Natalia Zabijako: I was very afraid to close my eyes. I thought, if I close them I’ll close them forever
Big interview with Natalia Zabijako about her career.
(The amount of recent interviews with her and her partner Alexander Enbert make me think that they’re future Russian second pair)
You were born and grew up in Tallinn. In Estonia figure skating is not the most obvious choice. How did it happen that you became a skater?
– When I was a child I was often sick. Parents were advised to engaged me in sport. When I was 4, they sat down in front of me and began to list different types of sports, all that came to mind. When they named figure skating, I said: “Yes, I want figure skating”. It seemed to me that it’s very fun, and we’ll just roller skate the whole day. In winter we came to the ice rink. Turned out that it wasn’t exactly what I expected. But I really liked it anyway.
When I started doing figure skating, there was only one indoor skating rink in the whole Tallinn, so in winter we often practiced at the open rink. The new arena was built about five years after I began to skate.
Tell about your family.
– I grew up in a family of my mother, father and three children, except me – older sister and brother and younger sister. She is now finishing the ninth grade. My mom is a dressmaker. Up to the age of 14 she sewed me all the costumes. Dad is a rocket engineer, but in Tallinn they do not build rockets, so now he works as a welder.
The older sister and older brother also did sports. My brother played football, long enough. When he joined the army, his team was disbanded, all his friends finished with the sport, they decided that they should study and work. He did the same. My sister did synchronized figure skating for a while, but eventually found herself in the profession of a policeman. She always liked it very much, constantly watched detectives and all kind of criminal stories on TV.
The youngest sister also came to the ice rink a couple of times, but she did not like it at all. Now she is engaged in folk dances. So only I do sport professionally.
You were a single skater. Why did you decide to do pair skating?
– I always liked throws and lifts. Since I was 12 I dreamed to find a partner. But in Estonia there were almost no male figure skaters. But, after all I recalled one – Sergei Mukhin. He was a little older than me. I thought that we can try. I didn’t say anything either parents or coaches, just found a number, called and offered to meet. We discussed everything with him and then went to the coaches. They supported us.
When you decided to move to America, did they also support you?
– It was a forced step. Sergei was invited to work in show, and he finished his sports career. Coaches themselves advised to go somewhere because it was still difficult with boys in Tallinn. I registered on the site for finding partners. A guy from Ukraine Seryozha Kulbach wrote me. He offered to try out with him in America, he had already worked there for some time, he had familiar coaches from Bulgaria. I was excited. Parents did not really want to let me go. I was 14 years old and before that I did not fly anywhere. As a result, of course I persuaded them. I finished the ninth grade, passed all the exams and somewhere in the middle of June I flew to America.
To send me to the US, my mother and father had to take a loan. At that time, it costed a lot of money, which our family simply did not have. I came to Tallinn only in a year. All this time I spent in the States and at competitions. Parents could not fly to America, but my dad flew to Moscow when there was a world championship in 2012.
Wasn’t it scary?
– At first I was very worried, how I would reach America. First of all, I hardly knew the language. I knew it at the school level. Secondly, I have never flown so far, with several connects, first to Helsinki, then to New York and from there to Washington. I afraid to get lost.
Fortunately, I flew without adventure, I was met by coaches and taken to one American family, where I lived for a couple of months. The first time there I was very shy. I was lucky that at that time in the same family lived two more girls, Russian, from some language program. It was easier for me to get used. In September they left, and a month later I moved to my coaches. They had a house. I lived with them for three months, probably. I slept on the couch in the kitchen. In winter, another girl from Russia started to work with them. I met her parents and they offered me to live with them. Completely free of charge. I lived with them for four years. And I still consider them my second family.
What was surprising about America?
– Contrasts. This is such a country which has everything. It is completely different. And yet there no one is afraid to do as he likes. In the store you can easily meet a man in pajamas, slippers or ugg boots even in the summer. They can easily get out of the house wearing this just because it’s comfortable. And this is the main point. Our people dress fully even to take out trash.
