from EEVA magazine text by Anu KylvÃ©n, Photos by Sakari Majantie
“Come and get me, my legs don’t carry me”
Kiira Korpi has just arrived from a holiday trip in Nice, where she went with her good friend, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. She has still one week of holiday left in July, and the practising schedule for the Midsummer week was also eased down. The life of a professional athlete doesn’t seem to be so disciplined after all. But Kiira points out that summer is the time for basic conditioning for figure skaters. In July Kiira will visit the Olympic city Vancouver, where she will stay for 3 weeks. She will be joined by fellow athletes Laura LepistÃ¶, Susanna PÃ¶ykiÃ¶ and Jenni VÃ¤hÃ¤maa.
– None of us has visited the city before. I have heard people say good things about it, so it will be interesting to get there yourself and see how the body will adjust to the 10 hour time difference.
Only two of the ladies will get to the Olympic city again next year, when the time comes. Kiira likes the situation where four skaters are competing over two team places, it is motivating.
– It will push you to do more and more work to improve your performances. Luckily there is good atmosphere amongst us girls. There is no moping or sulkying in the Finnish team. Sometimes you notice of e.g. American skaters that they are not very good friends with each other. In competitions they hardly speak to each other.
Relaxing holiday on the beaches of Nice felt good after the spring training and difficult winter. Last autumn a strange illness hit her and took her off her legs. There was a couple of months when she wasn’t able to get on ice at all. And there were times, when just walking caused pain. A viral infection on top of that caused the recuperating to happen more slowly.
– I was worrying that maybe I can’t do anything that season. It hurt when you walked, there were cramps in the legs, and I was having a little fever for many weeks.
The young skater was examined for weeks. No solid explanation was found, but the diagnosis was decided as over-exertion of the nerve-muscle system.
– Living in uncertainty was really frustrating. I would have felt better if we had found some specific cause. When nothing else was found, they talked about the tiring of nerve-muscle system.
Kiira doesn’t feel that she had pushed herself to the limit with too hard training. If an athlete is suffering from overtraining, the pulse is high or the person feels drained. There were no such symptoms. During the summer’s training camp Kiira had felt that she was in better condition than ever.
– I was in the shape of my life, I enjoyed training and it felt lovely to have the minute-schedules of high school behind me. I was relieved that I was accepted in the University, to study what I wanted to study. Also mentally I felt better than ever. Everything was fine.
Then the legs stopped co-operating. Kiira’s falling ill was a blow to whole family. The parents were frightened when the youngest of family called home from her jogging route, close to crying, and asked: “Come and get me, my legs don’t carry me.”
– After everything, getting ill was an educating and mind-opening experience. A couple months went by when the skating goals weren’t on top of my mind. The health became the most important thing: that you can live normal life and move. Also the coaches didn’t show any impatience, instead they emphasised that me getting better is more important than next competition.
– It has not always been enjoyable to get onto ice at 7 AM. I have taken the skating for granted. When I wasn’t able to skate, I realised how much I love it. That’s my thing.
In December, after all this and after only two weeks of ice training Kiira skated to an overwhelming victory in Finnish national championships. The champion thanks the doctors and other supporters for taking good care of her. During her illness the net of supporters grew and now there are more important people around her than before. During the training ban in autumn she would have had time to meet with her friends. However, Kiira mostly spent time on her own. There was lots to think about.
– I noticed how much my identity is built on sports. How much you value yourself based on how you had performed that day.
The upbringing by Brita and Rauno Korpi offered Kiira another way to think. The values of life in the family rested on healthy base, and skating was never over-emphasised even when their daughter started to gain success.
– At home we have our feets on the ground. They don’t hype “our own skating prodigy”. Of course my parents urge me on, but they keep the realism in it.
Kiira has studied company management in Tampere University now for one year. The economics student enjoyes her student life. In the University her value as person is not measured by sport achievements. Two times she has even had time to party in her dark blue economics students’ overalls.
– I haven’t been super diligent in attending lectures. Sometimes I just popped in the University to eat lunch. Still, it was nice to see your student mates once in a while, the skating is so lonely work. I got 35 credits in my first year, Kiira says.
