MONTREAL–As the daughter of two Canadians, it was neither surprising nor strange that I first touched the ice at the tender age of two. With a hand-me-down green snow suit, lopsided helmet and miniscule plastic skates, my mom, who was an avid skater back in the day, held me under the arms and dragged me rather awkwardly around the ice. A photo was taken to mark the occasion and that was that. Little did any of us know that this first encounter with the ice, which would later be followed by weekly lessons, ice skating birthday parties and eventually a few low level competitions, had planted a seed within me.
Over the years, that seed developed into a full-blown blossom of a goal to someday compete for my country (while I am a dual citizen of Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain, I compete now for the latter), and eventually in the Winter Olympics. During my early years on ice, I shared this dream with many of my fellow skaters, because who wouldn’t want to be an Olympian? It’s the ultimate goal for many athletes. I also proudly told of my dreams to my school friends who were intrigued by my love for a sport that was so rare in England. And so though I would say over and over “I want to go to the Olympics,” it was something that, deep down, I never fully believed I could accomplish as it sounded so far-fetched.
As my love for and dedication to the sport continued to grow and mature, I kept improving and climbed up the ranks of solo ice dance in England over a period of five years, attending six national championships before winning silver at my final two solo dance championships–all this before getting my first ice dance partner and representing Great Britain at numerous international competitions in places like Germany, Estonia and Hungary.
After switching ice dance partners in October 2016, my new partner Lewis Gibson and I improved exponentially, realizing our potential as a team. Despite our short time skating together, we became the 2016 Senior British Ice Dance Champions and went on to compete at the European and the World Championships earlier this year (at which I was the youngest competitor), competing against skaters that I grew up idolizing and watching on TV, including the world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who I am actually lucky enough to train alongside. After competing at Worlds, which was in March in Helsinki, the next step is the Olympics.
Yep, you see, I really have followed that dream and now there is a chance I could be an Olympian. This is something that I still can’t quite fathom, but it is my reality; a reality that has involved an unbelievable amount of commitment, hard work and sacrifice. This meant declining invitations to parties and other social events all throughout high school in London because I rose at 5am, six days a week to head to practice (driven by my mother- thanks Mom!) so I cannot afford to be exhausted. It meant missing three months of my senior year training and competing abroad while having to maintain my school work and grades.
My schedule was and is intense to say the least, consisting of four hours on the ice each day followed by off-ice cardio and weights, as well as artistic and ballroom coaching and ballet every week. In order to manage all of these commitments and keep on top of my school work, I have had to master the skills of time-management and organization. This was incredibly stressful at times but creating checklists and schedules saved me, and is something that I now apply to many different areas of my life. A little tip: color schemes are crucial but you may end up with a mix-matched abundance of coloured pens and pencils.
My new reality also meant deferring my offer at an Ivy League university for this year in order to train full time in Montreal. It was a decision that was agonizing for me, as I value education enormously and had counted down the days left until “the best four years of my life” would commence. However, these are the sacrifices that any elite athlete is expected to make, and I made the decision to focus solely on the Winter Olympics, which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea in February 2018, and have never felt so thrilled about my journey.
And while there have been many sacrifices, it has also allowed me to create some of the most wonderful memories. For example my absence from school last year allowed me to travel to seven different countries and to tick Finland off of my bucket list of places to visit. We braved the blistering cold and toured Helsinki like pros, visiting the beautiful cathedral and even stumbled upon an adorable local store that makes homemade candies with the national flag on them. We may or may not have bought an excessive amount of candy to distribute to my friends back home. I’ve had some crazy adventures in my travels, including ending up in a random cat café in the middle of Ostrava, Czech Republic, sprinting through the Milan airport in my competition costume and makeup to catch a flight, and swimming in New York’s Lake Placid in the middle of the night.
Skating has taken me all around the world to places I probably would have never thought to visit. This season, I will be heading to Bratislava to compete in November, where I hope to experience not only the iconic pastry called Bratislavsky rozok but also a chance to check out the beautiful old town. I absolutely adore travelling and immersing myself in new and interesting cultures and, as a lover of languages, I enjoy trying to piece together what the locals say and pick up little phrases along the way. Who knows, one day knowing how to say autobusová zastávka (the Czech word for bus stop) might come in handy.
Despite most of my teenage years always on the road or back at school in London, I have always felt very at home in Canada, where all of my extended family reside. Something about the relaxed lifestyle and genuine kindness of people really comforts me, and of course, the fantastic coffee at Tim Hortons after a long day on the ice doesn’t hurt either. I have always dreamed of living here someday and I now get to call Montreal my home for the next several months. I am lucky enough to train at one of the world’s best ice dance academy at Centre Gadbois alongside world class athletes and coaches who motivate and inspire me every day.
My training mates are from eight different countries ranging from Spain to Japan and Denmark, and our passion for skating unites us. And despite us all being competitors, the team atmosphere is indisputable. You can find ‘Team Gadbois’ huddled together in the stands at competitions, cheering our teammates on by screaming our heads off. I have met some of my best friends through this sport as we share the journey and lifestyle, the crazy schedule, and the understanding of the commitment that is necessary in order to succeed.
It’s been a great honor to represent Great Britain in competitions across the globe, and I truly have loved the experiences I have had through skating and getting a chance to grow up in a place as international as London. It’s been so much fun to have had a proverbial skate firmly planted in both Canada and Great Britain. I know that the determination, hard work, organizational skills and inner strength I have learned through being an athlete will put me in good stead not only as we get ready to compete for our place in the XXIII Winter Olympics, but whatever life goals I set out to do once I hang up my skates.
Lilah Fear is an 18 year old British/Canadian figure skater who graduated from high school in London in 2017. She is a food enthusiast, secret coloratura soprano and has plans to learn as many languages as possible—she currently studies French and Spanish, and hopes to learn Italian and a bit of Mandarin this year.
Photos courtesy of Lilah Fear: 1) Skating with her partner Lewis Gibson; 2) With her mother as a young girl; 3) Lilah Fear