Deputy Editor Louise Jones talks to Amani Fancy, professional pair’s figure skater, and how she balances being a professional athlete with being a student here at Royal Holloway University of London.
Firstly, thank you so much for talking to us. I have watched some of your videos of you ice skating and some of the routines you perform look utterly terrifying but absolutely amazing! How do you have so much trust in your skating partner and what is the most terrifying move you have had to perform?
To be a pair skater, you have to be a little bit crazy to be quite honest. I personally love the adrenaline of being thrown in the air and lifted all the time (I know, weird), but as you pointed out, there has to be an extremely high level of trust between both partners. To achieve this, it is so vital to remember both partners equally share the same goal – to succeed to the best of their potential as a team, and to always remember that there is no winning without the other. This appreciation creates a special friendship and trust between the pair, where you know that the other will do anything they possibly can to make sure you are safe and happy during training sessions and competitions. For me, not trying any difficult elements until I feel ready is a big part of being able to learn them. Additionally, having a good coach on the side to make sure these tricky elements are happening in the right way is a big factor in feeling safe and trusting one another.
What are some of your past achievements as a professional athlete?
I started skating at the age of 8 in my hometown, a country in the Middle East called Oman. With our summers reaching 50 degrees Celsius, it’s quite ironic that I chose to start a winter sport, but what can I say, I fell in love with it and starting competing straight away. I started off as a solo skater and competed around the Middle East, winning several national competitions. At the age of 11, I was invited to move to Oberstdorf, Germany to train at an Olympic skating school after being spotted at a training camp – quite a change from Oman. Although I lived away from the UK, I have always represented Great Britain in competitions, which has been a great honour. Under Team GB’s wing, I went on to win international titles in Romania and Germany, medalling at the British National Championships, and participating in the Junior World Championships as well as the Youth Olympics. The Youth Olympics was probably the most special event of my whole career – really feeling the team spirit whilst supporting the other British athletes that were competing in other disciplines, as well as living in the Olympic village and holding the Olympic torch was a little dream come true. Around three and a half years ago, I began with pair skating – something I never thought I’d be doing. The thought of having to share a failure with somebody else, let alone sharing a victory, was not something I was keen on, but as soon as I started, I truly fell in love with this new form of ice skating. I went on to become two-time British Champion in pair skating, ranked 12th in Europe and 16th in the World, won an international medal in Tallinn, Estonia, and came 8th place in a Grand Prix in Nagano, Japan. We were additionally supported by the British Federation, UK Sport, and were a part of Team GB’s elite squad. Competing in massive arenas in places like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Stockholm was quite mesmerising as a teenager and are experiences that I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
What is your favourite thing about skating?
My favourite thing about skating and what drew me to the sport was being able to express myself to music. The ice allows you to glide so beautifully and letting my emotions run free to the music that was playing quickly became my most favourite thing to do.
What does a typical daily schedule/ routine look like for you?
As a fulltime athlete, you are looking at around five hours of training a day, six days a week. This includes warm up and cool down time, three hours of intense training on the ice, and an hour a day of off-ice work, which can comprise of cardio, core work, circuit training, stretching, Pilates, or interval training, depending on what you and your coach feel you need at the time. Mental training is also a very important aspect of off-ice training and can include meditation, visualisation, or even just talking to a sports psychologist about the ice-related challenges you are facing, how to overcome certain obstacles in training, mental techniques for competition or element execution, or even personal issues that may be implicating your sport. I can’t stress enough how important this side of the training was for me; the times I would visualise were the times I saw most success in competition. Education has always been as much of a priority as sport is to me; even before moving to Germany at the age of 11, my dad and I made an unofficial contract with one another – He promised to give me the freedom to succeed in sport as long as I kept up my grades, and we worked together to achieve both goals. I was home-schooled so that I could be flexible with my study hours and take my work with me wherever I went as everything was online-based. This did come with hardships though. Having to be disciplined to do your own work at such a young age was not easy, and not having the motivation of friends or teachers made it even more difficult. However I made sure to get in around 5 hours of schoolwork per day to keep my grades high, and today I’m talking about this at Royal Holloway, an absolutely amazing university that is just like our very own Hogwarts! It was never an option for me to do an online university course – I always wanted to experience “uni-life” and I can’t explain how excited I was to come here and interact with real professors and real students rather than a computer screen… Royal Holloway has exceeded my expectations. It has truly been the most incredible experience of my life and being able to come home after tough training sessions to the loveliest flatmates is just great.
