I’m half Irish, half Japanese. I’m 17 and in fifth year in school in Dublin.
My first exposure to ice skating was in Luxembourg; I used to live there as a child. When I moved to Ireland aged nine, there was no ice and for years I didn’t really skate at all. The only ice available to me was either at Christmas or in Belfast. I missed it. At the time I wasn’t competing, but I took every opportunity I could to skate.
I would go to Estonia with my older brother Kevin to a summer camp – we really liked the ice skating facilities there and we visited whenever we could.
We used to skate separately, but eventually we started skating together. It was convenient, but also we wanted to start a new discipline in ice skating in Ireland called ice dance, where you dance as a pair.
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Kevin and I are now competing at the International Skating Union Junior Grand Prix level. Because we are living in Ireland, we have no ice to practise on. We are training off ice, so on the floor, just in our regular runners. At the level we are skating, we are at a huge disadvantage because we don’t get that much exposure to the ice. Before competitions, we get at most two weeks.
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When we start a new season, we need to qualify – there are a certain number of points you need to get to be on the national team and to compete. All competitions for us are abroad because there is no ice rink in Ireland. Recently, we’ve been to Courchevel in France and Gdansk in Poland, where we did the Grands Prix. We’ve also been to Edinburgh, and Olomouc in the Czech Republic.
Since we have so little time on the ice, we use the competitions as a way to practise, getting used to the ice and also doing our routines. It’s not so much about competing against others and beating them, it’s more about improving ourselves. We watch all the other skaters around us and learn from them.
The Ice Skating Association of Ireland is very supportive. We have a mindset that is not about other skaters, it’s just about us and how we want to feel on the ice and how we can express ourselves on the ice.
We have a choreographer who choreographs our routines, and we have a new dance every season. We do two performances: one is a free dance and the other is a rhythm dance. At the moment, we are doing the tango. The main component of rhythm dance is a set of compulsory steps that all the skaters have to do. These steps often have key points where it’s very specific and precise which angle you put your blade at, how deeply you make your edges. In that way, competitions are very strict and the judges know exactly what they are looking for.
At the moment, all of our training is off ice and we do it at weekends, often over Skype with our trainer. On one of the days we focus on strength and on the other, we do our programmes on the floor.
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What do I love about ice skating? I guess the community around it. At competitions, everyone is very welcoming.
I love how before we go into a performance, we have new goals and we try to achieve better scores and a better performance every time. It really is rewarding if we achieve that. When we are out on the ice, it’s a very freeing feeling, and we both feel quite similarly about the ice, that it’s quite exhilarating.
Falls and knocks are part of the sport. In every sport, you’ll have moments when you are not feeling great or you are unmotivated and it’s quite difficult, but we encourage each other, we always have. Whenever we fall we just try to get back up. People ask me: “do you not fight?”, but I think we work well together as a team.
Ice skating in Ireland has definitely grown. It would be lovely to have a big ice rink in Ireland, and not just for me as a competitor. All my friends and family get very excited for the ice rinks at Christmas. It can get overcrowded, so it would be nice to have one all year round so people could enjoy it. It would help develop the sport too.
Skating has brought a lot to my life. I can’t even describe what it’s like representing Ireland; Kevin and I really cherish that feeling, we know we are really lucky. When they announce our names, there are nerves but just before we get on the ice, we always share a final high five.
– In conversation with Joanne Hunt