After an injury last September kept her off the ice for months, Nicole Chan Tsin-nam, 14, thought she’d never be able to skate again, let alone compete in the international FBMA Trophy for Figure Skating competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in early January. But she proved herself wrong by claiming third place in her category. Here, the Renaissance College student tells her story in her own words ...
I twisted my ankle in September. It was off-ice, which is when we practise jumps. I rolled my ankle while landing on a jump, and I remember thinking, “Oh, I’ll be back on ice on Tuesday.” Little did I know, my doctor would say it was a sprain and I’d need to rest for two months.
I’d never taken a break from skating for longer than three days, not in all of the eight years that I’ve dedicated to it. Figure skating is all about muscle memory, and if you don’t practise every day, your muscles forget what the moves should feel like. I listened to my doctor anyway, and didn’t skate for two months – better to get plenty of rest than risk problems in the future as a result of straining my body.
At first, I was on crutches, but after a few weeks I started walking without them. After that, I could move around on the ice but I wasn’t allowed to attempt jumps. I tried spinning, but that made me dizzy. Suddenly, it was like I was unable to do all these things I’d taken for granted that I could do. I thought about quitting skating for good – I was so far from where I had been, and seeing all my friends improve while I just sat there made me feel really hopeless.
But my mum reminded me that figure skating isn’t the only thing that matters in life, and it shouldn’t be the only thing. My coaches also told me that they believed in me, too; they believed I’d be able to pick up right where I left off. Plus my mum always says that everything that happens in life is the right thing for you at that moment in time. So perhaps my injury was meant to be, so that I could learn a life lesson and improve my mindset.
One good thing came out of my months of rest though – I realised the reason I skate. It’s because I love it. Skating is part of my identity. When I wasn’t skating, I didn’t feel like myself, and I felt like I had nothing to say to people. I couldn’t say, “Hi I’m Nicole, I’m a figure skater,” and it was like a part of me had been taken away. I think because of the time I spent unable to skate, I now treasure the time that I’m on ice a lot more than I used to.
I didn’t think I would be able to relearn everything in time for the Abu Dhabi competition. My mum told me I had to find a balance between pushing my body and overexerting myself. Sometimes I’d be tempted to skate a lot, but then my ankle would start to hurt. As the weeks went by, though, I began to improve.
I skated in another competition in Shenzhen in December, which helped me get back into a competitive mindset. Everything went well there, and it gave me confidence that I’d be able to do what I was supposed to do in Abu Dhabi.
I’m on the Hong Kong Figure Skating National Team, and the United Arab Emirates was such a different environment to be in. I normally compete in Asia, and I’d never competed against so many Westerners before.
I think I did well, though I have a few things I could have improved on. My long programme – the routine with more jumps and spins – wasn’t perfect. The most complex move I had to perform was a triple salchow, which is a jump taking off from the back inside edge of one foot; in that moment, it felt like I’d never twisted my ankle at all. Everything came back to me.
I didn’t think I had a chance of medalling – I try not to think about that anyway as it adds pressure. I just think about what I’m supposed to do. My mum, who came with me to Abu Dhabi, always tells me to try my best, to smile, and to enjoy what I’m doing.
At first, I was disappointed in myself as I didn’t feel I skated well enough – so when the judges announced the score, I was so surprised. It was my skating skill score – how smoothly I can move around the rink – that gave me third place. My technical score – the jumps – wasn’t as high as I’d have liked. The judges gave me a level three in my step sequence, which is the highest you could be awarded in my group.
After the competition, I hung out with my teammates, and we hit up all the tourist sights. I visited the ice rink again, just to get a bit of practice in. Once I got back to Hong Kong, it was straight back to homework and preparing for the Hong Kong Nationals in April, when I’ll be competing against other skaters in the city. It’s events like these that determine who gets sent out to the bigger international competitions.
My role model is South Korea’s Kim Yuna, 2010 Olympic champion, and one of the best figure skaters around. Ice skating wasn’t exactly big in South Korea before she made it popular, so she had to find ways in which she got to skate in public sessions, as well as also find time to do her schoolwork. I find that very inspiring – and maybe, one day, I’ll make it as big as Yuna too.