age 16. Undaunted by her injury, she was back on the ice after a couple weeks, with “doctor’s orders not to do it again.”
She is carrying that resilient spirit to the University of Virginia School of Law as an aspiring environmental lawyer and first-year law student.
“If you’re not learning to fail, you’re failing to learn,” said Ono, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey. “And so getting up and learning from your mistakes and keeping going is what makes skating, and I think maybe any difficult pursuit, worth pursuing.”
Ono first laced up her skates at age 3, when she was dazzled by the sparkling outfits and the skaters jumping and spinning. The sport became a lifelong passion, and Ono started taking private lessons multiple days a week as a youth in Madison, Wisconsin. She placed in the top 10 at U.S. Figure Skating Showcase Nationals in 2012 and 2013, and won second place in the U.S. Figure Skating Upper Great Lakes Regionals in 2008. She skated competitively until she started college at Emory University, and continued to coach until COVID-19 struck.
“When you’re performing, and you’re the only one on the ice, and it’s dark, and you can’t see an audience but you can feel them, it’s a spiritual experience,” Ono said.
After moving to an Atlanta suburb in high school, Ono volunteered as an instructor with local groups as well as for Special Olympics events in Georgia.
She said nurturing children — watching them go out on the ice for the first time and, later, perfecting their routines — is the proudest and most fruitful achievement in her skating career.
“Figure skating is the first love of my life,” she said. “If I had thought it would have been a lucrative and life-giving career for the long haul, I would have stayed with it forever. But being able to share this sport with people and see the joy and enthusiasm it can provide, even to adults, is great.”
Ono earned bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and international relations from Emory, and a master’s degree in resource, environment and sustainability from the University of British Columbia.
The incoming Community Fellow aims to build on her education, which included analyzing environmental disparities across different classes and demographics.
“To me, the use of spirited, stimulating, and challenging discussion and debate is a fundamental tool in producing a stronger, more considerate community that can help improve the world in a more holistic manner,” Ono said. “Using our discussions and class time to push each other and make each other better — that’s something that I was really looking for, and that’s something that I felt like UVA offered.”
As for skating, she is eagerly waiting for a new ice rink to open north of Charlottesville — she drives by the site often and chats with the construction crew — and is aiming to join a youth training program there as an instructor.
“I hope to go back on the ice, because it’s one of my happy places,” Ono said.
Meet the 1Ls
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.