When your dream is to figure skate at the Olympics but Covid-19 closes all the ice rinks, what do you do?
In Emma Lyons’ case, she came up with a unique idea to keep her ambition on track.
The 12-year-old schoolgirl persuaded her parents to buy her a pair of expensive ‘off ice’ rollerblades and drive her to a deserted retail park three times a week, so she could practise her jumps and spins in lockdown.
And since shops have been allowed to re-open Emma has become quite a sensation outside the John Lewis Home store, in Chester – attracting a crowd of staff and customers excited to watch her performances.
Emma, who won bronze at the British Championships last year and is rated as one of the most promising young figure skaters in the country, admitted rollerblading was ‘different’ to skating but that she was so desperate to keep up her training during the pandemic that it was better than not skating at all.
‘I’m really at home on the ice, it’s where I feel like I can be my true self,’ she said.
‘My ambition is to get into the British team and go to the Olympics. Rollerblading is totally different to skating – it hurts a lot more when I fall, but I just wanted to practice my jumps.’
The youngster started skating at her local rink, in Deeside, north Wales, aged seven. She quickly showed a natural aptitude for the sport and started winning competitions against girls in older age groups.
Ordinarily, Emma skates for up to six hours a day, five days a week, with former Wales international and British ice skating coach Hayley Pardo. But when the pandemic began the rink was closed and re-purposed by the Welsh Government into a Rainbow field hospital for the NHS. It is unlikely to open as a leisure centre until the end of next year at the earliest.
Since then Emma’s father, David Lyons, 53, a retired electrician, has been driving his daughter to the retail park car park, where she has been practising her routines, including impressive triple Lutz and triple Salchow jumps, on the tarmac instead of the ice.
‘Emma absolutely loves skating and was desperately missing it,’ Mr Lyons, a father-of-four, from Hawarden, north Wales, said.
‘Early on the retail parks were all closed, the tarmac in the car parks is nice and smooth and I bought a six metre length of lino to put down.
‘Initially, while she got used to the blades, he was wearing elbow and knee pads in case she fell over, but she doesn’t really need them now.
‘The jumps she is currently working on involve her skating backwards, leaping into the air and performing three, 100 per cent rotations. Because she has to enter the air at speed and get a lot of height, we had to make sure there was no-one else around.
‘But when the shops started to open she started getting quite a crowd watching. We have a blue tooth speaker, she is currently doing a routine to California Dreaming, and the music is quite lively, so customers and staff were stopping to watch as they got in their cars or through the store window.’
Hayley said that while the tarmac couldn’t be a substitute for the ice, getting Emma and her other girls out skating was vital to their own well-being.
‘Some of them were getting quite depressed about not being on the ice,’ she said. ‘Falling on ice is bad enough, but falling on tarmac is not a lot of fun. But Emma is used to getting up at 5am, skating before school and after school and at the weekends and, given that we don’t have a date for rinks to re-open, it is the next best thing.
‘She is a very talented girl and certainly has the drive to reach her ambition. To come third in the British Championships, when she was skating against girls much older, was a massive achievement. She’s done very, very well.’
Before lockdown Emma, a pupil at Hawarden High School, had also begun training once a month with World and Olympic husband and wife coaches Simon and Debi Briggs in Dundee.
He told the Mail: ‘Emma definitely has the potential to achieve her dream, there will be a lot of hard work ahead, but you can tell that she has the commitment, determination and passion to get to that level.’
Emma’s family are now raising funds for her to travel more regularly up to the city, which has been allowed to open its rink to a handful of elite skaters only, so she can get back on the ice next month.
Mother Lynn, 50, a college administrator, added: ‘Emma is a lovely, energetic child with a zest for life. She is passionate about sport, figure skating is her life and passion.
‘Whilst missing the ice enormously she has continued with amazing tenacity during lockdown, training on roller skates and zoom classes in jump technique, flexibility and power and fitness.
‘It would benefit her enormously if she could train with other elite skaters in Dundee every weekend, instead of just once a month as she was doing prior to lockdown.’
To donate to Emma’s fundraising page go to he gofundmepage.