Mandy Sime, 52, took up figure skating six months ago and is set to compete in this month’s UAE Open Figure Skating Championships. She lives in Safa Park with her husband John and five-year-old twins, Cameron and Mackenzie.
What sparked an interest in figure skating?
I’ve always been in awe of figure skaters and I still am. I’ve lived in Dubai for eight years and often watched the skaters at Dubai Ice Rink in The Dubai Mall, thinking how much I’d love to do that.
I had a fantastic career in publishing and, when I turned 50, I decided to retire to spend more time with my then three-year-old twins. I didn’t want to miss this special time with them and I struggled with work versus family balance - I think a lot of mums do. Six months ago I stood over that huge rink one day and thought “that’s it, I’m doing it!” and off I went.
How did you find somewhere to practise?
There are three rinks in Dubai. The biggest Olympic-sized rink is in The Dubai Mall and that’s my second home now. There’s also Al Nasr Leisureland, where the UAE Open Figure Skating Championships is being held on 12-14 May, while Hyatt Regency Dubai also has a small rink.
Are you a natural on the ice?
No, but I don’t think anyone is when they begin at 51. My first lesson was terrifying and, of course, I’m a mum of two young children with responsibilities - that’s always at the back of my mind. The older we get, the more fearful we are of hurting ourselves but I was very creative and made my own knee and back padding from all sorts of weird and wonderful things. I was scared but excited at the same time and determined to learn fast.
How have you built-up your skills?
I skate for four hours, three mornings a week and have private lessons from coach Ampee at Dubai Ice Rink. As soon as I met her I knew I wanted her as my coach. She gets in my head in a way that not many teachers can and she inspires me.
When I look back now on what I’ve achieved over the past six months I’m very proud of myself and very grateful for her encouragement. Things that seemed impossible at first now come naturally and I love improving my moves and learning new things. It’s incredibly technical and sometimes I just don’t get it but I’m very determined and I never give up, despite wanting to sometimes.
I’m moving onto spins and jumps now so this time next year I will be jumping and spinning all over the place. It all comes down to practise. The more you do, the better you get.
Who have you met through the sport?
It’s mainly children who figure skate. My new best friends are six years old and they really inspire me. They have no fear and of course, to them, I’m their equal although most of them are heaps better than me. Their parents have welcomed me into the Dubai Ice Rink skating family. I think they were all a bit surprised when they heard I was competing in the championships as the call for entries came in a couple of months ago. I really wasn’t very good at all at that stage as I’d only been skating a few months but there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. Knowing they are all there cheering and rooting for me as well as my own friends and family is a real boost.
How have you been preparing for the championships?
Firstly I chose my music: You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers. It’s a big power ballad that I’ve always loved and still do - surprisingly so after hearing it six thousand times. I’ve spent the past four months learning the technical elements I need to include. Ampee choreographed my programme, which was scary at the time, as some of the steps were new to me. I’ve practised a zillion times and I skate it in my sleep now.
How do you calm the nerves before a big event?
I talk to myself out loud. I did this just before a recent performance in Abu Dhabi and stood facing the wall talking to myself. I tell myself that I’m ready and strong and that I absolutely love doing this and it’s just for fun.
The funny thing is, I have never been able to stand up and speak in front of a crowd. Even in a business situation I would never ask a question at a conference or in a large group. When we rehearse in The Dubai Mall with spectators practically hanging from the rafters and the other weekend at the Skate Emirates Figure Skating Competition at Zayed Sports City Ice Rink, however, I was surprisingly calm. Both times I was skating after an amazing five-year-old girl called Poppy. Having her skate before me really calms me down and enjoying her performance stops me focusing on my own.
Tell us about the make-up and the costumes.
My first question when I agreed to compete was “do I get to wear a sparkly costume then?” When the answer was yes, I jumped in. You can’t buy figure skating costumes in Dubai so I bought three online then went to a shop in Satwa and invested in a lot of Swarovski crystals. The thinking was, I may be the least experienced skater there but I’ll certainly look the part.
The make-up side - false eyelashes, silver eyeliner and contouring - was all new to me. I had a go myself and took some photos but looked terrible so I had a hair and make-up session with Susan Barbara Sutherland, a Dubai based make-up artist and hairdresser. She was fantastic and taught me the art of stage make-up and hair.
What does skating offer you physically and emotionally?
When I’m on the ice it’s my happy place. I always say to myself in those first few minutes “you’re a lucky girl Mandy, being able to do what you love”. Not many people are in that position and I never forget that. I belong on the ice and now that I’m gliding more it’s an amazing feeling. Physically my body shape has changed a lot and I’m much more toned than I used to be.
What does your family think of your hobby and how do they support you?
Both our children now skate so we’re all beginners together. I think it’s a great gift for them to learn young and nothing gives me more pleasure than watching them have fun on the ice. We talk about working hard for my competition and that you need to practise to be the best you can. They’re still young but it’s a great lesson for them and I hope it inspires them to also do what they love.
My husband loves the fact that I’ve found something I’m so passionate about. One day he came to the rink and watched me skate for four hours. It was the most romantic thing that anyone has ever done for me. When I told him that he said he wished he’d known before buying me all those handbags and shoes over the years.
If you fall, what does it take to pick yourself up again and carry on?
I fall a lot. I fell on my knees early on and I also fell on my back and it really hurt. Falling is part of skating, however, and the only way you learn is through courage. More often than not I try something and it doesn’t work the first time but if I ask my coach what I did wrong she simply says “fear”. Fear stops us achieving our dreams but I will not let it stop me from achieving mine.
How do you want to develop your figure skating prowess in future?
I started just for fun and now I’m totally addicted. I didn’t factor in how much fun it would be being part of such a fantastic group of skaters. I don’t care about winning. Let’s face it, there aren’t too many 52-year-old beginners out there, so I’m not really competing. I’m just being the best I can on ice and enjoying every minute of it.
What advice do you have for those of us inspired to take it up?
Come and join us! You can have lessons at The Dubai Mall’s ice rink or just scoot around by yourself. Don’t feel intimidated about just showing up and not being able to stand up on the ice, as that’s exactly where I was six months ago. Some people say they’re too old to start skating but I’m a walking, talking, skating example that it’s never too late to follow your dream.