“I had a number of stress fractures in my foot. I felt completely helpless.” Anna Frolova about recovering from injuries and returning to competitions
Interview with Anna Frolova. Anna told how she survived a series of stress fractures and almost quitted with professional sports, but still managed to return.
source: RSport dd.20th December 2022 by Vlad Zhukov
How do you feel about getting back on the ice?
Anna Frolova: Actually, the return to the competition was unexpected for me. I was preparing, but I was not at all sure that I could enter the competition. There was such a situation when you have already tried several times, it doesn’t work, you stumble over something. We wanted to go back to full-time work: test skates, learn ultra-C. But somehow it didn’t work out from time to time; something constantly happened to the leg. First, a scar in the muscle of the foot tore, and in the fall, it turned out that my tendon was torn.
Anna Frolova: Almost, but only in the foot. You know, there is a calcaneal spur, and I have it gone a little further into the foot, although this is the same tendon. There, in the front part of the foot, was a very unpleasant, sharp sensation. And after that, I probably got really discouraged. First, stress fractures, then something else, a long recovery, and still something is wrong.
Were you discouraged?
Anna Frolova: Of course. When my leg hurt very badly, I realized that I couldn’t even push off—only through wild pain. I immediately called Sergei Dmitrievich (Davidov, coach – ed.), and he decided that we needed to withdraw. Then I also talked to the rest of the coaches. Everyone tried to explain to me that I needed to go to the doctor and be examined. That is, on the part of the coaches, there was no such thing as saying that I should retire. They reacted calmly, without harsh decisions or words. But since for me it was something like “Well, here we go again,” I didn’t listen. I called my mother and said, “That’s it. I probably won’t be able to do it anymore.”
Were you ready to end your career?
Anna Frolova: I was not. And I didn’t want to retire. I think, out of desperation, this is the only thing I could say and decide then. Because we were preparing, the tickets had already been bought, and at the last moment, it happened. It also happened that my mother was in another country at that moment. I said that I was not going to St. Petersburg; I could not because my leg hurts again. And, of course, she also had no idea what to do with it.
The next couple of days were full of heavy reflections. I sat at home, trying to come to terms with the idea that I might have to retire. Then my mother came, and we decided to go to the doctor. There they found this tendon and told me how much to sit out without training and what procedures to take.
We, of course, took all of them. But, to be honest, on my part, it was accompanied by some distrust of what was happening.
Didn’t you believe it would help?
Anna Frolova: Yes. I thought I’d get some treatment now, and then I’d go on the ice, and it would hurt again. But I still took all the necessary procedures, although they were quite strong. One of them is the shock wave. Quit painful. There is a strong blow to the pain points. I was told that the blows come with the force of a bullet—very fast and unpleasant—but they cause blood flow to the damaged areas, and quick regeneration begins.
In the process, my mother tried to cheer me up, saying that I would recover and everything would be fine. Then we tried on the skates, and it turned out that they were small. I had to change them before the competitions in Samara. Mom went with these old boots to the coaches, and we all thought that the problem arose because the boot was pressing hard on the foot.
For some reason, my mother, by the way, was generally very inspired. Then Sergei Dmitrievich sent a message saying that he had included me on the list of participants for the competitions in Samara. Everyone believed in me and believed that everything would work out. I didn’t (laughs). Didn’t believe. I just thought, “Well, I’ll try.”
To be honest, in Samara there was only one thing in my head: “Now something will hurt again and I will let everyone down.” I was very afraid of this. I was ready to go on the ice as long as at least one person in the world believes in me, even if it’s not me, but the fear of not meeting expectations was present.
Now your phrase about the desire to win over yourself in Samara has acquired a new meaning.
Anna Frolova: Of course, I said this partly because of everything that preceded the Grand Prix stage. Well, in principle, I missed a fairly large period of time and fell out of figure skating completely. There was another situation in the hospital, when they told me that there was another problem with my leg—some kind of ligament, a holder. Doctors put the question this way: “You may need to have surgery or something like that, but if the situation is completely bad, you won’t skate anymore.”
When did it happen?
Anna Frolova: January–February of this year, just during the Olympics.
It turns out that this was already after a stress fracture.
