This nostalgic life: what I learned as a competitive figure skater

Some kids play lacrosse, others choose drama club, for others it’s the debate team, for me, it was figure skating. Between the ages of about 10-16 I was totally and completely engulfed in figure skating. It became my life. It’s what I did after school, on the weekends, for fun. Not only was it fun but it became a stress reliever from whatever was going on in my life. It was completely liberating and freeing to just skate. To push your body to its limits, challenging yourself to get that jump just right. You’d fall and get back up. Which leads me to this post- I not only participated in competitive figure skating but I also joined a production team where we put on themed performances. Like one year we did a Jackson 5 theme (wigs and all), another year we did “Little Shop of Horrors”. It was always elaborate and I loved every second, from rehearsals to the anxiety right before going on the ice, to the thrill of performing with a group of girls. I also attended figure skating camp every year. Like I said, figure skating became my life. I didn’t have real aspirations for the olympics (I wasn’t that good), but throughout those formative years, I am so thankful for that experience and for all the beautiful and wonderful things it taught me.

True friendship and love

As part of th production team, I practiced weekly, almost daily with the same group of girls. All of us girls became a tight knit family. We saw each other regularly, almost more than friends from school. So it was inevitable we would get close. But it was much more than friendship. It felt like genuine love. Those girls felt like home to me. I can vividly remember how encouraging we all were with one another. When I was struggling with a jump called the axle, I remember a couple of my friends who had already mastered that jump, went out of their way to help me. When I fell, they were right there to help me up and encourage me to keep going. We would sleepover each other’s houses as a group, having massive sleepover parties regularly. Those girls will always hold a special place in my heart, forever. Because the thing is, figure skating is grueling. It’s physically and emotionally challenging. Having a support team beyond your parents was crucial for me and allowed me keep my sanity while pursuing a competitive sport. And constantly reminded me of my love for the sport itself.

Teamwork and collaboration with others

As a member of the production team, it was super important to work as a team. If we wanted to win, we all had to do a good job. The team consisted of varying skating levels and various ages of girls. So it was up to our coach, but more so ourselves, to know what was just challenging enough to do and what was maybe the limit of what others could do. We couldn’t make a little girl who just started skating do an element of the program that required more experience. We had to delegate responsibilities. We had to teach one another routines and work together so that the finished product was seamless and looked effortless. Which leads me to my next lesson…

Responsibility

I was responsible for knowing my routines, but most importantly I was responsible for remembering when I had practice, when I had a lesson with my coach, to bring my skates, gloves, sweatshirt, all of it. Then as I got older and became a camp counselor I was responsible for the young skaters, I had to watch over them, make sure they were being safe and tend to them if they fell or got hurt while on the ice.

Acceptance

This goes back to those friends I spoke of earlier. We were all different. Age, size, personality, athletic ability. We all looked different. Some were more athletic and enjoyed other sports, others like me were a little less athletic and a little more creative. Both strengths were needed to produce routines. We were scored not only on technicality but on creativity (or as they liked to call it production). Even though I was bigger than my friends, I was also one of the older girls in my group of friends, I didn’t feel different for the most part. Those girls accepted me for who I was. They looked past what I looked like and got to know me as a person. It’s that feeling of acceptance that really showed me it’s okay to be who I am, to appreciate my unique gifts knowing they value equally as much as the gifts of others.

When life knocks you down, all you can do is get right back up

Falling will always be a part of figure skating. As it should be, for the lesson in falling and getting back up is terribly cliche, but insanely true. I fell so many times, and got up each and every time. I can remember when I was completely frustrated trying to nail my axle. It was the hardest jump I had ever attempted. It required precision when it came to foot placement and required more strength than any other jump I had attempted up until that point. So as you can imagine, it took me a long time to nail it (still not sure I ever really mastered that jump). But when I was working on it, I wanted it to come faster, I wanted to be like all my friends who had already mastered it and we’re working on doubles. I couldn’t stop beating myself up. At one point, when I fell, I just laid there. Not because I was hurt, I was just frustrated. I didn’t feel like I had the strength to get back up. I thought “what if I just quit right now, pack my shit and just go”. But instead, a little voice inside my head kept telling me to just try one more time. So I got up, took a deep breath, skated around to release some of my anger and with such gusto, I began the lead up to the jump, closed my eyes and just went for it. Opened my eyes and shockingly I was on my feet, my ass was not on the ice. I had just landed my first axle. That feeling will always be with me. Miracles happen when you believe.

Failure is okay. Setbacks are natural.

The unique thing with competitive sports is that there is a winner and well everyone else. Only one person can get the coveted gold medal. When a team gets second or third place, it doesn’t sting as much as when you are solo. So when my first solo competition came, I was sooooooo nervous. I think I blanked when I got out on the ice that first time. I messed up my footwork, which is something I had practiced religiously and it was actually one of the elements in my routine that I was the most confident in. Once I messed up, I was deflated, so as you can expect the rest of the program suffered. I ended up in last place. Was I sad? Of course, I was 12. But it taught me a valuable lesson, to never let a setback get you down, a setback is not a failure. Setbacks are there to help you grow.  I kept thinking- Could I continue doing this? What if I was never going to be good enough to win a medal? Lucky for me, I had the best, most supportive grandfather who encouraged me to stick with it. It was the one and only routine he was able to see me perform in my short lived figure skating career (he even helped make my outfit). I couldn’t let him down. I pushed through and eventually won a gold medal. So thank you grandpa Boris for encouraging me to never give up.

I am stronger than I think

I never thought I was ever really strong, either emotionally or physically, until I began skating. I needed the mental strength to deal with losing in a competition. It required mental toughness when I constantly fell attempting a new move. Seeing my friends who were younger than me accomplish great feats faster than me, required me to not compare myself to them. To stay the course- my course. Physically I was the “bigger” girl, but I could still jump and spin and keep up with the rest of the girls. That showed me that I didn’t have to look like the stereotypical figure skater to be a figure skater. I already was a figure skater, and learned to accept myself as such.

There is so much more that I learned from figure skating, those memories are forever with me and bring me such joy to remember. From the friendships that truly felt like family, to the mental strength and toughness that I gained. I wouldn’t choose a different sport to pursue. It wasn’t the coolest or the most popular, but it was mine. It’s the sport I chose to pursue. It shaped me into the woman I am today. I don’t know how I would have handled all the setbacks that have happened in my life without having had my skating experiences. The strength to overcome any and all obstacles that came my way. So thank you to skating and to those girls, for shaping me into who I am today.

Have any of you had a childhood activity that shaped you? Any lessons learned from other activities? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think about this post. Extracurricular activities are so important to children, and I hope this post shower just how important they are. Please continue this conversation in the comments below. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next week!

P.S. Happy Hanukah to all my fellow Jews!!

 

Published on Elite Daily here

Zoya

A 20-something girl on a journey to find herself with hopes of helping others feel their feelings.