I’ve always been somewhat different, and my life is backwards. I had been a university student and a part time high school language teacher at the age of 15 – time when most people are still thoroughly enjoying their childhood.
Today, I’m a new competitive athlete, 2 years into the sport of figure skating. Many skaters are retired before their 20th birthday. I’m 36 and I’m writing this on the flight back home from my first international competition, Winter World Masters Games 2020 (WWMG2020) in Innsbruck, Austria.
A couple of years ago, one mundane morning I stepped on my bathroom scale as usual, and it almost started swearing back at me with a new (higher) digit at the end. I was always happy that “I could eat anything I want, and it does not reflect on me”. Well, that time obviously was in the past. Something had to be done. I refused to go shopping for new cloths next size up. I don’t like running. I’m not good at swimming. And gym is boring. Then I remembered that I quite enjoyed the annual Christmas skate with my son, and thought that a few laps around the rink might do me good. So it became my lunch break routine. Then I wanted more. Started taking lessons. Then I wanted to take it to the next level and compete. So I did.
When I first came to an adult drop-in figure skating session I was warmly greeted by Linda, a 78 year young skater who was just putting her skates on. I very soon learned that she only started skating in her fifties, and she has been competing internationally in her category for several years now. Wow! Soon I met some other regulars. Some were skating since they were kids, and made this beautiful sport part of their adult life. Some started like me, as an adult, at different ages.
A big treat the figure skating life had for me is meeting my coaches Anastasia, her brother Pavel, and Lena: amazing – and fun! - they are one of main reasons I was able to get where I am.
I wanted to figure skate when I was a little girl, but I’m happy I started it as an adult. The experience was richer and more unexpected. It was my decision, my timing, my commitment. Yes, I am too far behind the 12-year-olds jumping quads, and just modestly working on some doubles right now. But I met the most amazing people, built connections, felt genuine support and experienced friendship. I learned determination and courage.
The WWMG2020 was an experience beyond expectations. I was of course nervous about my skate, but I still got to watch others, share the experience and build connections.
Do you know that the oldest competitor in the Games, Pat Noddin, is 83 years old? And she started skating only at 58. This was the most touching skate to watch – the group of Bronze Ladies V Artistic Freeskate. A bunch of grandmas giving each other high-fives at the end of the warm-up. They all already won! - by being there, by stepping up at the Olympic ice. And after watching them, none of us has the right to give up, because these ladies have proven it can be done. When Pat did her skate, the stands were filled, and we all had tears in our eyes. She was for the first time on the ice centre by herself since a broken hip and a hip surgery 5 months prior. It was her competition skate, and she did it! “I did it my way” said the words of the song playing. Pat is such an inspiration for all of us, we were all so overwhelmed and in tears. “The judges must be having a hell of a time judging me” was her comment later.
Came the day of my skate, and my knees were trembling. The coach did everything possible to get me ready, and I was.
But as competitive as I am – to my huge surprise to myself – the score did not even matter that much. I was not nervous on the ice anymore once the music started. I knew what I had to do. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I could have probably done it more than once. It did not feel tense or hostile, skating “against” someone. It felt that everyone wanted everyone to do well. Even the skaters in my group, competing against each other, were wishing each other luck and exchanging hugs.
When I finished the skate, I got several little gifts tossed on the ice for me with notes “Awesome Skate!”, “Well Done!” and contacts of people I’ve never met in my life – now felt like friends. They were from Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Japan, China… This experience was overwhelming!
Some of my family travelled to Austria just to support me. And when I later checked the phone, it was inundated with messages from friends and family all over the world, many woke up at odd times or stopped their day – to watch live my skate in Austria. I had no clue how many people cared to do it. And it was so so special!
I NOW knew, not just in theory like before, that it’s not the score that matters but the participation, the challenge, the experience. Of course, I have goals for my training, and I already have the challenge for myself for the next season and I’ll work hard on it. But I also discovered and lived the wonderful journey that I equally enjoyed.
This is one of my favourite pictures from the trip. It's not just the person in the front in the black dress, but also the one with long blonde hair to the right, behind the boards – the coach. It's really the team that is skating for the next 2 minutes and 10 seconds. Sometimes the connections we build in long hours of training are beyond visible, and even entering that last spin I had the coach's voice in my head “push!”. So i did, and gave it my all.
Off to the next ice practice soon! :)