My World Championship Truth
Over the last couple of days, the 2018 Figure Skating World Championships were being replayed on YouTube. Considering that was my last competitive event and the last competition I won, it will always have a special place in my heart. I decided to watch and relive the memories.
In the last two years, I was often asked what it was like win a World Championships. I never really had an answer for them. Yes, it was incredible. Yes, it was memorable. Yes, it was nice to have a reward to the work I put in over the years. But that week was nothing easy. It is hard to find the joy of the win behind the mental strength it took for me to get through.
So here is my absolute truth of what my last competition was like...
The month leading up to World's was a wreck. I was exhausted from Olympics. Dealing with a back injury. Spending more time with my physiotherapist and sports medicine doctor than I was spending on the ice. I was emotional and irritable, few people could be around me. All I wanted to do was sleep.
The next thing I knew, I was in Italy. Heading into the longest week of my life.
I was walking through the clouds. I was there, but not really. I was communicating with people, but far from invested in the conversation. I was going through the motions of what I knew I was supposed to do.
Getting ready for my first practice, I went and got my back taped. I meditated, warmed up, blasted Eminem through my headphones as I tied my skates, went to the washroom, and walked down the stairs to the ice to find my coach waiting for me there. For the first practice, I usually take my time getting used to the ice and fighting the jet lag. Once I felt comfortable, I started my jumps - two of every jump. When I went to pick for my triple lutz, I felt pain in my ankle. Thinking it was just a kink, I did a lap of the ice to regain focus, and tried again. I picked. It hurt even more. It wasn't just a kink. I stopped jumping. Did a few spins. Then left the ice to meet up with the team physiotherapist.
It was just a mild sprain, but I didn't have the energy to deal with the pain. I was so drained, and the pain in my ankle got worse the more tired I got.
Sleep. Ice. Eat. Tape. Practice. Ice. Sleep. Eat. Practice. Ice. Eat. Ice. Sleep.
Day 3... Day of short program...
I went through my day like every other competition. I woke up, ate breakfast, got ready, practiced, took a nap, ate dinner, did hair and makeup, and headed to the rink to compete. Besides the pain in my back and ankle, I felt fine. It was just another competition, I could do it. This is where I knew it wasn't another competition.
I usually get this performance bliss when I step on the ice to compete. That bliss takes all pain away, makes me feel like I can fly around the ice, and makes me feel completely alive. I was trained to control the speed and power that comes with that bliss, but it didn't appear. I stepped on the ice, waiting for my name to be called, and I wanted to sleep. The tape on my ankle felt foreign in my skate, it felt like I didn't have control of that foot. My music started and I was using all my energy to push and fighting my shoulders down out of my ears. I felt like I was floating instead of connected to the ice. The program was fine, not amazing, I made a mistake on my axel, but I was content with the outcome considering the energy I had to put into feeling okay on the ice. I got my scores, went through the media mix zone, did my cool down, and proceeded to the media room for the draw.
I drew first to skate in my group for the long program. My least favourite spot. I love skating last. Yet, when I drew that spot, I was relieved. I relaxed knowing that when I stepped on the ice for the warm up, I didn't have to expend any extra mental energy.
I cried. I couldn't sleep. I practiced fine, but had nothing left in me. I was beyond exhausted. I texted my boyfriend in the middle of the night, panicking that I wasn't going to make it through my program... that I didn't want to compete my long program. I just wanted to go home.
Day 5... Day of my long program...
I was empty. I wasn't nervous. I wasn't excited. I wasn't there. I went through the motions. I did my routine.
The only thing I did differently is that I talked. When I went for dinner before my long program, I didn't do my usual thing of sitting quietly, eating my meal, and disappearing to my hotel room. I sat and had a nice conversation. I relaxed through dinner and it took me an hour to drink my coffee. It was nice. But then it was time to compete.
I did my meditation, my warm up, got my back taped, but refused getting my ankle taped - I didn't want to feel disconnected from my skate. I went to get my dress on, my skates on, and proceeded to find me coach. My competitors were pacing the hall doing their own routines, I stood near a wall, bending my knees and ankles, and did my breathing exercises.
Funny thing, those breathing exercises usually make me yawn; which is the reaction a body has to get more oxygen. My coach looked at me, and it was the first time he gave away how nervous he was. He commented on the fact I wasn't yawning, and he accused me of not doing my exercises. I reassured him I was, which made me yawn only once, and it was time for me to skate.
The nerves kicked in a little on my warm up. I wasn't used to skating first. It made me rush around the ice and make a few mistakes. My coach stopped me to slow me down, told me to drink water and breathe. Next thing I knew, the warm up was over and it was time to skate.
"You are ready. Breathe. You made it through the year. Have fun."
Those were the last words my coach said to me before I pushed away from the boards... or something along those lines anyways. I presented myself when my name was called, and I zeroed in on my breathing, making sure air was getting into my lungs.
My music started....
I landed my first jump and a rush of realization hit me; I was already one jump into my World Championship long program.
I made a small mistake on my second jump. Exhaustion made itself predominantly known. I wasn't going to make it.
I fought through my lutz. I almost started crying. I wanted to stop. My head was begging me to stop. I wanted to walk straight off that ice and not finish,
I landed my last jump.
My legs were done. They burned. My ankle throbbed. My back was seizing. My shoulder were aching. But there was only a final push left and I was done.
I hit the ice in my ending position. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I looked up and everything around me was silent. I could barely see people. I couldn't hear anyone.
I couldn't push anymore. I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I had never experienced that amount of exhaustion in my life. The kiss and cry seemed so far away and it felt like it was getting further. It felt like a year, but I finally stepped off the ice, and my coach was there to give me a hug.
"I did it."
My first words when I got off the ice. I wasn't talking about skating a clean program. I wasn't talking about medalling because I didn't know the results. I didn't even care about the results right then. I said those words because I made it through. I made it through those four minutes, I pushed through that week, I powered through that month, and I survived that year. I did it. And that's the only thing that meant anything.
I heard my scores and was content. I made it through the media mix zone, not remembering any word I spoke. I sat down on the couch to watch the rest of the event, nothing was registering in my brain. All I knew was that after every skater, Wakaba Higuchi (who placed second), gave me a hug. When I realized I was going to be on the podium, I went to find my skates so I could have them on my feet. This resulted in me missing a lot of what was happening, until I saw the score box. I started doing some mental math. Disbelief setting in. I was going to win. That moment that so many people dream of was happening to me. I was going to win!
The final scores came out.
I won. It was official. I looked around and everyone. They were clapping. Jumping up and down. Crying. Laughing.
I couldn't hear anything.
It was absolutely silent.
And that is the moment I remember the most. The complete silence.
It has been quiet like that ever since...
I've been fighting every day to hear the noise again.