– If I continue like this, I might graduate in ten years! If my sports career ends at some point, I am surely able to finish my studies quickly.
Kiira wasn’t tempted to economics by any big business dream. Her sister studied in the same field in Vaasa, and her cousin already graduated in Helsinki. Their examples motivated her, and the field of studies seemed to go well with sports.
– As an athlete in an individual sports I am already a kind of an entrepreneur.
The effectiveness and ability to cope under pressure were tested a year ago in the University entrance examination. Many were studying for it spending long days in the library, reading, but Kiira couldn’t bypass her twice-per-day trainings.
– I have learnt to be effective with schedules. It never crossed my mind that “yawn, do I want to read today?”. When I did read, I did so intensively. Sometimes I cycled my excercise bike while reading. Sure, it was quite an effort.
Kiira still lives with her parents close to HakametsÃ¤ icehall.
– I have been thinking that I could move away from my parents soon. But it is wonderful to have food ready when I come home dead beat tired. It’s nice to have other people at home all the time – there is very little social life in the ice hall. If I moved away, I would stay close by anyway.
Keeping their own households is something the young skaters have been accustomed to in sports camps. During them they are living in rented apartments.
– Then you can see, how much it takes time to do the shopping and cooking, Kiira admits.
Living with her parents doesn’t bother the twenty-year-old woman, but sometimes she does wish for her own peace of life.
– There is now a strong need to get independent among some of my friends. Distancing themselves from their parents is part of it. I have learned to be independent very early in my life. I got used to travel around and taking care of my own business. If I was a regular student, I believe I would be having that same distancing phase right now. The demanding hobby has brought me and my parents close to each other.
It is difficult to believe, when Kiira, who looks like calmness itself, tells that she was very temperamentful as child, almost an ‘enfant terrible’.
– If I hadn’t had the option to direct all my energy, enthusiasm and will to skating, I might be quite a baddie.
Getting along with a regular hobby didn’t always feel nice. Sometimes the decibel-levels rised to dangerous figures, and mother Brita had to calm the tantrums down.
– I must thank my mother – she has worked hard in the upbringing. My mother also has the same temperament, but it is more subdued.
Her big sister Petra also skated. The career of naturally flexible and athletic Petra was cut short by injury at high-school age. While she recovered, so did her motivation to continue the sports die out.
– Petra was missing the greatest courage, will and desire to perform. She didn’t like competing. She found other things in her life, and there were never any bitterness in her. We have always been treated equally, little sister thinks.
Kiira says that she admires Petra’s sociable nature and her positiveness – and her wonderfully thick and long hair.
– Petra is much more patient than I am. She remembers all the important days of our parents and grandmothers, reminds me about them too, and buys the flowers and cards, Kiira laughs.
For Kiira it is not the fame and honour that is most important. The moments when you feel you have successed give you strength to go on. You will miss those moments, when you are not doing well. You get them as rare flashes in trainings, too, when you really nail the program. In those moments you can feel just as happy as you might feel after winning a competition.
– Sometimes I wonder, where other people of my age get those kinds of experiences. Success in what you do is such a motivational force. Succeeding in a regular exam doesn’t give me a similar lift as I get when I success in doing a difficult jump.
Kiira doesn’t care for showy victory celebrations.
– When I was little and took part in my very first competitions, I finished last. My friends and me went to buy ice cream and we had our little losing party, Kiira smiles.
By the Rosendahl shore the sun is not baking just as sweetly as it did in Nice. But it shines, anyway. Kiira doesn’t have much time to enjoy the sunhine, because she is on her way to a long awaited celebration. The wedding of her long time friend, and the christening of her child are to be held in Tampere House. It’s a fortunate thing that there are friends with whom you can discuss everything else but skating. From her high school days Kiira still has many good friends, and one of the closest, Heidi, even was accepted to the same study program in University.
– I am not skeptical about new acquaintances, I am quite open. You can easily see from people if they are not genuinely present when you meet them. Some people get nervous meeting me, and I find that strange. With my long time friends I’m just Kiira. Sometimes I wonder, who on earth is this person in publicity, this Kiira Korpi.