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The maestro piano-playing music you hear in figure skating performances could very easily be that of a K-State graduate who’s a medal-winning skater himself. 

Kansas City native Stephen Kucera ’17, ’18 earned his business administration (accounting) and applied music (organ) bachelor’s degrees from K-State. A year later, the master of music and the ice earned a Master of Accountancy degree and a minor in leadership studies. 

His soothing, artistic, articulate way of making a piano’s keys jump like Kucera does on the ice even entertained Derby Dining Center patrons from 5:30-6:45 p.m. almost every Friday dinner during his six years at K-State.

“Playing the piano at Derby was important to me because it gave me a chance to process, reflect on, and write a final chapter to the week,” Kucera said. “It allowed me to recenter before the weekend. It was fun to meet new people and bring them along for the ride.”

Masterful in music, cutting on the ice. That’s Kucera, who today shares his love for both with K-Staters worldwide.

In the beginning 

His story about being free on the frozen pond began at the youthful age of 7.

“I started skating in my hometown of Kansas City at age 7 by taking group lessons. I moved on into private lessons,” he said. 

“At age 11, I competed against Olympic-champion-to-be Nathan Chen and was thoroughly trounced by him, finishing second at the Broadway Open at the Colorado Springs World Arena,” Kucera said. “I went on to place fifth at the Southwestern Regionals, just missing advancing to Junior Nationals by one place.”

His health took a turn for the worse when he was 10 and 13, but it was figure skating that energized him when he needed energized. 

“Figure skating and the 30 minutes I could will my body to do every week gave me life,” Kucera lamented.

Coming back at age 14, Kucera set and achieved the goals of passing his gold tests in skating skills and singles.

“I would go on to place 10th at the Midwestern Sectionals Championships in 2009 in Wichita,” Kucera said.

However, figure skating eventually became too expensive for his family. 

“I put it away and only skated for diversion when I returned home to Kansas City or at the small rink in the Manhattan City Park,” Kucera said. “I focused on taking university courses, paying for college and starting my career.”

You’re never too old to medal 

“I came back to skating at age 25 and did some skating in Tulsa before moving to Dallas,” Kucera said. “It was there where I came back to test my partnered pattern dance and solo free dance gold tests this last year.”

Now 29 and living in Dallas, Kucera decided to move on from Olympic-level competition and begin competing in the adult competition ranks.

“Skating to a medley of Lil Nas X songs, I placed first in the Gay Games in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico,” he said. “I placed second at the Midwestern Adult Sectionals in Sioux Falls and placed third, winning the bronze medal at the 2024 U.S. Adult National Championships in Cleveland.”

Not a bad way to end his time in his 20s.

“I was thankful to be a part of the illustrious field and was thankful to medal at my first time at the U.S. Adult Nationals,” Kucera said. 

“Regardless of the struggles I have faced in my life, skating is a place where I am able to escape the pain and fly free,” Kucera said. “I find it a liberating medium where a person can be who they are, and where they can be particularly honest in their storytelling, and where that openness is embraced.”

His time on the ice isn’t even close to being over. That proverbial piano just started playing on the arena’s PA system. There to perform will be a proud Kansan and proud Wildcat.

“Next for me, I plan on working toward landing my double axel and two different triples,” Kucera noted. “Skating to Spider-Man, competing at an international figure skating competition and returning to U.S. Adult Nationals. A double axel is a jump with two 1/2 rotations in the air, and a triple jump has three rotations. Completing them are part of the goals of my return to skating.”

All rise for the judge 

Kucera can also be found behind the ice’s plexiglass lined up near center ice.

“I serve as a judge for U.S. Figure Skating, where I can judge singles for all domestic events except four competitions,” Kucera said. “In addition, I serve as a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force for U.S. Figure Skating.”

He trains with some of the world’s best skaters.

“I train singles with U.S. Nationals champion Mariah Bell and U.S. Nationals competitor Morgan Bell,” he said. “I study ice dance with Australian Olympics competitor Brooklee Han.”

Because of Kucera’s love for ice skating.

“Growing up, I struggled with performance anxiety and the rush of adrenaline,” he said. “Part of the reason for coming back to competition is to work through it and gain confidence in the heat of competition. Currently, I am focusing on slowing down my jump technique and counting my spin rotations slower to achieve full credit and maximize the points.”

‘Be the change I want to see’

Kucera gave his all to his beloved Alma Mater while a student from 2011-2018. 

“During my six years in Kansas State University Student Governing Association, I served in all three branches of government, including four years as student senator, speaker pro tempore, and student support director,” Kucera said. “I received the Outstanding Contributor Award from Kansas State University Student Governing Association in 2018.”

He also received the Anderson Senior Award for Outstanding Leadership from the K-State Alumni Association in 2017.

Kucera has also been recognized for playing keyboard for the 40 graduation ceremonies at Bramlage Coliseum.

“Figure skating means a place where I can escape much of my pain,” he said. “It is worth it for the verdant plateau I achieve and the clear, liberated state of mind. In a lot of ways, it is my therapy.”

And figure skating has shaped the man he has become. 

“I have learned much about hard work and perseverance,” Kucera said. “It's not about falling down six times, it's about getting up the seventh time.”

That’s why he’s a medal-winning ice skater and renowned pianist. 

“Kansas will always be my home,” he said. “K-State challenged me to give back and make a difference. Be the change I want to see in the world.”

Check out some of Kucera's figure skating and musical performances:


— Article written by Gary Van Cleave ’85, K-State graduate in journalism/mass communications. He has written over 300 articles on athletes across the state in the past two years.