How do you balance being a professional athlete and the stresses of being a university student?
I’ve been asked this question a lot, and I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy trying to balance both and there were several times I failed to achieve that balance, but it most definitely is possible. I think if you are truly in love with a sport, and have a deep, fiery passion to go all the way, always eager and enthusiastic to push the boundaries and reach higher and higher – you are so willing to make the necessary sacrifices. You’ll wake up early, you’ll miss out on parties with your friends so you can cram in a study session, you’ll train till you are sweating and crying, you’ll get injured and spend weeks in physiotherapy, you’ll take the harsh criticisms from your coach and do your utmost best to work on them, and you’ll do it, not only for the success, but because you really love the sport.
How has your time here at Royal Holloway positively impacted you and your sport?
In the beginning of 2016, I split up with my ex-skating partner and in September 2016 I had what we call a “try-out” in the skating world, with the 2015 British Pairs Champion, Hamish Gaman. I came to the UK, nervous and excited to see how Hamish and I would match on the ice and whether things would work out. Once we started skating together, I really couldn’t believe how much we progressed in just three weeks – we simply clicked on the ice and mentally, both very aligned in the way we viewed the sport. Even though we are physically the complete opposite – him being 6 foot, 4 and built like the strongest man on earth, and me being tiny at five foot, we share very similar skating styles, very similar music taste (which is very important to me as I’m quite picky, haha), and were doing difficult tricks in just a month, some that I had never been able to previously achieve in my whole pair skating career. During the try-out, university was just beginning. New life, new country, new friends, and a new course was all so exciting, but also very overwhelming (especially being away from mum and dad, I didn’t think I’d miss them as much as I do). It made me realise that I had never had the chance to see who I was without the label of being a figure skater and would not get the opportunity to find myself and really take advantage of what the university had to offer if I was training high-level. Hamish and I spoke and decided to spend some time working on personal endeavours. For me that was to settle into university life and really enjoy being a normal student; focusing on academia, making friends, joining various societies such as dance and debating (and Harry Potter of course), diving into other playing fields and excelling in other areas. This is where I am today. It is so wonderful knowing that Hamish and I, together as a team, have the capability of getting to the top in Great Britain, but today, I know that I need to be taking this time out for me, to find my own identity and make a difference to the world outside of skating. How does this answer the question: how has your time here at Royal Holloway positively impacted you and your sport? Even from before arriving at Royal Holloway, the university showed great interest in the fact that I was an athlete, and you don’t see this is many universities in the U.K. I felt supported from the day I received my scholarship offer. Being a sports scholar here, and being part of the Bears is honestly the best thing ever – it is a true community, and no matter what sport you are from, other athletes and department members are always cheering you on. The scholarship is so comprehensive, including workshops, gym membership, many on-campus benefits, an excellent strength and conditioning coach, Adam Spence, and a very qualified physiotherapist, Andrew Goldspink. The person that has impacted my sport and most importantly my well-being and happiness here at the university, is the manager of the Sports Scholarship Scheme and my personal mentor, Erin Walter-Williams. From the day go, Erin has been my rock with anything, be it finding the right accommodation, settling in, or just someone to talk to about how things are going with the skating and the academic course. I could not have wished for a better place than Royal Holloway to start this chapter of my life – it may be a university, but the people have made it feel like a home.
Finally, what do you think you it takes to be a professional athlete?
To become a professional athlete, I believe there are two key things that you need to do/realise.
1) You may only be training five hours of the day, but you are an athlete from the minute you wake up to the minute you go back to sleep. This is something I struggle with as an athlete, making sure that I remember that after training, I can’t just go and be an ordinary young woman. I need to eat well (this means eating enough of the right things), drink enough, stretch my whole body out, have ice baths, give myself regeneration time, go to physiotherapy, use my black roll (a devise that acts as a deep tissue massage on various parts of your body), keep my body mobile, and then make sure I get enough hours of sleep. I believe that this mind-set is the difference between being a mediocre athlete and reaching the standards of a truly successful athlete.
2) You need to have belief. BELIEF, BELIEF, BELIEF. I cannot stress those words enough. I have had days where I wanted to give up, where I felt like there was no point, where I had breakdowns, and the only way I was able to persevere and get back on the ice was because I had belief. Whether I go back to skating or not, I will always be an athlete at heart and have that strong confidence in myself, because it is true, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t. You’re right”.