Student figure skater works long hours to reach international goals

by Sarah Perez and Valentina Padula

ON THE ICE: Nikita Chen performs at the Florida Open on Apr. 6, 2017, winning second place only a few months after starting to skate. Chen has been skating for five years, hoping to one day represent Jamaica in the Olympics.

  The sound of ice skates scraping to a stop cuts through the cold atmosphere at the center of the arena like a knife. The dark hues of the horizon are not yet disrupted by the sun as freshman Nikita Chen practices her technique and form. Almost every day, awake before most, Chen works towards her dream of representing Jamaica in the Olympics.

  Having been figure skating for 5 years, Chen has set many goals for her future as a skater. She has been driven by her coaches since the beginning of her career and turns to them for inspiration. Animated by her idols and a dream far out of reach, she has continued to persevere towards her ambitions with purpose and dedication.

  “Ice skating is not an easy sport, but it has taught me how to enjoy and express myself better,” Chen said. “I used to be really shy before I started skating, and once I did, I started getting really confident myself. It made me grow as a person.”

  After watching the 2014 Olympics, Chen became entranced by the way professional figure skaters like Yulia Lipnitskaya and Aliona Kostornaia performed their routines with stunning grace and skill. After watching these performances, she longed to be like them one day.

  “I used to like to slide around in my socks at home,” Chen said. “After watching [Lipnitskaya] I was just pretending I was a figure skater.”

  Chen’s coaches have had long-lasting impacts on her motivation to skate. Her first coach, Adrian Schultheiss, has been an immense inspiration for her on the ice. Schultheiss has competed in numerous international competitions and had even achieved a spot at the Olympics as a Swedish representative before he retired. After separating for a while, Chen trained with many other coaches but ultimately returned to Schultheiss.

  “I ended up coming back to [Schultheiss] because he was my first coach, he is the one who taught me everything,” Chen said. “He is a big part of my skating and is a big inspiration to me.”

  With figure skating added to her schedule, Chen has had little time for social gatherings. Spending hours training on the ice, it has become difficult to add any more to her hectic agenda. However, Chen’s improvement on skates has been more than prominent after all of these hours. She has progressed substantially throughout the years of her figure skating career and is set to begin a higher-level program this year.

  “It is hard work of not sleeping, not eating, not resting, not traveling, spending money on skates and skipping parties,” said Nikita’s Mother, Viktoria Chen. “She works very hard for that.”

  Chen’s day starts before the sun rises, practicing six days a week for at least two hours a day. She strives to refine her technique by doing strength training and stretching. Chen’s rigorous practice schedule is not only to hone her skill on the ice but to prepare for the 2021 South Atlantic Regionals taking place near the end of the year.

  “I take six days a week from 6:00 AM to 7:15 before school,” Chen said. “Then I skate from 3:30 to 4:30 after school.”

  After COVID-19 caught the world by surprise, Chen was forced to halt practice for two months. She had lost a large amount of the skill that she had gained over time. After returning back to the ice, Chen felt frustrated and unmotivated for a while as she attempted to get back into her groove.

  “I lost a lot of the things that I could do. So when I came back I could not do most of the things I could do before,” Chen said. “It was really hard, trying to get them back. I was struggling and getting really frustrated.”

  Chen’s goal, ever since she had begun figure skating, has always been to shoot for the Olympics as a representative of Jamaica. As she continues to improve her skating talent, her goals have never been closer in reach. Hoping to achieve a feat no one else ever has before, she plans on creating a Jamaican Figure Skating Federation to represent the country where she was born.

  “My biggest goal is that I want to represent Jamaica’s national competition,” Chen said. “I want to represent the country that I was born in, and it is something that no one else has ever done.”