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(Photo courtesy of Lisa Nakajima)

Know Your Athlete: Lisa Nakajima

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When Lisa Nakajima, U3 Anatomy and Cell Biology, watched Canadian skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier perform at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, she knew she wanted to participate in the sport. Now, Nakajima is co-captain of the McGill figure skating club—a competitive club consisting of 17 skaters.

“I just watched them skate, and I [said] ‘Mom that’s what I want to do,’” Nakajima said.

Growing up in skiing- and snowboarding-obsessed Whistler, British Columbia, figure skating was not a popular sport. However, after participating in public skates at local arenas, a coach recruited her and she began her career in competitive figure skating.

“During high school, I trained around 25 to 30 hours a week,” Nakajima said. “That’s not all on the ice, that also includes gym and stuff like that, but it was a lot of time. I trained a lot, and I was competing at the provincial level.”

Nakajima spent a year after high school skating professionally on cruise ships primarily sailing in the Caribbean. While on the ships, Nakajima was paid to perform in regular ice shows, as well as help entertain guests on the ship.

“It was a huge learning curve for me,” Nakajima said. “I was used to a set schedule [of] school and skating [….The] people were so much fun. I also got to meet people from all over the world […] from Olympic athletes to […] skaters who went on Disney on Ice.”

At McGill, the team practices four times per week and regularly participates in competitions. This season, the team competed in three events: The OUA Fall Invitational, Invitation Laval Synchro, and the OUA Winter Invitational, placing second, third, and fourth respectively.

Though McGill figure skating is not a varsity team, many of the club’s competitors have varsity status, meaning that they receive funding and have access to more training time and coaching. Although they are trying to obtain varsity status as a team, the figure skating club is currently entirely student-run. As co-captains, Nakajima and her counterpart, Danika Kapeikis, must be leaders on the ice while simultaneously working behind the scenes with other members of the club’s executive team. They’re also responsible for organizing events, from fundraisers to the team’s holiday shows.

“We are leaders of the team, we’re role models, [and we try] to make a more cohesive team to get everyone involved and really raise team morale,” Nakajima said. “But we have to do a lot of stuff like answering emails. We hired the coaches in the summer, we planned the tryouts, a lot of the nitpicky details.”

When Nakajima began her studies at McGill, she didn’t expect to continue skating until learning that McGill had a competitive figure skating club.

“I didn’t come to university to skate,” Nakajima said. “I thought I was going to quit, so when I came here, I was super excited to find the team.”

At McGill, Nakajima continued to skate primarily to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle, but now, her favourite part of skating on the team is the community.

“Moving away from home across the country was really difficult, so having those people that are there for you all the time, at any time in the day is incredible,” Nakajima said. “[Practices are] so early in the morning, we’re all not in a great mood, but the fact that we enjoy each other’s company at 6:30 a.m. says a lot.”

After she finishes her undergraduate degree, Nakajima is considering taking some time away from figure skating to focus on her studies when she moves on to medical school.

“[Skating on the cruise ship] was my way of transitioning from the really competitive side to the more fun professional career, and then I decided I was on to academics [at McGill],” Nakajima said. “When I came here and did four more years of skating, it wasn’t expected. So I think after this I’m going to take a break, [but] I honestly probably won’t.”

Whether or not Nakajima is ready to hang up her skates, this season marks the end of her career at McGill. Nakajima and the rest of the figure skating club will perform their year-end show on Mar. 18 at McConnell Arena.

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