Anna Frolova: There was such a situation—at first, they told me that I had a usual sprain. Doctors made inaccurate diagnoses, and we tried one treatment after another. You need to know what to treat, but I was told something different every time. Of course, because of this, nothing could be figured out.
At some point, we decided to go to the hospital. There, the doctors had already gathered for a consultation, looked at my pictures, and said that, in fact, I had a number of stress fractures in my foot.
A number? That is, not one?
Anna Frolova: There were several.
And all in one foot?
Anna Frolova: Yes.
I heard that Sergei Davidov is rather scrupulous in the matter of injuries.
Anna Frolova: He always goes towards the athlete. It’s clear that as soon as you come up with pain, he won’t kick you off the ice right away. First, he’ll ask what exactly hurts, what kind of pain it is, and whether or not you can do something. If possible, adjusts the load for you so as not to exacerbate the problem. In this regard, there is a permanent agreement with Sergei Dmitrievich, so it is very convenient to work with him.
But we digress from the hospital. It turns out that when our team was at the peak of their career at the Olympics, your career was hanging in the balance?
Anna Frolova: Exactly. Hospital, quarantine, I’m alone in a closed room.
Anna Frolova: Yes. At the same time, covid measures were introduced again, and before going to the hospital with a foot, I had to take a PCR test, and it turned out that I had covid (laughs). And they put me in quarantine for two weeks. “Well, what kind of COVID? Now I’ll pass negative tests and go out,” I reasoned. A day later, I wake up with a temperature of 40. It turned out that I really had covid. As a result, at first I had covid, then my foot was treated.
They explained to me that the damage to the foot was severe, and this, of course, would affect its foundation—the muscles and the ligaments. I had to go through procedures and work on muscles. I’m glad that now it doesn’t affect the bones in any way. The fractures, fortunately, have healed. They say that the human body regenerates in 7-8 years, but my foot healed faster—in just a year and a half (laughs). But, of course, there will be consequences anyway.
What comes to mind when you hear from doctors that you may no longer be able to do what you love?
Anna Frolova: At some point, I really felt myself outside of figure skating.
And what is it like?
Anna Frolova: Hard. The nurses talked to me a lot; all the staff at the hospital treated me very kindly and tried to cheer me up. You listen to this, of course, but at the same time you realize that “setting yourself up for the good” is not that effective.
At that time, I constantly talked with my mother, and … Yes, probably that’s all. I didn’t even have much contact with my friends. It turned out that 2-3 people knew that I was in the hospital, two of them were at the Olympics. Of course, they couldn’t think about me then, and I didn’t want to disturb the guys either.
During this period, I tried to understand myself. I thought, “Well, figure skating is over; what will I do?” Then I had such an emotional decline—I felt completely helpless. Circumstances that you cannot influence in any way put pressure on you. And your whole life, career, and plans for the future are in the hands of circumstances. Being their hostage is not easy.
For two weeks I have thought and thought, and, it seems, I never saw myself outside of figure skating. I realized that I want to skate. I don’t know how I would take it if they told me that I definitely needed to finish with the sport. Thank God they didn’t say that (laughs) and I decided that I definitely couldn’t leave figure skating now.
Now, as I understand it, you are preparing for the Russian Nationals?
Anna Frolova: Yes. And we have a surprise.
A program of triple loops?
Anna Frolova: Yes, there are going to be only loops (laughs). In fact, I will have a new free program. And, by the way, to be serious, the loop is the first element there.
It is logical that the most difficult should be put at the beginning.
Anna Frolova: (Laughs). The main thing is not to start the program with this gorgeous fall. I really like the program and the idea. I hope others enjoy them too.
What do you expect from the Nationals?
Anna Frolova: To be honest, I have no idea how I got there. It all happened so fast that I just didn’t have time to realize what was happening. I didn’t even have time to set a goal. I had a task just to start competing again, and then suddenly Samara, Perm, and the Russian Nationals. I didn’t even think about going there.
I also got sick while preparing for it. So at the moment, it is probably not a good idea to invent some kind of goal for yourself because I’m just really glad that I qualified there. I hope that I can show my maximum.
By modern standards, you have a fairly long sports path, but at the same time, the fans don’t know that much about you. Tell us how you got into figure skating?
