At New York’s Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, a 95-year-old federal judge can be seen lacing up his ice skates twice a week and hitting the cold, hard ice where he’s been ice dancing for 20 years.
Robert Sweet, a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York federal judge, works out in the mornings before he heads to his chambers.
He was given a pair of ice skates some 20 years ago by his wife Adele who was a competitive figure skater and has been learning to become an ice dancing judge. He took to the sport because he wanted to understand what his wife was doing.
“This is a very precise sport,” Sweet said on the rink. “It’s very important that you be balanced. It’s very important that you be in the right place on your blade. It looks as if you’re on the entire blade, but you’re not. You’re just on a relatively small part of the blade. So it’s a challenging thing. But once you get it right, it’s a lovely sense of balance, speed, freedom.”
He’s been training with his ice dancing coach and two-time Olympian, Samvel Gezalian, for the past 20 years.
“If I knew him back then, before my professional career in the Olympic Games, I think he will be the one who will skate with me in the Olympic Games,” Gezalian said. “He improved so much. He’s doing silver-level dances. He’s doing all these technical elements, choctaws, brackets, twizzles. And I think it’s incredible.”
Sweet is Gezalian’s oldest client.
“In the beginning I was very afraid because, federal judge, and in Russia we don’t like judges,” Gezalian joked. “We don’t like anybody who is law enforcement, but he became not as my student. He become as my friend because he’s a very, unbelievably nice person.”
The judge won’t let two concussions—one from ice skating, the other from skiing—stop him from ice dancing. He just wears a helmet in the rink.
“Ice dancing is sort of a metaphor for life in the sense that you have to learn, so you have to keep learning new things all the time to progress,” he said. “So it keeps the mind obviously working and building new capacities in the brain. I don’t think it directly relates to judging except, I suppose, you have to be patient too, you have to work hard.”
Despite his age, Sweet still handles a full caseload at the courthouse.
“I think I have been one very, very lucky fellow,” he said. “I’m married to an absolutely wonderful woman. We’ve had a glorious life. This is an interesting, challenging, and I hope, a productive job. I mean I couldn’t ask for a better life.”
Sweet was appointed by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
In his career, the judge decided many high-profile cases, including rejecting patenting genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer, telling investors they could pursue claims against Facebook prior to its May 2012 IPO over internal projections on how increased mobile usage and product decisions might reduce future revenue, dismissing a lawsuit blaming McDonald’s for obesity in children and recently denying movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit by British actress Kadian Noble.