“Rigid diets will never help you lose weight. On the contrary, you need to eat.” a letter from Elizaveta Tuktamysheva to her 16-year-old self
An open letter from Elizaveta Tuktamysheva to her 16-year-old self.
What would she say to herself if she went back 10 years to the age of her current competitors?
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva: I remember myself at the age of 16 – it was 2013, I just won the Russian Nationals, I’m getting ready for the European Championships. The body starts to change, I try to fight it, but not very successfully.
I was the same as now – easy-going, cheerful. But 10 years ago, I was probably more frivolous: 16 years old is a wonderful age, you want both to play sports and be with friends. This is the time of growing up, when you are still small, but you think, “when will I become an adult?” Then I had youthful maximalism: I thought that I was an adult and had an opinion on everything. Such a teenager with character, but not very difficult one – still, I was an obedient girl in some matters.
The victory at the 2013 Russian Nationals was very unexpected for me: I got sick and went to the free program with a fever. I didn’t think about the places. When I skated the free program, I went to the stands to see my friends and to watch the competition further. I didn’t even realize at first that I had won. It was a shock…
The goals were the highest: to go to the European Championships, to the World Championships and to perform well everywhere. But I didn’t think globally.
Well, I don’t remember having long-term goals. I didn’t think I’d be skating in 10 years. I always go with the flow. There are tasks here and now, so I stick to the plan that I have built for the season, month, week, and day. There was no such task: to side for a long time. But the thought of finishing with the sport then, of course, did not arise.
One of the key moments in my career came after an unsuccessful Olympic season, when I broke my leg. There was a very strong reboot. I found a person, a massage therapist, who I needed at that moment. She mentally supported and inspired me. It was this reboot that allowed me to leave a mark on the history of figure skating.
The second point is that after the victories, I had two unsuccessful seasons, in 2016 and 2017. I then almost lost faith in myself because I did not feel that there was anything unique about me. And then I remembered that I’m still Liza Tuktamysheva, and I can’t just give up. I began to learn the triple axel and began to do it consistently. And in 2018, when I finally restored it, that was the second key moment in my career.
This is not yet despair, but then I understood that if something is not changed now, then I will come to it. And I didn’t want to have serious thoughts about retirement. I always had the feeling that I could still do it, that I could do it better, and that this was not my limit.
In the first situation, there were no thoughts of quitting either. Yes, I was worried that I didn’t get to the Olympics in Sochi, but due to my youth and easy attitude toward life, I didn’t plunge into these wilds of despair so much. I believe that nothing just happens. I took advantage of such a moment in life—I switched and rested.
I never refuse my life experience; everything we go through makes us who we are now.
There was never such a thing that I hadn’t worked hard enough and the sport punished me. I always approached training very responsibly; I almost never missed it. If I felt the strength to go, I always gave my best. It works the other way around for me: bad results happened not because I didn’t work hard enough or underperformed. But there were excessive expectations; if I worked very well, I expected that it would definitely benefit. And figure skating is not only about “faster, higher, stronger”, but also about concentration and psychological readiness for competitions.
Of course, this is a very difficult sport, so you need to keep in good shape. But mental preparation plays a major role. Do you have an athlete inside or not? After all, a lot of talented skaters who cannot skate clean at competitions have not achieved what they could have if they were psychologically resistant to stressful situations.
I let go of the situation and said, “Let it go as it goes; I allow myself to just enjoy.” I relieved myself of responsibility and tension, and it began to work out.
Here are my advices for my 16-year-old self.
1) Take competitions easier. At this age, you are still very nervous. But over time, you will understand that you need to take competitions easier. Of course, this is an important part of life, but being nervous will not benefit anyone. You need to reduce the level of responsibility. Don’t doubt yourself! Your body knows how to do it; it knows everything. Learn to trust it. I was told this even then, but you have to feel it; it will come with experience.
2) Don’t dwell on something that doesn’t work out in training. Look less at others. You need to feel your body because everyone is different. Sometimes I thought that I was not working enough; I told the coaches that I needed more—so that I could jump better and spin faster. But it can only hurt because you get out of your rhythm. Listen to yourself more, do not look at others, and look for what helps you.
3) And another advice – about nutrition. Rigid diets will never help you lose weight. At a young age, you do not realize this when you need to lose weight dramatically. Sometimes I needed to lose weight urgently, and it happened that I was constantly on diets. I can say that there were problems with food.
