The self-possessed Hannah Dawson thinks she knows why her skate won the junior women’s skating title last week.

“There was a long time that I wasn’t skating for myself,” says Dawson. “Now I am skating for me — to make myself happy,” she said. That, coupled with a lot of hard work, took Dawson to the top spot at the Canadian National Skating Championships which took place in Saint John, New Brunswick.

From being anxious every time she went to the rink, Hannah says that this year, the decision to skate for herself took the pressure off.

“I was putting pressure on myself that wasn’t there.”

But Dawson had a hurdle to surmount this past year. A fractured fibula at the start of 2018 was a setback that took significant effort in order for Dawson to get back in good skating form.

There are many hours of work, thought, dedication and planning that happen to create a few magical minutes on the ice.

Dawson skates three hours per day, five days per week. She trains twice per week at a gym at the rink where she practices and has one stretch class per week. She credits her personal trainer for bringing joy into the gym, making it easy to stay engaged in the training.

With a commitment like this to figure skating, what has Hannah had to let go of?

“I don’t go to school,” she answers quickly. She does all of her schooling online and she is okay with that.

“I am doing this to be able to travel the world and I have friends in Australia, Sweden, Russia … everywhere. I think it is great to be getting all of this culture along with the skating,” Dawson commented.

She admits that for 13 to 15-year-olds, it can be hard.

“You want to be with your friends and you want a boyfriend and you want friends outside of the rink,” Dawson said.

But friendships at the rink do grow and as an example, Dawson says she has a best friend who will be finished school soon and who will be training full-time with her.

And there’s her diet. But Dawson says she doesn’t take things quite as seriously as some of the skaters.

“People put so much pressure on themselves. I have a nutritionist and yes, I am trying to maintain my weight and I do know what my healthy options are,” she says. Then she shows a picture of what she ate before her long skate last week: a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries and a Sprite.

There was a time when Dawson was trying to keep her weight below 110 lbs, but she says she came to see that as not only unrealistic, but unhealthy.

“If I am healthy, if I can skate, work out and get through the day with a lot of energy, I eat what I want,” says Dawson, adding that of course, she burns a lot of calories in one day.

Which brings the 17-year-old to her advice for young skaters: “You have to have fun.  Don’t take anything too seriously. If you can’t find the fun, don’t do it. I really want to bring the joy into skating,” Dawson explained.

An exciting part

With every successful jump on the ice, Dawson puts it behind her and starts thinking about the next jump. At the junior women’s skating competition, she knew all of her jumps went well and at the end of her program, when she heard her supporters screaming, she knew she had done well.

A tough part: the falls

Falls do happen, says Dawson, but you have to get up and keep on going.

“I don’t feel really good until I land my last jump and then I think to myself — OMG, I did it.”

She had to do seven jumps as part of her routine, with three combination jumps (two jumps in a row). She says skaters are always thinking as they are skating.

“It’s really math. If you miss a jump, you have to think forward and find a place to add it in — it all has to work.” At the same time, the skater is making sure she is staying in the right place with her choreography.

A fun part: the dresses and the sparkles

While a seamstress will make her dress, adding the sparkles is something that Hannah and her mother, Erin, like to do themselves. Swarovski crystals and pearls are added one at a time to a skating dress that has been tried on by Hannah and then the places to receive crystals and pearls are chalked on. The crystals or pearls, with a glue backing activated by heat, are placed in organized rows by colour, in – are you ready – a panini machine, after which they are picked up one at a time by a stir-stick from Starbucks (they have just the right-size circle at the end of them, says Hannah’s mother) and they are placed onto the dress. It was also Erin who thought of using a panini machine to speed things along. To give you an idea of how many sparkles we are talking about, the mother-daughter team applied 5,000 sparkles to just one dress.

What comes next

While Dawson is having a bit of  “chill” time for the next few months, she is heading off to Toronto for fitness testing. Also on the agenda is a trip to Toronto to build new choreographies. She says that she and a few other skaters head to Toronto, sometimes with one of their coaches, to select music and create new choreographies.

She and her choreographer choose the music for skating routines and they usually start with about six choices, narrowing it down to two. The last step is listening to how the two pieces of music sound on the ice before making a final choice.

The choreography program is created and then the choreographer walks through it with the skater, to see what looks good and what moves suit the skater.

Looking ahead, Hannah says her goal is to get two top-10 finishes to her credit in Grand Prix competitions, to which she has to be invited. Although seven such competitions take place world-wide, a skater can compete at only two of these events. Last year, Hannah competed at one Grand Prix. To get to the Grand Prix final, a skater has to rank in the top three in two of the Grand Prix competitions.

She also wants to place in the top five at the Senior National Skating Competition. That would place her on the Canadian National Skating Team and qualify her for international competition.

What meant a lot to her was the outpouring of support from back home in Vankleek Hill when she won the junior women’s title.

“I had a lot of congratulations, especially from Vankleek Hill,” she said, smiling. I had 60 snapchats and probably 40 of them were from people in Vankleek Hill and 52 texts with 40 of those also from Vankleek Hill. I’ll never forget that. It felt so good.”