Emirati professional ice skater Zahra Lari has put her studies on hold to invest her time and energy into her skating career.
Day in the life: Emirati Zahra Lari gets her skates on
Zahra Lari, an Emirati, is a professional ice skater and possibly the UAE’s best hope of winning a medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Ms Lari, 19, who is also studying Environmental Health and Safety at Abu Dhabi University, recently spoke at a Dubai networking event hosted by 85 Broads – a women’s network founded by four female Goldman Sachs employees from the United States – about her career path.
I have two different schedules; when I’m at Abu Dhabi University studying and now, during competition season, when I take the semester off to focus on my skating. Because I don’t have university at the moment I can wake up whenever I want – usually 8am or 9am. I’ll then have cereal for breakfast.
Twice a week I go to physiotherapy sessions at Healthpoint in Zayed Sports City because I injured my back last summer. I know that I could get badly injured at any time and not be able to skate again. As with any professional sport, you never know what might happen. So my mum always tells me to put my education first. Even though I don’t study that much because I don’t have time, I’m still a high honours student at university, and I think skating helps me a lot with that. It teaches me how to focus my mind, and helps me with my time management.
I usually have a salad – something light for lunch, because I’m training in the afternoon. I have 30-minute breaks in between training when I’ll eat some fruit to keep me going, and I try to study during the breaks too. My university friends sometimes come to the ice rink with me, but it’s hard because they want me to skate with them and I can’t because I have training to do. But that’s the thing with skating – most of the time I can’t be with my friends.
My training begins with my coach at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, which is where I’ve been skating since my dad first took me one day after school, seven years ago. Once I started getting into skating, my mum was encouraging but my dad decided it was time for me to stop. But when he came to the rink to watch me skate, he saw how much I love the sport and told me to just go after my dreams.
I start with off-ice training, which involves power training, jogging, flexibility, endurance and jumps. It’s really important to practise the jumps off the ice, because I don’t want to hurt myself on the ice.
I do my on-ice warm-ups – the jumps, spins and steps that are part of my basic training. I love training – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. But it’s tiring. I have good days and bad days. On the bad days, I ask myself ‘why am I doing this?’ Afterwards, I remember how much I love this sport.
I have a one-hour private lesson with my coach. I have two programmes that I practise a lot. I have to know them so well that I don’t have to think about it at all – it just comes automatically.
I have a one-hour lesson with other skaters. We’re put into different levels according to our ability. We have a lot of very promising young skaters coming out of the UAE these days. One nine year old Emirati girl has improved so much this year, hopefully next year she’ll compete internationally with me. I started skating relatively late in life, when I was 12, and then had to work extremely hard just to catch up. So it’s good that she’s starting at a young age.
I do another hour of off-ice training, then I go home and have dinner. My dad and brothers would’ve already eaten so I usually eat with my mum. Normally it’s grilled chicken – something healthy. I never eat after 7pm. After dinner I study, and I read a lot of John Green books. I don’t watch much TV, but I do go on the internet. I like watching skating videos, to see what’s new in the skating world. We also have a lot of family functions in the evenings to attend.
I go to bed, unless I’m at a family function, as they often run until late. I’m often skating in my dreams. Sometimes, I have a certain jump that I’ve been working on but I can’t land, and in the dream, I’m landing it. If I tell my coach, he says to me ‘you dreamt it, so now you can do it’. Skating is basically the only thing I think about – my life is skate, sleep, eat, and that’s it. That’s what makes me happy.
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