Crystal Chik — figure skater and nursing student — on how figure skating improved her focus while at school, and how dancing helped her rediscover her love of skating[:zh]戚紫瑩- 花樣滑冰選手及護理系學生- 談談花樣滑冰如何改善學習專注力及跳舞如何令自己從新愛上溜冰
Crystal is a competitive figure skater representing Hong Kong. She has competed all over Asia, in the US and in Italy. When she’s not practicing or competing, Crystal is a nursing student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, graduating in 2019.
Crystal started figure skating at the age of 3. One day while passing by the ice-skating rink at Festival Walk with her parents, they noticed her attention was drawn towards the pretty dresses worn by the figure skaters. Soon after, her parents asked if she wanted to learn the sport and she’s been skating ever since.
The sense of joy and enjoyment that Crystal experienced from figure skating was irreplaceable with other activities; in fact; learning the sport taught Crystal to pursue everything else she does with vitality and enthusiasm. While in secondary school, Crystal was so eager to practice every night after dinner that she learned to become efficient at finishing her homework.
Outside of studying, practice and competition, Crystal also coaches figure skating. She also enjoys hanging out with friends.
You’ve been skating since you were 3 years old. How did you know at age 3 that this was the sport for you?
Actually, I didn’t think about if I enjoyed it or not; at that age skating was more like playing for me. I was so young, I simply wanted to spend time with friends and play. It was after several years of skating that I began to take it more seriously.
Growing up, aside from figure skating I had other pursuits. My father asked me to make a choice. He encouraged me to pursue fewer activities but to do them well, so I chose figure skating and because of that choice, my dad expected me to work hard. To some extent, while I made the choice to figure skate, my dad did also encourage me to spend time practicing outside of “play time” with my friends. For example, after class when my friends could go off and mess around, my dad would ask me to go to a corner and practice the moves over and over again. Initially it was hard; I wanted to go and follow my friends instead of be in a corner on own practicing. However, after a while, I really began to enjoy the practice and the process. Don’t get me wrong, my dad didn’t force me; I was always passionate about figure skating.
Can you share your experience of fitting in daily practice while you were a student?
I went to quite a traditional school, one that didn’t allow me to take time off to compete; they didn’t understand what I was doing. Sometimes there were monthly competitions and I would need to take 3 days off and though I wasn’t supposed to, I took them off anyway. After a while my school let me, but I became known as the “student who never showed up to school.”
I would also bring a suitcase to school – not because of traveling, but because after school I would go directly to the skating rink. People would be curious as to why I was always carrying a suitcase to school. I would bring all my things with me so I could study and do homework at the skating rink before figure skating practice, and practice till about 11pm or midnight. Then I’d wake up at 6am to go to school and my day would start again. It was hard, and on days when it was cold and it rained and I hadn’t slept enough I would think, “Do I have to do this?” But I did. I was hardly ever home, basically I went there just to sleep.
I know some people think it’s a terrible experience; it wasn’t bad for me because I enjoyed figure skating so much. I wasn’t that social anyway, and on weekends when my friends would go and hang out at the mall, I’d be home catching up on sleep.
And despite feeling sleep-deprived during the school day, I never slept during class, unlike some of my classmates. One day, funnily, the principal asked me why I never slept in class and I said it was because I was too busy absorbing all the information being taught in class! My goal was to do less revision after school and spend more time on the skating rink. So you can say, figure skating taught me to be really focused academically too.
How do you persist with the ups and downs of practice, competition and falling a hundred times in order to hit a new move?
Figure skating is physically trying and for each move — and there are many moves — we have to practice hundreds, thousands of times, and fall over and over and over again. I’ve also been through injury and the sadness and the lows come from not being able to do what I most love and enjoy. The upside is that because figure skating is an individual sports, I have to learn to be able to recover quickly. Especially in competition, if I fall, the music is still playing so I have to just move on and not let mistakes affect me. For a while, injury and feeling I wasn’t progressing enough did make me sad enough to question my skating and whether or not I needed a break.
Then I went dancing (outside of figure skating). I had always loved to dance too, but focused more on figure skating. I rediscovered myself in dancing. I learned to enjoy the music and in learning to love the music, I also learned to relax, and move with more ease and flow to the music. It’s really helped me with my skating.
When you’re competing, or performing a routine, the spotlight is all on you. How do you deal with the pressure?
Actually when I was young, I didn’t enjoy the spotlight on me. I didn’t like it when people were looking at me, and I just wanted to hide amongst the crowd. But that’s impossible in figure skating as there’s only one person skating each time. So now I like my music to play loudly, and I choose music that helps me more easily get into the role that I need to perform. The loud music helps me to focus.
You’ve been skating for 15+ years and you say figure skating has brought you a lot of joy. Has this changed for you over time?
I still love figure skating and it still brings me a lot of joy. What has changed over the years is my attitude towards figure skating. When I was younger, I was focused on accomplishing the moves, being able to do a certain spin or certain jump. Right now, I skate for the pure enjoyment. And I want to bring joy to the people I’m performing in front of, the people who are watching me.
