Twelve years of gliding across the ice

Junior ice skater practices weekly to advance into the senior rank at Chaparral Ice Rink


Nick Wood

KEEPING HER BALANCE: Junior Ayaka Chao has been skating for the majority of her life, starting off in elementary at Chaparral Ice, and working up until now. Chao practices before school every other week day, and finds this time relaxing from the daily stresses of high school.

Sophia Sanchez, Feature Editor

Ice skating is a rare activity for most Bowie students. For junior Ayaka Chao, ice skating represents many things in her life. The sport represents her dedication to activities, her attentiveness to the world around her, and a de-stressor from her busy school schedule.

Chao has been ice skating for almost 12 years and discovered her passion through her first experiences as a child.

“I started ice skating when I was around five years old,” Chao said. “I kind of started it for fun because I was introduced to it in a summer camp. When I went, I really liked it from the start.”

From the beginning, Chao felt a strong pull toward ice skating. Chao’s mother, Yuki Mimura, noticed immediately Chao’s gravitation toward ice skating.

“Ayaka had a friend who was already into ice skating, so I put her in a summer camp for skating,” Mimura said. “During the camp, I noticed she was really happy and excited when on the ice. She was even able to skate pretty well for a five-year-old in just one camp day.”

Chao started attending group beginner lessons at Chaparral Ice in north Austin, as a friendly introduction to her new interest. For almost six years, Chao was part of the beginner group and then started to level up in the ranks with the help of her new coach, Jessica Smith. 

 “I’ve been a coach for almost 17 years,” Smith said. “I think I’ve been Ayaka’s coach since she was in elementary school. My favorite thing about coaching is providing an option for my skaters to reach their goals, both in the rink and outside in their normal lives. It’s fun for me to see Ayaka develop both as an athlete and as a remarkable person.”

Chao typically participates in a technical moves field rather than competition in the free skate field at Chaparral Ice. According to Chao, her field is separated into ranks, the highest one being senior rank. In order to level up ranks skaters must take a test performing their new abilities to be graded by judges. 

 “Sometimes I go three times a week to just practice for the senior rank test,” Chao said. “I would love to pass that test by senior year.”

What kept me going was just kind of all those Olympic ice skaters. I also have a lot of friends I’ve made. It’s like a little community.

— Ayaka Chao, Junior

While taking nearly all AP classes, Chaos’ schedule can become stressful with finding a good time to practice skating. 

“I definitely feel overwhelmed by my schedule sometimes,” Chao said. “Especially on Mondays and Fridays. It’s like I’m at Chaparral ice at 5:30 in the morning, and then I have school, and then sometimes I have something after school. Then after homework, I’m usually staying up until like at least 12 o’clock doing all the stuff. Then I have to wake up at like 4:45 the next day, so it’s hectic.”

According to Chao, the ice skating community she was able to be a part of pushed her to keep doing her best. 

“I think my favorite memory would always just be like all the milestones that I’ve hit,” Chao said. “All the hard jumps that would take me two or three years to master, when I would be able to land them perfectly.”

Despite the trials of Chaos’ schedule, she manages to find a balance between her school and skating life, even showing signs of it while on the ice.

“When I saw Ayaka ice skate in person, my first impression was how easily balanced she was,” senior Hibiki Jige said. “She would skate smoothly over the ice. It felt like she was another person I didn’t know. The many tricks she showed me were fascinating and fun to watch.”

Chaos’ natural ease on the ice benefits her ability to perform new skills. 

“A couple moments with Ayaka stick out,” Smith said. “When she landed her double flip randomly on her first try, and the ending of one of her first competitive programs several years ago. She always went full out to finish that program the best she could and it’s great to see that.”

For Chao skating on the ice provides a moment of self-reflection.

“Skating really made me think about my body,” Chao said. “Also it really helps me mentally. I get to just kind of lay back without having to think about math or like history or whatever I like or don’t like about school, whatever is stressful about it. I just get to calm down in a cool environment, literally and you know, metaphorically.”

Skating has become a natural de-stressor for Chao, which helps with achieving her goals.

“She’s always improving,” Smith said. “I’ve seen her start her first jumps and compete a few times, and now landing several double jumps on and off the ice, and she’s starting to enjoy spinning more often.”

Chao’s dedication to the sport is recognizable and something her parents admire. 

“I’m proud of her for continuing the sport for around 12 years, even though her practices are early in the morning,” Mimura said. “She’s able to get up without complaining or wanting to skip, and goes to her practices with her best effort.”

Throughout the years, Chao has created and met multiple goals, never giving up on what she wants to achieve. However, the judging test can be difficult when it comes to leveling up ranks.

“Test sessions can be hard. Ice skating isn’t like one of those things where you score something, and you get the point and win,” Chao said. “It’s more like the judges look at you and it’s all artistics. A judge can make or break your test. I’ve had times where I failed a test like five times, so it took me a whole two years to be able to clear that rank.”

I think Ayaka’s strong suit is balancing both her skating and school life, and being able to switch focus one at a time.

— Hibiki Jige, Senior

Ice skating requires perfection and an understanding of one’s body. Media representation of skaters has largely affected Chao’s body image. 

“I really love the American skaters, but personally I really like looking up to the Japanese skaters,” Chao said. “The American skaters are great, but they don’t have the same body type as me, so I can’t really relate to them with things I want to accomplish physically. But the Japanese skaters are similar to me.”

Ice skating has also trained Chao to be aware of her surroundings on the ice, when she’s skating solo, or along with someone else. 

“We have skated together once,” Jige said. “I only have a little experience in ice skating so she would help lead me to make sure I wouldn’t fall. I was surprised by how attentive she was, making sure that I wouldn’t bump into other skaters who were speeding like crazy. I think her coaching allowed me to get through this session.”

According to Chao, years out on the ice have changed her for the better. Chao has created a safe haven for herself and continues to enhance her skills.

 “When I first started I would get really nervous for the tests,” Chao said. “Like shaking and whatnot, but as I did it every year, it got better. I still can get nervous but I don’t feel that way when I get on the ice. It kind of calms me down. I like being the only one on the ice, and it’s like, it’s just me.”