Anna Frolova: If I’m not mistaken, I started skating at about 4.5–5 years old. My older sister was skating at Moskvich with Victoria Butsaeva, and before that with Viktor Nikolayevich Kudryavtsev. It just so happened that the parents enrolled all of their children in sports, and we progressed to a certain level. The eldest was engaged in figure skating, the middle one did gymnastics, and she performed at the Russian Nationals.
When I was little, my mother often brought me to the skating rink with her. We waited for my sister’s practice to end, picked her up, and drove home together. So I spent a lot of time at the rink with skaters, including senior ones. Well, then they also decided to engage me in sports—parents thought about figure skating, gymnastics, even ballet.
I did not succeed in gymnastics at all. I couldn’t bear the pain. Mom told me that I came and cursed at the coach (laughs). “She’s hurting me, I won’t come here again!” I ran away from stretching. And figure skating went well for me—they put me on the ice, and I ran on skates. The only problem was that there were some difficulties at first.Then our whole beginner group was skating in a circle. Sometimes, dad brought me to the skating rink, walked with me on the other side of the boards, and held my hand—it was necessary so that the children would not fall. So when they held my hand, everything was wonderful. I am the future Carolina Kostner. But it was worth letting go, and I immediately laid on the ice and said that I would not go further (laughs).
Then I got to the group with Irina Borisovna Strakhova, where they began to fully prepare us for sports. Then I really began to succeed—I could jump and glide. At some point, the coaches told my mother that I had data, and we decided that we were staying in figure skating.
And until 2019, you trained with Svetlana Panova.
Anna Frolova: Svetlana Vladimirovna is the first coach with whom I started a real professional sport. I came to her at the age of 11 with double jumps, even without a consistent double axel. I could, of course, try to jump a triple, but these were semi-finished products. There was a question about whether they would take me or not. As far as I remember, at first, Svetlana Vladimirovna did not want to take me at all, but we eventually agreed on a trial period.
I got to a group with a lot of strong athletes, and I wanted to match. Everyone around was so cool. Alena Kanysheva then skated with us, she was generally a star in juniors. I constantly watched her performances and thought, “How does she do it?”
I had to adjust, of course. Well, it so happened that in the new group I learned all triple jumps and 3-3 combinations in three months, after which they took me.
But in the end, you left this strong group.
Anna Frolova: It just happened that way. A lot of people left the group then. Probably, some kind of internal conflict occurred. Svetlana Vladimirovna and I could not agree with each other. We eventually reached a point where you couldn’t hear each other anymore.
In general, I could stay and continue to skate there, but in the end I decided to do so. I did not want to leave until the very end; it took me a lot of time to make this decision. Then we all reached the boiling point, and with the parents, I came to Svetlana Vladimirovna and said that we were leaving. And by the way, I would really like to thank her for working with me because this coaching staff—Svetlana Vladimirovna herself, Tatyana Viktorovna (Moiseeva), Ilona Ivanovna (Protasenya) did a lot for me. There is no way to erase their work from my life, and I am not going to do this in any case. I just decided at some point that we all should move on.
And it turned out that I was going nowhere. After leaving, I sat at home for several days, and we tried to figure out where to go next. Mom consulted with friends, and in the end we decided that Sergei Dmitrievich Davidov would be the new coach because his group is the golden mean between results and health.
Wht do you mean?
Anna Frolova: Literally, the preservation of health At that time, I didn’t have the task of finishing the season with all the gold medals or learning the quadruple and finishing right after that. I’ve always wanted to skate for a long time, slowly and joyfully. This is not a stone in anyone’s garden; I’m just such a person with such guidelines.
Of course, I want to achieve results, but the pleasure of the process and the ability to overcome myself come to the fore. I tried to quickly pull myself up and start performing successfully, so we went to the Russian Nationals.
What is the fundamental difference in the coaching approaches of Svetlana Vladimirovna and Sergei Dmitrievich?
Anna Frolova: It would be more accurate to say that Sergei Dmitrievich is a real fan of his work. He approaches work very responsibly; he’s aware of what needs to be done and what does not. He always develops special programs for us, individually selects the training process, and looks at what load to add and what to remove. It seems to me that Sergei Dmitrievich is somewhat like a professor. He has a very structured approach.
