Graceful determination. Zahra Lari hopes to represent the UAE at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: She was only 12 when she took to figure skating as a hobby after watching the movie Ice Princess.

Now 21, Emirati Zahra Lari is close to realising her dream of becoming the first skater to represent the country at the Olympics.

She is currently undergoing training in Italy and Estonia with the qualifying rounds set to take place from September 27 to 30 in Obersdorf, Germany. The Winter Olympics 2018 will be held in South Korea.

Though she sustained a small injury in her ankle recently, Lari is determined not to let that come in the way of her Oylmpic dream.

The icy path to success

“I have faced many challenges to come this far as a figure skater, but there were none that couldn’t be overcome,” said Zara.

“I remember it was Ice Princess that inspired me to take up skating as a hobby. I was 12 then.”

It didn’t take her long before she realised she wanted to pursue skating as a competitive sport. After convincing her father of her aspiration, she began training at the Zayed Sports City skating rink. She would go to the rink early every morning before school and return there again for a few more hours after school.

International exposure

She landed her first double axel (figure skating jump) after almost two years of trying.

In 2012, she attended her first international competition, the European Cup in Canazei, Italy.

But she was marked down by the authorities for her hijab (headscarf), citing safety reasons.

Lari raised the issue with International Skating Union (ISU). “Once I explained it wouldn’t trip me up or get caught in the ice, they changed the rule book. Now, the hijab is not an issue anymore,” she said.

She has shared the rink with US gold medallist Evan Lysacek, Canadian World Champion Shane-Lynn Bourne and five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist Michelle Kwan.

“They all gave me valuable advice on how to improve my form,” said Zahra.

With qualification rounds just weeks away, she currently follows a strict regimen.

She gets up at 6am, and after a quick breakfast, heads to the rink for her training session.

It goes on till 7pm with breaks in between.

Her diet consists of low carb food with controlled portions.

“Skaters have to be very careful with their weight because an increase of even half a kilo can adversely affect their jumps and moves.”

She considers her injury in Italy a small setback. “I am already back to semi-full training and hopefully will reach my peak form at the qualifications,” she said.

Olympic dream

“If I qualify for the Olympics, it will be a dream come true. But even if I don’t, I will continue to train and be ready for the next one,” said Zahra, who is pursuing a degree in Environmental Health and Safety at Abu Dhabi University.

“I want to have a career away from sports but also coach the next generation figure skaters in the UAE so that they don’t have to face the struggles I went through,” she said.

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer