Dubai: The name Zahra Lari may not ring a bell offhand, but what she has achieved has surely ensured her a place in the annals of UAE sporting history. The 17-year-old Emirati became the first ever figure skater from the UAE to compete in an international competition when she took part in the European Cup in Canazei, Italy this week.
More than 50 countries took part in the European Cup but Zahra's participation was understandably the talk of the town.
"It was an amazing experience. The people were really nice and I made many friends among the participants," she told XPRESS in an exclusive interview on her return to Abu Dhabi.
"Nobody asked me anything about why I wore the scarf around my head while performing. I was obviously a bit nervous when I reached there, but once I started performing things were fine. My coach Noemi Bedo told me to skate without a care and I think I really did the best I could under the circumstances," added the Abu Dhabi Figure Skating Team member, who is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Zayed Sports City.
While her fellow competitors began to skate from the age of four, Zahra, whose two brothers don't skate, took it up much later. "When I was about 11 years old I saw a movie called Ice Princess, about a geeky kid who studies ice skating as part of a physics project and falls in love with figure skating. I watched the film and fell in love with the expression and the art and knew it was what I wanted to do.
"I finished in the top-15 at the European Cup, but given the head start and experience the other skaters had over me, I think I did a good job," she said.
Zahra is also aware of her responsibility of being a torchbearer for the UAE. "I will try and do my best to give a good impression of the UAE to the world with my performances. And I also hope I can inspire more Emirati women to take up not only this sport but any sport for that matter," she said.
Zahra chooses her own music for her routines which she then discusses with coaches Noemi and Tunde Gal. In the European Cup, in which she entered in the junior category, she was judged on three performances including a long programme set to Feeling Good by Escala.
"When the long programme arrives, you are almost halfway through and you need something peppy and energetic, so I chose Feeling Good by Escala which was received very well by the crowd," she said.
And she has already had a brush with figure skating royalty in Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic and 2009 World Champion. "He is my idol and I even skated with him in Abu Dhabi. I want to take part in the Winter Olympics in 2014 if I can get everything right. If not I will be ready when the 2018 Olympics come around," she said.
Zahra, who hopes to get a degree in Human Resource Management at Zayed University, will take part in the Abu Dhabi international meet in June, her last event this season.
Zahra trains six days a week twice a day, before school and after. Before school she gets up at 4.30am and does off-ice exercise followed by on-ice training, running through routines and practising.