The training process there is also arranged in a different way. We worked mainly in the morning and until 2 o’clock in the afternoon were supposed to release the skating rink for children, who by this time were returning from school. I came to practice at 7:30 in the morning, warm up, skate, at 10 o’clock there was a break for lunch and somewhere from 12 to 14 – the second training. Then – free time. When I did not have a driving license and a car, I was spending my free time at the rink. The house was far away, we returned home with the whole family late at night.
The first serious injury you got happened when you were training in the States?
– Yes. I had a crack in my spine, a few weeks before the European Championships. We were in great shape. During practice we’re doing an exit from a lift , Sergei stumbled, pushed me, I fell and he fell on me. I landed on the ice, it was hard to breathe, coaches came up to me, wanted to pick me up, but I asked not to touch me, it was very painful. After a while I was taken out, put on the floor in the locker room, I lay there for a couple of hours, and we went home.
At first I hoped that there was nothing serious and in a couple of days I’ll be back to normal. It did not get any easier. I moved somehow, but every movement brought pain. As a result, decided to get some x-rays, turned out that there was a crack. Injury happened on December 28, somewhere in the middle of January, I was wearing a tough corset. Very tough, with metal holders, and I flew to Tallinn. In this corset I had to walk for at least three months. When I flew away, I did not know whether I would return to America or not, it was a difficult situation. In April, I resumed training, but alone. Sergei returned home, to Ukraine. I understand him. Then no one could guarantee that I could get in shape.
In September 2011 you teamed up with the Russian Alexander Zaboev, qualified for the Olympics in Sochi, but eventually missed the Games and left America – why?
– We didn’t perform in Sochi because Alexander did not have time to get Estonian citizenship. In America, he just quarreled with everyone at the rink. That’s why we left. He said that he does not like the conditions in which we live and work. The Estonian federation listened to him for some reason.
I did not want to go anywhere, I just started to settle down life, friends appeared, second family. We left without even knowing what would happen next, where we would train, with whom. Just took our things – some were sent home, some we took to Japan to the World Championships. There my life has completely changed. Nina Mikhailovna Moser offered to train in her group and skate for Russia.
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How did this happen?
– Max Trankov told me about this. We talked, he said that Nina Mikhailovna wants to talk to me and gave her number. After the championship, I called her. We agreed to meet. I remember that I was very nervous before the meeting. We discussed everything, she gave me a few days to think it over. But I immediately realized that this is the best option. This is what will help me to move forward, so I completely confide Nina Mikhailovna.
Did she know that you had problems with your partner?
– I think yes. She has been following my career for several years. I realized this only after we started working together in Moscow.
Estonia didn’t want to let you go.
– Yes. The Federation insisted on a maximum waiting period – two years. Somehow miraculously we managed to agree on a year. True, the local press has been writing all sorts of nagging about me, called me a traitor. I tried not to pay attention to it. I throw myself into work. First in a pair with Yuri Larionov. We had plans, but his trauma interfered. Yura retired. Then Nina Mikhailovna teamed me up with Alexander Enbert. We quickly got used to each other. In a couple of months we already tried a triple axel throw, but then forgot about it for a while, we decided to refine more simple elements. When we returned to it, one of the attempts ended with an injury.
– The most terrible injury in my career, a brain hemorrhage, a crack in the skull, plus the eardrum burst in the left ear.
It was an evening training. We started to do a throw. I fell and hit my head. I didn’t lose consciousness, but I hardly remember what happened to me next. Yura carried me off the ice, he was already a coach, at that time some of his students were skating with us. Realized that it was him only when I remembered a beard. Only Yura had a beard then.
I was taken to a medical office. They started to do something. I could not normally focus on anything, clearly saw only the point in front of me, the rest blurred. My ear couldn’t hear, because there was blood. I was very afraid to close my eyes. I thought, if I close them I’ll close them forever.
It took a lot for the ambulance to come or so it seemed to me. Then I was taken to the intensive care unit, where I spent more than a week. People came to me, my sister came, then my father. When I was in intensive care I slept 23.5 hours a day. I came to myself for about 30 minutes and switched off again. After a week and a half I was transferred to a regular hospital room. There it was a little easier.
