Most teenage boys would love to suddenly grow from 5’6 to 5’11 almost overnight. Nam Nguyen enjoyed being tall, until he realized his new-found height impacted the way he jumped during his skating routines. He was also landing awkwardly now that he had to adjust to his new lanky body.
“It’s not an easy road to the Olympics, especially with what I’ve been dealing with the past year and a half. My growth spurt changed my body and that changed my skating,” explains Nguyen.
“Whenever I felt my body was changing, I tried to adapt to it, instead of maintaining my jumping techniques – which threw everything off. The growth spurt impacted the harder jumps, such as the Triple Axel and Quad Toe Loop. At certain points, I couldn’t do those jumps at all because I was afraid I was going to get hurt. But now that the growth spurt is over, I can enjoy doing those jumps again and I’m even learning new jumps now. It’s been a journey, but now things are settled and I can focus on the Olympics.”
Nguyen burst on to the national scene as a charismatic 11-year old boy that stole the show at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Figure Skating Gala. He went on to become the youngest skater to win the junior men’s title at the 2011 Canadian Championships.
Nguyen continued his fast rise when he won 1st place at the 2015 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. For a community that didn’t have many sports heroes, this was a great source of pride for Vietnamese-Canadians. However, as Nguyen had to adjust to his new lanky body, his rankings fluctuated 2016 and #3 in 2017.
To qualify for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, Nguyen will need to move into the #2 ranking at the Olympic Trials in January in order to represent Canada. The current #1 skater in Canada is three-time World Champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan. That leaves one spot open for Nguyen to make his move over the next few months.
“For this upcoming season, I’ve been feeling a lot stronger physically and mentally. It’s going to be a big fight to get one of the two Olympic spots – but I’m up for the challenge,” says Nguyen.
“I’m bolstered by the support of my community. It’s an honour to know that an entire community is behind me. It’s really motivating for me because this support gives me a purpose to succeed in my training and competitions. I don’t want to let anyone down and I want to make everyone proud. Being Vietnamese-Canadian is something that I feel in my heart whenever I take to the ice.”
Nguyen clearly understands that the hopes of his community and his country are resting on his ability to bounce back. That’s a lot of pressure for any young man. But the affable and humble 19-year old doesn’t show it. Instead, he just trains harder. A typical day for Nam involves waking up at 8 a.m. to do off-ice exercises. He then heads to the rink in Richmond Hill to have three sessions of practices until 7p.m.
However, pressure does come in the form of finances. As a top Olympic prospect, Skate Canada provides Nguyen with a monthly stipend, but most of the training expenses come out of his own pocket. Coaching alone costs $45,000, then there are costs that you normally wouldn’t think about, such as costumes ($3,000) and off-ice training ($10,000). It all adds up to needing an extra full-time salary to pay for it all.
“Figure skating is a very expensive sport, especially at the higher levels, because you have to pay for more coaching and more ice time. It’s been really hard trying to keep up with it. My parents are just normal, hardworking people, like any other Vietnamese family in Canada. And I am forever grateful for the financial sacrifices they’ve made so that I can skate. They’ve gone through a lot for me and have always been there for me,” says Nguyen.
“Without them, I definitely would not be here. For instance, one year at the Canadian National Championships, I was very excited to be the youngest competitor at the event. Unfortunately, two days before the competition, I crashed into someone at practice and got a big cut on my leg that required eight stitches. The doctor said I wouldn’t be able to compete in the big tournament. Both my parents didn’t go to work for two days. They stayed with me in hospital and helped to massage my leg in rehab, just to get my leg to feel normal again. I ended up skating very well and it was all thanks to my parents.”
While Nguyen mainly relies on his parents for support, a top skater such as Patrick Chan enjoys corporate sponsorship from the likes of McDonald’s and RBC, along with the significant financial backing from the Chinese-Canadian community.
“Finances have been the biggest issue for almost everybody in this sport. That’s why I truly appreciate any support that I’ve gotten so far,” says Nguyen.
“But aside from finances, I want to thank everyone in the community from the bottom of my heart for your emotional support, especially during the rough times as I had issues with my body. Now that everything has settled down and I’ve stopped growing, I feel confident again. I can’t wait to make you all very proud if I get to represent Canada and the Vietnamese-Canadian community at the 2018 Olympics.”
The Thoi Bao Community Fund, in association with VOICE Canada, is part of a committee of prominent Vietnamese-Canadians inspired to organize fundraising for Nam Nguyen’s quest to be the first ever Vietnamese-Canadian figure skater in Olympics history.
A special fundraising gala is being planned for later in the summer. In the meantime, anyone that wants to be a part of Nam’s Olympic journey can help by donating whatever they can to:
Thoi Bao Community Fund
1114 College St.
Note: Support Nam Nguyen for Olympic 2018
For more information about fundraising efforts for Nam Nguyen, please contact: Nguyễn Văn Trường Quang (647) 588-3203
Award-winning journalist Thien Huynh returns to Thoi Bao for a special feature on figure skater Nam Nguyen and his quest to represent Vietnamese-Canadians at the Olympics.