Sara during a contest. When she was 6, the child prodigy had seen figures skaters performing in the ice rink at Dubai Mall. Sara knew at that moment she wanted to become a professional figure skater. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: A 12-year old Emirati girl is aspiring to become the UAE’s next big thing in figure skating after being selected to the UAE National Team.

Having placed third at the Abu Dhabi Classic Figure Skating Trophy in March, Sara bin Karam told Gulf News that she aims to keep going until she can “leave a mark for the UAE”.

“[God willing], I hope to make my country proud one day. I am pleased to have achieved my personal best score, placing third for this national championship. Although I know there is still much to learn, I am eager to make the most of every minute on the ice. I believe that with commitment and determination, I can achieve my goals and leave my mark for the UAE in this beautiful and amazing sport,” Sara said.

Multiple achievements

A Year 7 student at Abu Dhabi’s Al Yasmina Academy, Sara continued to participate in international competitions even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and won multiple medals at the Skate Asia contest in Malaysia in 2022. She also achieved her personal best at the International Skating Union (ISU) event in Romania earlier this year, finishing sixth overall in her category.

Sara is currently in Grade 7 at school Image Credit: Supplied

Discovering the sport

Sara had fallen in love with figure skating six years ago during a visit to an ice rink.

“When I was six years old, my family and I had gone to Dubai Mall with plans for a day of ice skating. We discovered that the ice rink was closed for an event, and I happened to see several figure skaters executing incredible jumps and spins during their performances. In that moment, I knew I wanted to become a figure skater myself,” she said.

Following this first encounter, Sara discussed the need for skating lessons for herself with her father. When he eventually relented, her father enrolled Sara for ice hockey lessons as one of her brothers was already a player who gone on to become “the youngest Emirati ice hockey referee”.

“Although I enjoyed it, my heart was set on figure skating, and after several months with the Abu Dhabi Ice Skating Club, my father recognised my passion and transferred me to the Emirates Skating Club to pursue my dream of becoming a figure skater,” she said.

Sara Bin Karam with parents
Sara with mum and dad Image Credit: Supplied

Intense training

The young skater spends a great deal of her time in training, knowing that the sport requires a lot of physical fitness, strength, and stamina.

“My training regimen is quite intense, consisting of about 14 hours of practice each week, both on and off the ice. Endurance is critical to performing a flawless skate, so I primarily focus on building my stamina. I also take choreography classes to improve my posture and interpretive skills, while the off-ice jump class helps me develop the strength and balance necessary for executing spins on the ice.”

During on-ice sessions, Sara works constantly to improve her jumps and spins. She is already able to execute a double jump, and four-level spins. She is now aiming to perfect her double axel - a jump with multiple rotations while in flight - so that she can go on to master triple jumps. Among the spins, the broken-leg sit spin happens is her favourite.

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Preparing a routine

Unlike many other sports, ice skating also places major focus on the final performance. This is why preparing for a competition also requires Sara to create a perfect routine for the season.

“I must first select a piece of music and then choreograph it to include jumps and spins. The difficulty level of these elements directly impacts the points awarded for my programme,” she explained.

“In competitions, judges evaluate jumps, spins, and overall presentation, underscoring the importance of meticulously preparing my programme. But what sets figure skating apart is the mental and strategic component. If I fail to deliver clean elements, I must be able to adapt my program on the fly.”

This season, Sara will be performing to ‘Carol of the Bells’ by Lindsey Sterling, and her choreography crafted by her former ice dancer coach, Bogdan. Her costume, on the other hand, was designed by Carolina Paz, a Chilean artist.

Striking the balance

Although she is working to become a performer of renown, Sara is still a dedicated student in the classroom.

“Figure skating does not interfere with my studies, on the contrary, it helps to clear my mind and enables me to concentrate better in class. I believe that the combination of an early start and the fresh, cold air in the rink revitalises my mind and helps me to start the day off right.”

She also has to strike the right balance between studying and training, especially with limited ice time in the UAE throughout the year.

“Figure skating is not just about practising before competitions, it requires a commitment of at least five days a week. Top figure skaters in the world spend a minimum of four hours on the ice every day… Fortunately, I have received great support and understanding from Al Yasmina Academy so far.

Although most of my training is scheduled outside of school hours, sharing the ice with ice hockey and other clubs at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink means that ice time is very scarce. So once a week, I am released early from school to take advantage of available ice time. I attend the PRO class most mornings, which starts at 6am and lasts for an hour before school,” Sara said.

Proudest moments

Asked about her biggest achievements thus far, Sara pointed out the honour of representing her nation.

“One of the proudest moments of my career as a figure skater was when I was chosen to represent the UAE National Team [last eyar]. It is an honour to be able to officially represent my country on the international stage. Another high point was achieving third place in the Abu Dhabi Classic Figure Skating Trophy held in Abu Dhabi recently.”

Sara was also part of a commercial filmed by Etisalat last year, and enjoyed the recognition.

“The commercial was widely aired, and it was a source of immense pride for me when friends and family recognised me in the advertisement and sent messages of appreciation,” she said.

What’s next?

Looking ahead, Sara is planning to attend training at the ISU Center of Excellence for Figure Skating in Bergamo, Italy. There, she will have access to “state-of-the-art facilities, and some of the best coaches in the world”.

“Additionally, I’m planning to train with Jorik Hendrix in Belgium this summer, whose sister recently placed third for Belgium in the Junior World’s hosted in Japan. After Belgium, I will travel to France for additional training with some of the top coaches in the country.”

She will also complete in a local event in Al Ain called Skate Emirate 2023, where she hopes to further strengthen her personal best.

Unwavering support

Sara is keenly aware that she is following in the footsteps of Zahra Lari, the first Emirati figure skater.

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to [Zahra] for her unwavering support and guidance, without which I [would not have been selected to the UAE national team],” she said.

Sara with Zahra Lari, the first Emirati figure skater Image Credit: Supplied

The ambitious figure skater also credits her parents and family, who have supported her through the years, from early-morning training sessions before school and to accessing resources that help her attain even more.

“Even family vacations are planned around my skating camps so that I can access the best resources and have uninterrupted training,” Sara said.