Nam Nguyen, a 21-year-old from Ajax, Ont., has what it takes to make it to the top. He has placed in the top 10 of numerous world skating competitions and in 2018 he won a gold medal at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. This year he was named the overall Canadian Tire National Skating Champion. The pride of the Vietnamese-Canadian community, Nam spoke with Culture Magazin recently and shared some inside information about staying competitive.
How did you get interested in figure skating?
Like most Canadian boys, I started playing hockey when I was five. A few months into playing hockey, my parents put me into figure skating classes to improve my skating skills for hockey. I remember my first day watching these skaters do jumps and spins. That’s what caught my interest with this sport. From age five to eight, I did both sports at the same time. After winning my first national title at eight, I decided to continue only with figure skating, because I wasn’t interested in chasing the puck and getting hit by other players.
What are you studying and where?
I am currently in the Health Studies Program at York University. I just finished my first year.
How long have you been training for competitions?
I have been skating for 16 years and have been on Team Canada for almost nine years.
Will you take on another career eventually?
Yes, I would like to pursue another career once I am done competitive skating. However, I am not sure what I will do. I would like to stay in the skating world and give back to the community as a coach, but if anything else comes up I will check out those opportunities.
Have you ever experienced hardships during your career? What has been your biggest challenge?
My hardships were the daily battles with my body constantly changing. Going through puberty plays with you mentally, emotionally, and physically. You go into a day of training feeling unfamiliar with your body, because your limbs are getting longer, and your centre of gravity is constantly changing. It starts to affect you mentally because you’re thinking of a million ways to try to adjust to these changes and that causes more stress and anxiety. At the end of the day the best thing to do is trust your support team to help you through this block.
Everyone has their own challenges, but I think the most general ones are fatigue and the emotional weight we have to face on a daily basis during training.
Do you have a special diet for your training?
No, I just eat whatever my mom makes for me, which is pretty healthy.
What separates the good athletes from the rest of the pack is the ability to work through the negative aspects that come up and still get the job done.
How do you focus mentally before a competition?
The biggest thing for me is to take some time to myself and slow my breathing down. When you get to an event everything around you is moving at a fast pace and the stress and tension start to heighten. Once you get caught in that “stress storm” it’s pretty hard to get out.
The best thing for me is to find a quiet space and slow everything down and that starts with my breathing.
This allows me to clear my head and focus on the job that I need to do, which is to put on a great skate.
Sports is not an ideal career choice for many Vietnamese households. Have you ever felt pressured as a Vietnamese-Canadian figure skater?
Growing up, I never thought about myself as a Vietnamese-Canadian figure skater. I only looked at myself as a figure skater who is trying to do his best and make a name for himself amongst the other top-level skaters in the world. I am so honoured and privileged to have the Vietnamese-Canadian community behind me, supporting me as I continue my skating career.
How do you balance your school work and training?
It’s all about time management and knowing that you can stick with it for the year. At the beginning of the season, my coach and I sit down and plan out the schedule for the year. We look at what’s realistic or not. There have been some days when it has been extremely difficult for me to keep up with the schedule, but it’s normal to have these kinds of days and you do your best to push through.
How important are athletics for young people?
It’s very important for young individuals to be involved with sports, because it promotes a healthy lifestyle and introduces a competitive atmosphere at an early age. I believe you should have variety in your life early on, instead of just focusing on academics. Personally, I don’t see myself working a job where I have to sit behind a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am the kind of person who likes to get physical and do hands-on work. But, it is up to the individual. If they like the idea of being part of an environment where they are being stimulated for their better health, that’s great. If that doesn’t interest them, then that’s great too.
Who is your ideal role model?
I don’t have a particular role model. There are people who have inspired me, though. They are the ones who have a positive outlook on life and are always enjoying themselves. I like to approach life by not being hung up on the outcome of things, but rather fully immersing myself in the process.
Do you have a message that you want to share with other young people to inspire them?
Stay in the moment. This saying for me has helped me get through some of the most stressful moments of my life. By staying in the moment, I can deal with whatever is at hand and slow my thinking down before I do anything irrational. Staying in the moment also helps with making sure you embrace every little thing along your journey, because before you know it all of this will be over. Be present with everything and embrace all the things that life has to offer.
What is your future plan?
Currently, I am enjoying some time off before I get back into shape for the upcoming season. My only focus, for now, is whatever I need to do for school and skating.
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