My UAE: Ice skater Zahra Lari hopes to take her blades to glory

After eight years on the ice, the Abu Dhabi-based 21-year-old is on the path to becoming the first Emirati athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

‘What you see as today’s struggles will only be tomorrow’s warm-up.” This is the mantra of Emirati ice skater Zahra Lari.

After eight years on the ice, the Abu Dhabi-based 21-year-old is on the path to becoming the first Emirati athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

Lari, currently in ­Switzerland taking part in an intensive training camp, has come a long way since she managed to convince her father to let her take ice-­skating lessons at the age of 13.

"I saw the movie Ice Princess, and was immediately drawn to ice skating," she recalls. "I was able to convince my dad to arrange lessons at Zayed Sports City. That's how the whirlwind started."

Her hobby soon turned into something more serious. Now, Lari trains 20 hours a week on the ice and 10 hours a week off it.

She has her sights set on competing at the World Figure ­Skating Championships, the next Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the Asian Winter Games, before hoping to land a spot at the 2018 ­Winter Olympics in ­Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“So far my biggest achievement has been to compete internationally and having the ­International Skating Union give the UAE full status membership,” she says. “I am honoured to be representing my country ­internationally. I wish more girls would take up competitive sports.”

Currently combining her sport with her studies at Abu Dhabi ­University, Lari has become something of an inspiration for Muslim women all over the world, because she wears the hijab while competing.

She admits that she doesn’t get much free time outside training. “When I do [have free time], I enjoy swimming, movies and visiting my friends,” she says.

By the time 2018 rolls around, she hopes that all the hard work will have been worth it, aided by the support of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, her coach and her team.

What are some things about yourself that not many people know?

I’m afraid of heights, my favourite colour is purple, I love chocolate, and I get cold very easily.

Which song motivates you?

I like to listen to Hall of Fame [by The Script, featuring] when I'm warming up or training. It is very motivational.

Which ice skater do you look up to?

I’m inspired by the skater Yulia Lipnitskaya. She won a gold medal in the team event at the Olympics in Sochi, and she was only 15 years old. After Sochi, she went through many struggles and lost most of her skating elements. However, she never gave up and is once again competing and doing well.

What's your favourite travel destination?

I like to travel everywhere, but I really don’t like to stay anywhere more than one week if possible. I get extremely homesick.

What's your favourite movie?

The Notebook. It's a really sweet movie.

If there was a film made about your life, who would play the lead role?

I would love for Emma Stone to play me because I just like her a lot.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I would say that it was my first coach, Noemi Bedo. She told me to never compete against anyone else, but to always compete against myself.

What book are you currently reading?

Girl at War by Sara Novic. I've just started it.

What's your favourite hobby, apart from skating?

I love to swim.

What five things do you always pack in your suitcase?

I pack my skates, training clothes, trainers, foam roller and my costumes.