But on the contrary, you need to eat; you just need to learn not to overeat. Do not chase the ideal numbers on the scales, but try to find a comfortable shape for sports. When you come into harmony with food and the way you look, everything will immediately go differently in sports. Eating foods that you like is very important; it will help you not be driven by weight. It makes life so easy! You will be able to invest so much more in training, which is even more surprising.
During puberty, I lived with permanent stress: you always need to watch your weight and how much you eat. If you overeat, you need to starve the next day.
I understood that weight is important in figure skating. You can’t get away from this, but you can’t get away from your nature either. If I had not had an emotional disorder with food then, then, perhaps, such changes in the body would not have occurred.
It was also about the emotional component—how do you feel about food? In any case, growing up is not easy to survive—the body begins to take shape and becomes more feminine. Therefore, you need to be patient for one year, not to break psychologically. I got out of this state after 2017 like this: I said to myself, “Who are they all that they can decide how I look and how to eat?” This is not an appeal to a specific person, but rather an abstract one.
In the end, I overcame it and gave myself freedom: You can eat whatever you want; just eat intuitively. This is the key to a healthy body. When the body gets what it needs, it is full and the vitamins are in order; you don’t want extra sweets.
Now I almost never eat sweets; I don’t like chocolate. And before, I really wanted sweets because it was forbidden. I got over it when I let go and took control of the food. Haha. I became a predator, and food became my prey, not vice versa.
I became calmer and realized that it was not worth the stress and worry. I want to be a happy person, so I allowed myself not to worry about it. As soon as I did this, the desire to eat everything immediately left. I wanted to eat, so I cooked it, didn’t overeat, and got in good shape. Why have I been in sports for so long? Precisely because I have no problems with weight, I do not have this daily stress.
The people around you play a huge role. Andrei Lazukin, who helped me a lot and supported me, said that I was the best. I was lucky with the group; we have good guys. I was lucky that I have adequate and cool coaches: Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin approached this issue very reasonably, and Tatiana Nikolaevna Prokofieva always supported me. We decide everything together; they don’t leave an athlete when he has problems. So it was with me. Therefore, I want to spend part of my life with them, I like it.
I came to Alexei Nikolaevich when I was very young, at the age of 9. I didn’t realize anything; I didn’t even know who Mishin was. I only knew that this was Evgeni Plushenko’s coach. I could not even imagine that life would turn out like this and that we would work together for so long.
I feel that Alexei Nikolaevich treats me well, and I treat him extremely well. I always know that he will not leave me for the sake of another athlete; he works with me all the time, fully participates in my training process, and is interested in me becoming even better. I am very inspired by his desire to make the best version of me. I already think that I can’t do anything, but Alexei Nikolaevich always says, “You can still do it; come on.”
He understands me well; he has an approach toward me. Sometimes I’m only thinking about something, and he already offers the same thing. I’m wondering, “How does this even work?” Why change something when everything is so comfortable and good? And Alexei Nikolaevich does not stand still; he develops as a coach, and I develop with him. This allows our entire group to move forward.
Alexei Nikolaevich is very wise in terms of communication and very forgiving. I may not like something, but he tries to smooth the corners. Of course, there are disagreements, but this is for 10 minutes, and then everything is fine. He’s very balanced; he does not allow himself to emotionally perceive those little things because of which I can flare up. And it’s cool; I haven’t learned this yet. In principle, I am not a very emotional and quick-tempered person, but there are such moments, and Alexei Nikolaevich takes the blows on himself. He is great!
Over the years, you understand and realize that this is your coach. About six years ago, I finally came to the conclusion that I did not need to change anything. The most important thing for an athlete is not to fade away, to constantly look for something new, to develop. And my group, Alexei Nikolaevich and Tatiana Prokofieva, give me this.
Athletes usually change coaches if there are problems or misunderstandings. I didn’t have that. Alexei Nikolaevich and Tatiana Nikolaevna complement each other: you can come to both for advice or to talk. This is my family now.
I would advise myself to be bolder then. I always doubt myself, so it’s good that there is Alexei Nikolaevich, who says that I can do more. You have to be bolder, and then you can learn more.
