The Winter Olympics were my dream. But I’m happy to watch them from my sofa.

“I’m going to be the next Michelle Kwan.”

As a kid with high hopes and wild dreams, the Olympics landed on my radar as soon as I set foot on the ice at age 6. Hearing the words “you’ve got talent” after a Learn to Skate lesson at my local New Jersey rink, I did some mental math and became convinced that the Olympics were in the cards.

At age 9, the rink had become my second home and the place where I felt most alive. The second my blade touched the ice, all thoughts and emotions immediately dissipated.

Of course, no one took me seriously. My parents signed me up for group figure skating lessons to keep me busy and entertained, but they didn’t expect my childhood fantasy to turn into a 12-year commitment.

But the group lessons turned into private lessons, and I got heavily involved in sport. After a winning streak at local competitions and learning how to land an axel in three months (a feat that typically takes six months to two years), my parents realized that skating was really something I was into. a future.

I was more than happy to revolve my life around skating. At age 9, the rink had become my second home and the place where I felt most alive. The second my blade touched the ice, all thoughts and emotions immediately dissipated and I was transported to a new dimension. Sport served as a physical and emotional sanctuary, providing me with comfort at every stage of my youth. I often felt like skating was more natural than walking, and my friends laughed at the irony of my grace on the ice given my clumsiness on land.

Emily Chang in her senior class portrait.Emily Chang

Before I knew it, I was at the rink for more than 15 hours a week with a jump specialist, a spin coach, an edge technician, a choreographer, a personal trainer and a physical therapist. Additionally, I took ballet, flexibility, and conditioning classes that pushed me to my mental and physical limits and forced my growing body to endure heavy exertion.

In addition to traditional free skating, I took up solo ice dancing at age 12, which focused on edges, footwork and artistry. This immediately intensified my schedule. My weekends consisted of doing homework in the car on three-hour round trips to practice since my trainers were located in different parts of the state. On weekdays, I would sometimes get up at 5 a.m. for morning practice before school, then head straight to the rink right after school.

I juggled between freestyle and ice dancing for a while, convinced that I had a future in both disciplines. But this balance ended up hindering my progress, and I eventually decided to focus on the latter as it became clear that I was having much more success as a dancer.

I excelled at the US National Solo Dance, a competitive series for single ice dancers. However, I aspired to more than the national titles I achieved. I desperately wanted to skate with a partner because it would allow me to travel overseas and potentially compete in the Olympics. My parents even considered acquiring dual Taiwanese citizenship to give me a head start representing a less competitive country.

I had a few tryouts with partners and loved dancing in a team, but was hesitant to commit to a duet. My grueling training schedule had become extremely detrimental to my mental and physical health since I had reached high school the previous year. I had a rigorous course load, faced chronic injuries and exhaustion, hated dieting, and was forced to sacrifice so much of my social life. Missing social outings had become a painful norm, and I was constantly envious as my friends hung out every day and spent their weekends chilling and partying like normal teenagers.

But I also watched my competitors with envy, as many girls have taken the path of pair skating and advanced into the world of international ice dancing. Seeing their names on my TV screen heightened my pain, as I knew I was capable of being in this position and experiencing the same glory.

I also faced a constant stream of conflicting pressures from those close to me: my coaches wanted me to consider home schooling, my parents bemoaned the exorbitant cost of lessons, my friends implored me to stop altogether. I was constantly in a state of inner turmoil, struggling to decide whether to pursue my athletic dreams or live my normal teenage life. I couldn’t keep straddling both worlds – it was one or the other.

I ended up choosing not to continue dancing as a couple. Although I continued to skate, my priorities changed. My passion for the sport waned further when I fell victim to burnout, in which the competitive lifestyle felt more like a burden than a thrill. The Olympic dream started to slip away and I started to focus more on my school work and my friends.

I may not have become the next Michelle Kwan, but I’ve achieved goals in other parts of my life that wouldn’t have been possible had I been willing to sell my soul to my sport. I became a skating coach and judge. I was a Girl Scout ambassador and received a gold medal for my community service. And I developed a passion for writing that led me to launch an internationally award-winning blog.

I will be forever grateful for the indelible memories and valuable life lessons skating gave me, but choosing not to pursue the sport at the Olympic level was the best decision for my personal growth, mental health and academic future. .

Still, as the 2022 Winter Olympics begin to air with Friday’s Opening Ceremony, it would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I sometimes lament the path not traveled, and I can’t hesitate to regret knowing that I failed to realize my childhood dream.

Although I remember my glory days as an athlete, I now relish the luxury of sleeping in after noon, eating what my heart desires, and spending my free time with friends.

Of course, I never qualified for the Olympics, and it’s bold to assume I would have. But I feel a pang of sadness knowing that this life was once within reach. The next two weeks will certainly be a melting pot of emotions as the Olympics trigger my nostalgia and remind me that I am no longer a competitor, just a spectator.

At the same time, the Olympics serve to validate my decisions. Although I remember my glory days as an athlete, I now relish the luxury of sleeping in after noon, eating what my heart desires, and spending my free time with friends. I used to be racked with guilt every time I indulged in any of these things, so my current lifestyle is all about happiness.

The 2022 Winter Olympics will be about relaxing stress-free in my college apartment, reconnecting with my beloved sport, and sharing pieces of my past life with my new friends. Skating will always be part of who I am, and it’s nice to finally have my cake and eat it too.

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