The ups and downs of my figure skating experience

It wasn’t always graceful, but I loved it anyway

A photo of a figure skater posing on the ice during a figure skating performance.
The hardest part of skating is competing with yourself. PHOTO: Peter Wong

By: Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor

I started figure skating when I was six years old. At first, I didn’t want to attend lessons, but I was easily bribed with sweets. Once I got on the ice, I no longer needed the promise of hot chocolate to stay. 

By the end of my first lesson, I went from stumbling and falling to gliding on my own. The pride and joy I felt in that moment was profound. I relished in the fact that the accomplishment was all mine, and the ease of movement skating gave me was blissful. I craved more.

It wasn’t just an on ice connection that made me fall in love with skating. The sport gave me a whole new community to bond with, especially once I joined the Vancouver Skating Club later that year. Through the club, I worked with coaches whose encouragement made learning new tricks feel dauntless. Once I mastered enough, I got to participate in competitions. I was surrounded by friends and fellow skaters who were always uplifting. In an individual sport like figure skating — where there’s nowhere to hide flaws — having that support system was invaluable. 

But everything changed when I turned 10 and it came time to land a single axel.

An axel is a type of jump where you take off one-footed on an outside edge, do a full rotation in the air, and land on the opposite foot, gliding backwards. It took me two and a half years to nail this jump. During that time, my progress came to a screeching halt. Without an axel, I couldn’t compete at a higher level. And my friends, who had more success with their jumps, moved to an elite practice group. I felt isolated.   

No matter what I did, the result was the same: I either fell or landed on two feet instead of one. Somewhere around the year and a half mark, I nearly reached my breaking point. I was tired of repeating the same exercises, of gathering hundreds of bubble wrap sheets (that’s the kind of padding you get in figure skating) and still bruising my tailbone. Most of all, I couldn’t shake the despair that I was wasting my parent’s time and hard-earned money, despite their reassurances that everything was okay. The cost of skating no longer seemed worth it.

I gave myself one more year. With that, I committed to more practice sessions (five days a week) and extra off-ice training (to the point where I could attach a jump harness with my eyes closed). I began mentally preparing myself to walk away when I reached the 11 month mark of my one year ultimatum. Days before my 13th birthday, I finally landed an axel. The feeling when my right foot touched down and I heard the precise hiss of my blade catching the back outside edge was pure joy. That moment remains one of the best, most rewarding experiences of my life. 

I wish I could say everything after that was easy. What followed was another year and a half of failed attempts before I started landing double jumps. But having an axel allowed me to compete again, which brought back the freedom and creativity of skating I had missed. And I happened to place on the podium every time, which helped bring my confidence back.

As happy as I was, I couldn’t help anticipating the next rough patch. Every time I landed a jump, all I felt was relief. My last day wasn’t planned, but it had been an extremely good practice session. The tricks I executed weren’t perfect, but I felt prouder of myself than I had in a while. I wanted it to stay that way. Although the decision was agonizing (and involved a particularly embarrassing breakdown at a Cactus Club), I chose to leave the competitive skating world.

I can’t do as many professional moves during a public skate session now, but the thrill of being on the ice remains. Figure skating will always be a part of my life, and I’m grateful for it. 

At the end of the day, your happiness should never be sacrificed. Knowing when to step away and give it one last hurrah is the difference between creating good memories or forgettable ones. It is important to take your time, and never feel shame or guilt about stepping away — when you can always return.