Figure skating competition rules have also changed over time and these rules have allowed me to better express myself. Before we were only allowed to use music with no voice, but now we can so I can choose music that suits me. And as I’m older, I can now choose my own music, my own outfit and own choreography. I like that I can show my own style on the skating rink.
One player I really like to watch is Ashley Wagner. She has such individuality on the skating rink. I love her style. I’m in favour of everyone being able to express themselves on the field.
My own style is that I’m not a “typical” figure skater; one you’d expect to be elegant and gentle. I love to play. I love to eat. I love “boy” sports and I’m actually quite tomboyish. For example, I’ve always wanted to climb a tree but it’s not something we get to do in Hong Kong. So a month ago when I was in Yunnan I climbed a tree. It was fantastic and so much fun.
Do you find figure skating to be a lonely journey?
I wouldn’t consider figure skating to be lonely. There were times when even if I told people what I was going through, they wouldn’t understand. And sometimes, if I was unhappy, I couldn’t tell the people around me. For example, there was one jump — the double axel — that took me over a year before I could complete it. I felt like I had hit a plateau and it was so frustrating that I couldn’t hit that jump. I fell so often in that process, but all I could do was keep trying, and falling again. I think though that it has instilled a sense of independence in me, learning to deal with my emotions and feelings.
And while I sometimes do skate with friends, in practice, everyone does his or her own thing while on the rink; we don’t talk much. Even if we do, if we’re mid way in conversation and we see an open space to complete a jump or spin, we grab that opportunity. I wouldn’t say figure skating is lonely, because there are many people around me going through the same thing and I have many friends from the skating rink. We’re all dealing with our own challenges and emotions at the same time, but we’ve just learned to process them ourselves. We have similar experiences, going through peaks, troughs, plateaus, falls, wins … and when someone is able to finally complete a new move, I’m extremely happy for them.
Why does figure skating matter to you?
First, it gave me a sense of accomplishment. After so many falls and so much practice, it was satisfying to know I could finally complete a new move. I enjoyed minute improvements and found it an opportunity to be happy. It felt like giving my parents and myself a present each time; it was so special.
Secondly, I also found my identity from figure skating. It was something else to be, aside from being a student and an elder sister. Now I can say I’m a figure skater. It was something else to be that was special to me.
Thirdly figure skating has given me the experience of being able to travel overseas and make new friends in the skating circuit. I have friends all over Asia such as Japan, Malaysia, and Bangkok from competition. My schoolmates had asked me how I have so many friends from overseas. In competition these friends are my “competitors” but off the field, we’re friends and we chat, we go eat and we hang out together.
Lastly, I’ve also learned from figure skating the importance of making no excuses and learning not to avoid. One time, after the field had been cleared, I was meant to go onto the field to skate. It was just me on the rink and I didn’t want all the people standing by the rink watching me. I made an excuse that my stomach was hurting so could I go to the bathroom and my coach said, “Do you think in competition the judges will allow you to do that?” So I sheepishly went onto the rink and skated, and it was okay. After that, I stopped making excuses.
Are there any figure skating stereotypes that you want to dispel?
Figure skating is still somewhat stereotyped. For example, there is still a perception that figure skating is for girls and boys learn [ice] hockey or other ball sports. I’ve experienced this myself through some of the students I coach: the sister learns figure skating and brother learns hockey.
However, at the elite professional level now, men perform just as well. In the past, the style and expectation was that women figure skaters skated elegantly and with more flexibility, while male skaters did so with speed and power. Figure skating was considered more of a female sport. Nowadays, male skaters skate with flexibility too and female skaters with speed and power. And in fact, sometimes male skaters have more advantage on the field as many of the technical jumps require speed and power to build momentum to jump higher and complete more rotations in the air. [Imagine 4 spins in the air, a full 720-degree spin and if interested you can watch the biomechanics of it here.]
There is a subtle difference in physique: Asian skaters such as from South Korea and Japan tend to be more slight while skaters from North America and Europe are slightly more muscular. One is not better than the other. It’s about finding a style and strategy that works best for you.
Now that you also have some students, what words of encouragement do you have?
I want to teach not just the technical skills of figure skating, but also the mindset of sportsmanship. I want to encourage a mindset that it’s not about skating to become the next representative on the Hong Kong team. I sometimes see students who give up because they’re not good at the sport or when they find out they won’t make the Hong Kong team. It’s about loving the process and not the outcome or result. The results come when you love the process and you’re willing to put in the action to achieve what you want and love. I recently read a book and one thing the author wrote really resonated with me: that success is not about accomplishment or good results but climbing back up after falling down. I think it’s important for my students to learn that.戚紫瑩是位具競爭力的花樣滑冰選手，並曾代表香港到亞洲各地、美國及意大利比賽。在練習和比賽的時間外，戚紫瑩的身分則變回將於2019年畢業的香港中文大學護理系學生.