I felt how figure skating was changing. Just 10 years ago, we came after the season and gradually started with light training. And when figure skating began to develop dramatically and quads started, I had to change myself and understand that if you want to continue, you need to be more demanding of yourself and start working to the maximum immediately.
The approach to technical preparation is changing. You will see high competition and understand that it means that it is possible to constantly jump triples, without failing. This has become the norm, and if you do not want to lose, then you need to make an effort. The more figure skating develops, the more you should develop.
If I had known that it would turn out like this, I would have said to myself, “Learn quads now; it will come in handy later.” This would have been useful even in childhood—at age 12 when I learned the triple axel—to go into multi-rotational jumps with my then childish courage. I would already have learned the quad salchow, the quad toe loop, and maybe the quad lutz. Now it would have been much easier for me.
I wouldn’t tell my 16-year-old self what I’m going to achieve. This can work in a good way, but it can also hurt. The expectation that you will do this can turn psychology around and change everything not in your favor. I would leave everything as it is. I would have the feeling that I can, and that’s enough. Any situation can be turned in your favor, so you wouldn’t even hint myself about future victories.
But I would tell a 16-year-old me about the programs. We came to feminine images through a natural process; I never forced myself. When I try something new, it’s with sincere desire. For example, Toxic was my idea. There was no such thing as a goal: this year I will do this; I will show what programs I can skate. This is also a part of me, so I did not adjust myself. If I skate something, it means that I feel comfortable in it. I will not skate programs that I do not understand or for which I am not ready.
I would not change anything in my programs over these 10 years; everything has its time, and they were all appropriate.
I take the term “mature women’s skating” calmly. The main thing is that everything should be beautiful, at a level that touches the soul. So that the athlete understands what they are skating and can experience the emotions that are required of them in the program. I would call this term a meme because sport is sport, and if there is a brilliant athlete, then they can skate mature programs even at a young age, no matter how old they are.
I can’t say that my style has changed. I just got to the point where I could show something more feminine, something deeper. This is not a change of style; all this has always been in me. When you are ready to show it, then show it. While this idea has not fallen into your hands and this music has not been offered, this means that you are simply not ready for this yet.
It would be trite to say, “Take criticism easier.” But all the same, some comments should be treated condescendingly. You have a team, close people who can tell you. No need to dwell on what they write on the Internet; listen to your surroundings more. If there are sound comments, then try to listen. If they constantly say the same thing, then maybe something can be changed. But close people will always tell you where you have not done enough or where you can improve something. Listen to those you trust.
The support of sponsors and partners is also important. There were not so many of them, but now they appear. Previously, there was no such thing that I was offered contracts, and I refused them. I always get offers from good sponsors.
When you are just starting to earn money, you think, “Wow, how much money! I can buy clothes and bags.” And you spend everything on yourself without investing in the future—such is the euphoria of big money. Now I approach financial matters very consciously. For example, I want to buy a house, already with an eye on the future, in order to provide myself with a comfortable life.
But to my 16-year-old self, I will say, “Of course, pamper yourself!” While you are 16 and there is money, spend it. Yes, it could be saved for the future, but there is not so much money to immediately buy an apartment or a car. So I don’t see the point in advising myself, “Let’s stop spending.” Let the child have fun! Yiu will do something more and make money. But then, when larger sums appear, I, of course, will start saving money and will not spend much on shopping.
It’s hard for me to think about the future. If at the age of 16, I lived in the moment, now it is even more so. I’ll skate the season; after it’s over, there will be shows. What will happen next? I don’t want to guess. Everything is too unpredictable.
The main thing is that I want to devote part of my life to development—to study something or to complete courses. I feel a lack of education, so I want to catch up. I don’t know what it will be; I’m looking, because the most difficult thing is to choose the right direction.
So far, there is no fear of life after sports. It seems to me that it appears at the moment when you decide to retire, and then you realize that you have nothing to do. And you ended up in a hole from which you urgently need to get out in order to occupy yourself with something, and you don’t know what – this is how apathy appears. It seems to me that you are not afraid of this in advance.
But psychologists always help with this. I sometimes work with a psychologist to better understand myself and to understand where to move. There is no need to neglect psychologists; this is always a very good help, not because something is wrong with your head but in order to better understand yourself. This will help you smoothly survive the moment when you finish one serious business and start another.
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