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Глаза закройте, на мгновенье погрузитесь В глубины бездны необъятной тишины. За нею следом в бесконечность унеситесь От гнева, хаоса и суеты. Идя средь шума, паники, безумия Вы научитесь наслаждаться тишиной, Откройте душу ей свою, но без раздумья И ждите встречи лишь одной…с самим собой. Не бойтесь тишины, учитесь слушать, Она ответит правдой вам, пусть и не вслух. Ведь человек бывает, коль подумать, До ваших мыслей и эмоций просто глух… Глаза закройте, на мгновенье прикоснитесь К вселенной, поглощённой тишиной. Ну а потом на землю возвратитесь И оставайтесь навсегда самим собой… Н.З. © #стихи #поэзия #досуг #тишина #глубина #вода #душа #мысливслух #фотосессия #poems #poetry #silence #depth #water #soul #thoughts Photo by: @preo_nataliya #photoshoot #shooting #modeling
What predictions did the doctors have?
– The doctors did not say anything to me. As I later learned, if the hematoma that was in the brain hadn’t resolve, trepanation would have been necessary. Fortunately, everything turned out okay. But, I still feel the consequences of that fall. The left ear is still hearing worse. The sense of smell was not restored completely. I’m already used to it. The first few days after I got consciousness, I couldn’t discern any taste. It would have been much harder to live with it.
How did you return to the ice afterwards?
– At first it was hard. The head was very dizzy. During the time spent in the hospital I lost a lot of weight, I almost did not eat. I had absolutely no strength. For a long time doctors forbade to do difficult elements. I just skated, sometimes we did side by side jumps. Closer to the test skates, I did not listen to anyone. This sounds strange, but after this injury, I want to learn difficult elements even more and prove to everyone that I can.
The first time, of course, I did everything very carefully, especially throws. When everything turned out, there was not a trace left of this caution.
Does this risk worth it?
– I’m brave since childhood. I climbed the trees and always tried to climb higher. This season Sasha and I got our first medals at the European Championships, performed at the Olympic Games, won silver in the team. And this was only our first Olympics. We want to develop. In the next season, we’ll change, we want to surprise our fans.
Nina Mikhailovna said that she’s taking a break. Is this going to hurt your pair?
– I don’t think so. We will continue to work with Vladislav Zhovnirsky. Of course, before Nina Mikhailovna was present at every training session, now this will not happen. But I know that she will not leave us. Will control everything, even if sometimes at a distance.
Coffee or tea?
– Coffee. With milk, latte or cappuccino. I like the taste. By the way in America for a long time I could not get used to the fact that they drink coffee with ice.
Cats or dogs?
– We always had cats in our family. First one cat. Then, when I turned 12, I brought home one more.
Medvedeva or Zagitova?
– Both. It is a pity that they couldn’t gave two gold medals in Pyeongchang.
Plushenko or Yagudin?
– I was rooting for Plushenko.
Poetry or prose?
– Poetry. I write sometimes. Not very often, but it happens – sleep at night, suddenly wake up and some lines come to mind. I have already probably 30 poems.
Sneakers or heels?
– Sneakers. I love sports style.
Moscow or Tallinn?
– Tallinn. I love the Old Town, Vyshgorod. The atmosphere there is magical. And it is necessary to try blood sausages and stewed cabbage, you won’t taste such anywhere else.
Morning or night person?
– I’m a morning person. I like to wake up early. Even on weekends. If I sleep a little more, it seems to me that I missed a bunch of everything, did not do anything useful. When you follow the regime, you can easily wake up at the right time without an alarm clock. I had it when I was training in America. First I set the alarm at 4:50 in the morning. Went to bed at 9 pm. After some time it was easy to wake up at 4:40 without an alarm.
Rap or rock?
– Rock. I like Pink Floyd. I can also listen to indie rock, but I can’t name specific bands.
by Marina Krylova for sports24.ru