When my parents were in high school, they went roller skating on their date nights. So when they had us kids, it was only natural for them to take us to the skate deck on the weekends. And, it quickly became one of my favorite childhood spots.
I became interested in figure skating after visiting the ice rink for the first time at a friend's birthday party. I had gotten there a bit early, but just in time to observe a private session, reserved for skaters who were in training and preparing to compete. I remembered being ecstatic to see all the young skaters gliding gracefully on the ice and performing all sorts of tricks. My sister, Jessica, and I would also frequently watched Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, and many other skating legends on TV - and we would mimic their skating performances in our living room. I also loved how beautiful their skating outfits were. I don't know exactly how it happened, whether I had asked my parents first, or if they had caught a glimpse of the excitement in my eyes, but they ended up enrolling me and Jessica into a few beginner group classes. I remembered having a blast and learning new ice skating moves so quickly. By the end of the 4-week program, my parents wanted to know if this was something I would take seriously if I were to keep going. If I wanted to become an athlete, they would be willing to put me in private lessons with a coach, who would be dedicated to training me. This was a huge decision for an 8 year old, but I did not hesitate to say yes!
For 5 years from elementary school to middle school, my life revolved around figure skating - 7 days per week, 365 days per year. I lived and breathed at the ice rink. It was my 2nd home. I would wake up as early as 5:00 AM for 1-2 hour long skating practices right before school started. My early mornings begun by getting into my skating clothes, stretching exercises, consuming the veggie juice my mom made for me, while she would wake up my sisters to get them ready to come along. While I practiced, my mom and two younger sisters would nap in the van right in the parking lot. After practice, my mom would rush to take me and Jessica to school. It was almost an hour drive to and from the rink every day. In middle school. I was able to opt out of P.E. classes and receive credit since I was already active in a sport. That was really cool of my school to make that exception for me. Thank you to the Principal at Explorer Middle School! When I finished my day at school, I studied hard and completed my assignments, ate a few healthy servings of Khmer food, then slept early to be well rested for skating practice the following morning. This was my daily routine.
Figure skating is a highly exclusive and elite sport. Back then, it was nearly $500-$600 per month for private ice time, private skating lessons, new ice skates & its maintenance fees, clothing, accessories, competition fees, membership fees, and the list goes on! I would get a pair of new skates every time my feet grew bigger. It became extremely costly. My parents were supportive though and had sacrificed so much for me to be in this sport. But, my dad worked too hard to provide for the family, on top of this luxury to put me through skating. It was a constant struggle. So, it eventually got to a point where I wasn't able to keep going when my parents' mental health, relationship and financial issues had worsened. I loved ice skating but not enough for it to continue to negatively impact my family and their well-being. I felt awful but knew I had to make the tough decision to quit no matter how much I loved ice skating.
During those younger years, I felt like I had to mature quicker than most of my peers. While kids my age got to sleep in, play, and do whatever they wanted, I had the responsibility of making sure I was eating healthy, performing at my highest level, and being committed to a rigorous training schedule. I think my ma was also figuring things out along the way and trying her best to be a supportive skating mom. I loved being at the ice rink. Skates felt like my crutches. I enjoyed gliding across the ice so seamlessly, with ease and control in the purest, most elegant form. To be honest, I felt like I was more graceful on the ice than on the ground. I was always open to learning new jumps and spins and different combinations of footwork. Once I landed my first axel, I started learning the rest of the jumps without any issues, like the double salchow, double loop, and double toe loop. Spins were always easy for me. And, my favorite move was the spiral to show off my flexibility. Michelle Kwan was my idol, and I wanted to be just like her. I also skated to music that represented me, i.e. Disney's Mulan "Reflection". Figure skating is a sport that has always kept me challenged, engaged and aspiring for more. Though I wasn't able to continue pursuing competitive figure skating, it has taught me some of the most valuable life lessons and shaped me into the leader I am today. With that, I want to share 3 leadership skills that figure skating has taught me.
1) Being Productive & An Early Bird
Up to this day, I still wake up early even on the weekends. I love the feeling of getting things done and being able to have the rest of the afternoon / evening to finish up tasks and work on other projects. Because I love being productive, I naturally became a Project Manager in my current profession.
2) Practice Makes Perfect & Consistency
Every time I learned a new jump or spin, it was always rough in the beginning. As I kept practicing and got better, I learned that the more time and effort I put into something, the more I successful I will be. Consistency is key to anything you do in life. To get there, you must put in the work.
3) Having the Confidence to be in the Spotlight
Being on "stage" during an ice skating performance has taught me to overcome my nerves in front of a big crowd. This skill has come in handy many times when delivering business presentations and speeches, where I sometimes have to be in front of several hundred people. My early days of performing has definitely helped to prepare me for being in the Corporate setting.
“An athlete gains so much knowledge by just participating in a sport. Focus, discipline, hard work, goal setting and, of course, the thrill of finally achieving your goals. These are all lessons in life.” — Kristi Yamaguchi
As you can see, figure skating has truly been a life changing experience for me. I believe that every kid should have the opportunity to fall in love with a sport and be dedicated to a sport in order to learn self-discipline, dedication and other critical life skills. No matter your age, you are not too old to learn a new sport. Besides the competitive nature of sports, it's a great way to keep you in shape and build healthy habits. Now that I'm an adult, I still skate from time to time to brush up on my skills. Although I cannot skate as I well as I did back then, I still know all the basics. And, that's enough for me. Figure skating will always be a part of my life.
Thank you, Ma & Ba.