When I first came to him, I was surprised that it was, you know, in a good way, like in the army. You can talk with Sergei Dmitrievich; you can express your opinion, but you have been given a task, and you have to go and do it.
Roughly speaking, have they already thought for you?
Anna Frolova: Yes. You have work to do. And that’s all that’s required of you here. The coaching staff has already taken care of the rest.
And since I am a rather talkative person, I thought that I should say here, speak there, or ask something. Then I realized, “Excellent, I don’t even need to talk here!” (laughs). Although I still like, let’s say, to talk, we always agree with the coaches in this regard. There were, of course, misunderstandings, and most often they were my fault (laughs). But at such moments, I just came, apologized, and we worked as before. There is no such thing here; you know, “How dare you, go away!” No. Everything is quite calm.
All you need is concentration and dedication. Because if Sergey Dmitrievich is completely devoted to work, then why shouldn’t you do the same? Then they just won’t understand you. Although I had, of course, moments when I didn’t give myself completely to work, at such moments they just told you something like, “Let’s work normally. Please! We are still kind.”
If this does not help, then more stringent measures can be applied. Well, how strict? They just call for a chat. There is no such thing as them yelling at you and kicking you out of the group.
Don’t they also kick out of training?
Anna Frolova: They can, but only if they see that you are in a non-working state. It happens that you can’t do anything and you start crying. This is actually such a dangerous state when it’s very easy to get injured because you do not control yourself so well. Sergei Dmitrievich, of course, understands this, and at such moments, he can either send you home or keep you until the next ice training or try to calm you down if possible.
I was kicked out of training for crying while preparing for competitions. A big advantage of Sergei Dmitrievich’s team is that we are very calm about mistakes and falls. If you skate a program and fall, it’s okay; you get up and go on.
That is, you don’t start the program from the beginning?
Anna Frolova: No, you will probably skate later; it just depends on the situation. If, for example, you just went on the ice after a break and fell, of course, no one will force you to skate the program five times. They will tell you to make transitions, for example.
And if you skated cleanly for three weeks and suddenly fell, of course, you will continue to skate the program, and then you will sort out with the coach why it happened. And if it was obvious that you simply went to skate in an unassembled state and fell, conditionally, from the first element, you can be given the task of skating again. You can’t concentrate the first time; well, then let’s do it the second time.
And I could start crying, for example, because I was preparing for the competitions, skated the program, and fell. And that’s it; I got up and didn’t finish the program. I was upset. I didn’t know the local rules at the time, which is why I reacted the way I did. There was once such a moment—I fell, cried, and gave up the program. I came to Sergei Dmitrievich, my music plays in the background. He says to me, “Why are you crying?” “Well, I fell.” And he answered, “So what? No one cares that you are upset at this moment. Get up and skate further, earn points on the rest of the elements.”
When the situation with the fractures and everything else happened, how did Davidov react to what was happening?
Anna Frolova: It is important to understand that these are two completely different perspectives: how the athlete sees everything and what the coaching staff sees. Still, Sergei Dmitrievich has a whole group; he needs to prepare the guys for the competitions. And I—well, this is me and my career. It was the end of life when they told me about it. Before that, I didn’t have a single fracture at all, no serious injuries.
And the coaches reacted quite calmly. After all, I’m not the first athlete they’ve had. Yes, there is a period when injuries, growth, and some other difficulties arise. The so-called “puberty” is the most “fun” part of life (laughs). It splits everything in half.
The coaches were well aware of this. No one hurried me back to the ice. On the contrary, Sergei Dmitrievich said, “First you need to recover, then you will return, and we will restore everything. You just need to endure it. Yes, it’s difficult now, then, perhaps, it will be even more difficult, but you need to endure this period.” And all the coaches said, “Anya, we are not expelling you; get treatment and come back; we are always waiting for you.”
In this regard, everything was calm. There was no such thing as “We have a competition coming up and you have an injury; go and train; we don’t care about your health.” When it was the first call, there was a very severe pain, which, by the way, I also hushed up and did not go to the doctor, although my mother repeatedly offered me.
Did they explain why athletes always have such? Why don’t you take care of yourself?
Anna Frolova: It happens because of some kind of youthful maximalism. I needed to learn the quadruple; I had a Grand Prix; I needed to keep training the programs for several months just in case; and it turned out that I had a very large amount of ice training. It was my personal desire; I really wanted to do it all.
