It is crazy to think I am retiring at 23 years old.
Some people don’t understand why I am doing this. Perhaps they think that I am scared of the talent rising in the figure skating community. This is not the case. I made the decision for myself, fully. I can’t say there was a specific moment or conversation that helped me decide to stop competing. It was more a series of events, starting back in 2014.
I was dealing with a number of injuries. I was struggling with a torn hamstring during the 2014 Olympic Games, and I was tired in the aftermath. Then, just as training was getting into high gear for the next season, I developed a stress fracture in my foot. I was so frustrated by the seemingly constant stream of injuries that I told myself if I get injured one more time I won’t be fighting back from it. The next thing I knew, I was on the ice screaming. My leg was broken. I was completely defeated. While I was in my cast, I became convinced that I would never return to the ice. I was scared to say that aloud to anyone, so I just nodded and agreed to future training plans, even though inside my head, I was rolling my eyes, thinking, “yeah right, I am not doing that.” Seven weeks later I was skating again. I was doing what I was told, but there was no heart involved, it made the healing slower. I was never good at saying “no.”
Fast forward to 2015, back in the thick of competition, I was nervous for the first time in my life. I was uncomfortable in front of judges, which is usually where I thrived. I had the worst skate of my life that season. I fell in my short program, hurting myself pretty badly, and then fell another five times in my long program. I was hurt physically, humiliated, and questioning why I was still trying. I was headed to nationals not long after this. My rollercoaster season hit another big drop when I missed the world team by a very small margin. I was devastated. Again. I wasn't mad that I didn't qualify, but I felt so unlike myself on the ice, that I couldn’t recognize who the person skating was. It was the bottom point of a downward spiral. Two years out from the Olympics, I couldn’t let those disappointments be my last memories of skating.
I set my first real end goal. I put everything in my power toward making the most of the two years before Pyeongchang. I decided, heart and soul, to heal myself and make these the most memorable years of my life. That is exactly what ended up happening. I began skating better than ever before. I felt better than I had in such a long time. I was strong and healthy, and if a hiccup happened, I was powerful enough to overcome anything. I still can’t believe how invincible I felt during that time. Sure, there were difficulties, but I had an amazing team around me, and they kept me going.
Then came the Olympics. It was time for that final battle and I was more than ready for it. Funnily enough, strong as I felt, I never thought the podium was within reach. I was planning to have the skate of my life, but the podium, in my opinion, was untouchable. The week before my individual event, I told my sports psychologist, “I am leaving here with a gold medal regardless. But if I manage to hit the podium again, I am done.” Just a week after saying those words, I was actually standing on the podium. I couldn’t believe it.
The month post-Olympics was more nightmare than dream. I had never been more exhausted. I cried constantly. My body was in pain. I had a back injury that seemed to keep getting worse. I was talking to a friend before I left for worlds, unsure if I even had the ability to make it there. We tried to have fun and we joked about becoming world champion, and I remember saying these exact words: “If I ever become world champion, I am definitely done.”
Once I got to worlds, it seemed like every step was testing my will. My first practice, I hurt my ankle on a triple Lutz. My back was hurting more. I made mistakes in practice. I had trouble sleeping at night. My short program didn’t feel comfortable. I felt like a robot. I called my friend after my short and said I couldn’t finish. I wasn’t going to get through my long program. But I was there, so I knew I was going to skate.
The four minutes of my long program were the longest of my life. So many emotions went through me. I began my program thinking I was too tired to do the full thing. I was angry when I made a small mistake. I was excited when I landed my last jump and saw my coach Ravi Walia cheer beside where I landed. And complete relief when I hit my ending position. I wanted someone to come pick me up and carry me off the ice. Ravi gave me a hug and the first words I said when I got off was, “I did it.” He asked how I felt and I straight up told him, “That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.” But I did it.
After that, I didn’t care about the results. I had done something that I didn’t think I could do, and I had done it well. When I won, the world muted. I could see everyone vibrating and celebrating, but it was perfectly silent to me. In that moment, I knew this was how I was going to finish my competitive journey.
I stood on the podium, laughing that the week before I said it wasn’t possible. In that moment, I knew it was going to be the last time I would stand on a podium and it felt like a wave washed over me and took a weight with it.
(Large photos by Getty Images)