Emirati professional figure skater Zahra Lari started ice skating at 11-years-old. Today, nine years later, she’s aiming to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
If she succeeds, she would be the first Emirati to ever participate in the winter edition of the games.
Dubbed the 'Ice Princess in the Hijab' by the media, Lari tells Arabian Business why it’s important for her to be a part of the Olympics and what it’s like to be a Muslim, covered figure skater.
1. You’re planning on making it to the 2018 Olympics. When you first started ice skating, did you think you were going to reach this far? "When I first started skating I never dreamt that I would reach this stage and level in skating that I am at now. My original plan was to just learn how to master basic skating. It never really entered my mind that I would continue on to learn the various technically complicated spins or jumps."
2. Prior to ice skating, did you participate in other sports? "Before taking up figure skating I only participated in the physical education classes given at school. I did, however, enjoy gymnastics and ballet."
3. What was your parents’ reaction when you first told them you wanted to peruse ice skating on a professional level? "To be honest, it was a little bit complicated to convince my father to allow me to continue. My mom supported and understood how far I had come because she was always with me at the rink. When my father realised how passionate and dedicated I am to this sport, he supported me one hundred percent and still does more than ever. I am very lucky to have such an understanding and supportive family. I always feel that they are happy and proud of me."
4. You train between four to seven hours a day. How do you balance university work with ice skating? "Well, I usually have to take some semesters off when it's high competition season but I try to make up some of the lost time by taking summer classes. I am studying at Abu Dhabi University and they work with me to arrange my class schedule to accommodate my complex training schedule."
5. Is there an ice skating champion whom you look up to? "I really respect and look up to Julia Lipnitskaia and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva because they both have had some difficulties but they never gave up and they worked very hard to overcome their issues and obstacles."
6. What’s your favourite part about ice skating? "I really love it when I have been working for months and months trying to land a new jump and then suddenly one day I get it. It's such a great feeling."
7. What’s the most difficult part of ice skating? "The most difficult thing is when I have bad days and no matter what I do, my body just doesn't cooperate and I can't achieve anything in practice that day. I have to push myself even harder on those days. I know that when I fall I must get right back up and try again and again until I get it. Those are days that I find difficult."
8. Why do you want to make it to the Olympics? "I want to qualify and participate in the Olympics because I want to prove that not only can a Muslim covered female, but also someone coming from the desert, participate in a Winter sport at the Winter Olympics. I think that would be an amazing thing for me to do since the UAE has never participated in the Winter Olympics."
9. You’ve been named the 'Ice Princess in the Hijab' by many publications. How do you feel about that title? And have you ever faced difficulties in this sport because you wear a hijab? "I really don't mind being given that title because I started skating after seeing the movie 'Ice Princess'. I guess it's only fitting for them to call me that. I'm very lucky and haven't found any difficulties due to my hijab. I have both Muslim and non-Muslim skating friends all over the world and they all support me and understand my hopes, dreams and goals. We all have a mutual respect for one another.
10. What are you majoring in in university? "I am majoring in Environmental Health and Safety at Abu Dhabi University."
11. Is there a deadline to your ice skating career in which you will then pursue a job relevant to your university major? Or will you pursue ice skating indefinitely until you have reached your goal? Why or why not? "I know that I will eventually stop competitive skating but I really don't see myself giving up on the sport completely. There are a lot of new and upcoming UAE national skaters and I would love to have the opportunity to help them reach their own goals and for this beautiful sport to continue to grow in the UAE."
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