There were days when I had four ice trainings lasting an hour each. I tried to lift up my triple jump, tried to enter a quadruple, trained—imagine what a load on the body it was. Furthermore, I didn’t realize I had open growth zones at the time, so all of my landings were on my sore right foot.
It just happened that way. I simply ignored the signals from my body. Of course, when my mother told me that my foot was hurting, she tried to send me to the doctors, and I, “No, now I have a competition. I perform there, and then we’ll figure it out.” As a result, I myself delayed this moment for a year and a half.
Did the quadruple still become one of the causes of the injury?
Anna Frolova: I wouldn’t blame the quads for everything. It’s just a coincidence of time and circumstances. It turned out that I was growing, the load, landing from jumps – you could say that I wasn’t “lucky.” If I had learned the quadruple earlier, then there might not have been any problems.
Or later. Especially with the current age minimum.
Anna Frolova: Of course, you can learn quads at a later age. I’m going to do this now.
Well, just not four hours a day, please.
Anna Frolova: Of course not. In general, the most important thing for me right now is to get out of bed without my eyes darkening (laughs). Then the day will go well, and you can try the quadruple.
You say that as if you are at least the same age as Liza Tuktamysheva.
Anna Frolova: Oh, Liza Tuktamysheva, here I am silent; I just bow (bows). She is 200% my idol. I can only admire her and nothing more. At the Grand Prix in Perm, I sat before training and thought, “Wow, I’m sitting in the same locker room with Liza Tuktamysheva; it’s so cool!”
I have always loved performing with her. In principle, my favorite figure skaters are Zhenya Medvedeva and Liza. No, of course, I love and respect all skaters in general, but when I experienced certain moments in my life, I asked myself, “Liza, how do you even do it?” By the age of 18, you get the understanding that it is so difficult, you have come a long way, and you need to treat yourself with all responsibility. You don’t just skate beautifully in a costume; this is your life and career. And here, at the age of 25, she does triple axels and quadruple toe loops! This is something beyond reality.
Liza Tuktamysheva is an exception, just an exception. But at the same time, she is a huge motivator for me.
Would you like to have the same long career as Liza?
Anna Frolova: Of course. At the moment, I understand that only some injuries can stop me, and I really hope that in the future I will manage without them. When you are still very young, your perception of sports is a little different. There are thoughts that today, for example, you are in a non-working mood, your legs are heavy, and you still have to skate a free program. And it seems like the end of the world.
But what Liza does will be very difficult for anyone to repeat. It takes a lot of effort, hard work, and patience. She is a unique person, I think. But I will try to live up to the standards she sets. We have a new age minimum now, we need to change figure skating.
Davidov just said that he was glad that you chose the path of sports, because “further, it will be interesting.”
Anna Frolova: I’m afraid to even imagine what Sergei Dmitrievich was thinking (laughs). Well, whatever he says, I’ll do it. Of course, it will be interesting. In general, it seems to me that the age minimum is right from the athletes’ point of view. In the sense that you reach the senior level at a conscious age, when you understand what you want, what you need, and what you don’t need. You know your body, your weaknesses, and what load you need. You can already bear responsibility for yourself, at least in sports, due to some accumulated experience.
It seems to me that now everything will be a little more conscious. In no way am I belittling our young girls, because this is very hard work. We have Masha Gordeeva at the rink; she works with such patience and zeal every day, which is just wow. She does so many quads in a workout! In no case can this be belittled or devalued in any way by saying that it doesn’t cost anything because they are still small. For example, at the age of Masha, I didn’t do this, and I can’t judge them and I’m not going to.
I do not want to offend or belittle the girls, who even now take on quite serious adult themes. They perfectly express the artistic image, and they skate their programs wonderfully. But with age, you can transfer some of your life experience to the ice, fully convey the idea or message, and put your soul into it. Then a piece of art is added to the program.
Life experience helps to make you look more interesting on the ice. Yes, young girls perform wonderfully, but personally, I like it more when a skater skates with soul. I would like to be thought of that way too. And from about the age of 17, in my opinion, it becomes a little easier to do this simply due to the fact that you live longer and have seen more.
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