The sport of figure skating has been my drug for my entire life. Through all the ups and downs of my career, and the sad abrupt end to my professional skating life, I still love the sport more than ever.
It breaks my heart as I read interview after interview of skaters talking about starving themselves and coaches weighing their skaters and degrading their bodies. I understand the culture of sport in Canada, where I am, is different than that in Russia, where tons of these stories come out, but I want to bring light to athletes in figure skating that had a positive experience with food and body image. Athletes that were successful while healthy. With the hope of inspiring young athletes and coaches to follow healthy habits.
I studied holistic nutrition as I was competing and I have completed 2 different certification programs, having studied for almost 4 years in total. I put a huge focus on fuelling myself with the right foods at the right time, with another huge focus of helping aid in recovery. In my late 20’s and early 30’s, considered “past her prime” in elite figure skating, I spent 8 years doing some of the craziest skills seen in pairs skating, triple lutzs, throw quads, throw triple axels, triple twists and I am proud to say I spent 8 years without an injury. I saw first hand how food can enhance performance. I was never weighed by coaches, nor did I even own a scale. Whenever we did fitness testing, we needed to be weighed for some reason that I never understood, but I simply ignored the number because to me, what I did on the ice was determining if I was in shape or not, not a number on the scale. For example, if I had trouble breathing in my long program, I knew I needed to get into better shape and do extra cardio training. If I was having a hard time with energy during a training day, I knew I needed to increase and adjust what I ate before training.
This story is by no means a way to ignore the abusive issues from some coaches in the sport of figure skating and those who experienced ill affects to food and body image. I am so sorry for any athletes that experienced the negative side of this. I advocate for you all to continue to speak out so changes can and will be made. But as a parent, I do worry about parents reading these stories and taking their children away from the sport. I want parents to know there ARE positive environments for their children to thrive and I want athletes to be inspired by other athletes that took a positive path in this sport.
I am so grateful for the dozens of athletes and coaches that messaged me within the past week(s). Some to say thank you for shining a light on the positive side of healthy athletes and some to share their experiences of amazing coaches that were by their side on their skating journey and provided a healthy environment for them.
Rebekah Dixon runs a mental training program specifically for Figure Skaters. She mentioned to me that the majority of skaters she works with have coaches that support the person first, not just the skater. Coaches want the best for the athletes on and off the ice, even if that means results in the present moment are sacrificed. I’d like to empathize that Rebekah sees this as the norm, not the exception.
USA National Pairs Champion Tarah Kayne shared with me that her coach, Jim Peterson, always encouraged the skaters to have snacks at the rink with them and when he was concerned Tarah wasn’t eating properly he’d talk to her about it and make sure she was eating enough. Stories like this have been commonly sent to me the past few days. Another American skater shared about a coach that allowed them to listen to their body when they needed extra days off for an injury. The coach trusted the skater and didn’t overstep or make unreasonable demands.
That’s the key to me when looking at coaches. You NEED a coach that values you as a human being first, and a skater second, in your corner. If you want to be a happy, healthy and successful athlete, this is a must. This is what will get the much wanted results and success but ultimately it will also give your skating career fulfillment. My inbox is overflowing in messages from skaters just raving about their coaches. Coaches that inspired them and challenged them. Coaches that comforted them and made them feel safe and also took them out of their comfort zone. It is possible to find that type of nurturing and still be successful, because I’ve lived it first hand at the highest level. Canadian Pairs Skater Maxime Deschamps was quick to remind me that in Canada, we hire our own coaches. Either the parents of a child or the adult skater themselves do this. If they don’t like the actions of a coach, they have the right to terminate their professional relationship. I am aware and I understand that this is not the reality in every country. Max’s partner Deanna Stellato told me that she is so grateful to the sport and coaches she has had because they have taught her habits that allowed her to lead a healthy lifestyle.
A life long skater named Kassidy sent me a message about her training environment and how her coach took the time to get to know each skater personally, so they knew how to interact with them and support each of their individual needs. This sounds like a great coach, as I’ve always valued my own coaches ability to tailor their coaching to each individual skaters needs and personalities.
Body type is always an interesting topic in any sport. Every sport requires specific types of bodies in order to be successful. I’ve been told that I am to stalky and to muscly to be a champion figure skater. When I went looking for insight from the skating community to write this, one of my old skating friends messaged me and said “Remember when I told you that your strong legs are what allow you to land so deep in your knee and save all those triple jump landings”? Get yourself those type of skating friends!!! She was right and I always said the same thing. When my coach told me that I was going to get injured by doing throw quads I knew it wasn’t the case. I knew I could do it injury free (AND I DID) because I had strong legs and ankles to support my landings.
Upon the many messages that came in to me, were skaters speaking about synchro skating. I was told about the encouraging and nurturing coaches from the Moir family. How they always focused on having a healthy environment for their skaters. It seemed to me that this is the norm in synchro skating. I got dozens of messages from synchro skaters offering insight into their positive coaches, the healthy training habits amongst their team and their supportive community.
I want to take the opportunity to once again reinforce that I do not dismiss the stories of eating disorders and abusive coaches. I KNOW this is a reality in our sport. I understand it’s a problem that MUST be fixed. But I also realize that figure skaters can be champions and be healthy and happy. I am educated in sports nutrition and I know it is essential to hydrate ourselves during training and that food should be serving us as fuel. I know, from first hand experience, that there is space in this sport for many body types and that a happy athlete is a successful athlete.