Golden Skate

Nicole Watt: Saskatoon’s Skating Sweetheart

For Canada’s 17-year-old Nicole Watt, from Melfort, Saskatchewan, each competition is a personal victory, whether she wins a medal or not. “I’m kind of an inner person when I skate,” she said. “I try to find the zone where there is just the ice, and myself playing out the music. I don’t know what my chances are at winning because there are too many things out of my control,” she stated. “I can’t control how others skaters will perform, or the view of the judges. The only thing I can control is my focus, dedication and preparation and hopefully it all comes together. My coach (Dale Hazell) has two things he always quotes to me ‘You only have one competitor – yourself’ and ‘When preparation and opportunity meet – there will be success’. I do everything I can to be properly prepared.” This season, Watt had to withdraw from Canadian Nationals after the free skate due to injury, after finishing fourth, second, and fourth the three previous years.

Watt has more to contend with than other skaters. When she was eight, shortly after she started the CanSkate program, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a progressively degenerative disease that has slowly sapped her strength and stiffened her joints. To combat the symptoms of her disease, Watt took a powerful drug each week for several years. Even with medication she wasn’t symptom free, never knowing which joint might be affected or when. The drug also gave her flu-like symptoms, preventing her from practicing for a day afterwards, but without it, she would have been unable to compete.

“I am off my medication because my arthritis went into remission,” she explained. “I feel so much better, because now I realize just how fatigued and sick to my stomach my medication made me. My arthritis usually doesn’t bother me, however, I have damage to joints and the damage that’s already there cannot be reversed. I do have some pain especially in my ankles, knees, hips, wrist and jaw. At least I know it’s not getting worse and because it’s in remission, I don’t have much swelling of the joints like before. Every day I am thankful that my condition has stabilized.” But in late December, the disease caused painful swelling in her left knee, which had to be drained just days before the Canadian Nationals to prevent the fluid build-up from causing ligament damage, thus limiting her training time. In considerable pain, she still finished third in the qualifying round and 11th in the short, before withdrawing from the long to avoid more damage to the knee.

Watt started skating at three and landed her first triple, a salchow, at twelve. “I always liked watching skating on TV and would pretend to do programs in the middle of the living room floor. My parents put me into skating, along with many other sports and activities, to help me develop skills and get exercise to channel my excess energy. It wasn’t long before I cut back on other activities and increased my involvement in skating.” She currently trains 3-4 hours a day on ice and takes ballet twice a week to improve her flexibility. She tries to work out four or five times a week off ice doing different conditioning workouts each day, some with low weights and a lot of repetitions and others with heavier weights.

Hazell said, “I think Nicole needs to get stronger jumps, or maybe something nobody’s done yet to move up. Everybody has a triple lutz now, so how do you beat that? We want to get the triple lutz stronger and, hopefully, we can put in a triple Lutz/triple toe combination.” Last summer, Watt tried the triple Axel, quad toe loop and quad salchow in harness. She is using a triple lutz/double toe combination in the short and adds a triple flip/double toe in the long.

Watt returned to Padget Riediger for her choreography this season after using Lori Nichol last season. “Lori took me to a new level artistically,” she said, “but because Padget coaches at my rink, it’s easier to make changes in the programs during the day.” Her short program is to Rolf Lovland’s “Song from a Secret Garden” while the long is Maurice Jarre’s “Doctor Zhivago Suite.” “I really just heard the Secret Garden music and liked it,” Watt stated. “My coach found the Doctor Zhivago music and we watched the movie. The program is a fusion of different parts of the movie.” She is using Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” for her exhibition piece, “I really like to skate to classical music,” Nicole stated, “but I like all kinds of music. I also like ballet and jazz dances,” she said.

Along with listening to music, Nicole enjoys being with her friends, watching comedy movies and reading anything but science fiction. Lately she’s been reading John Grisham’s novels. She tries to find knickknacks from each competition and collects Cherish teddy bears. “I love to travel, not only for skating but I feel it is important to experience other cultures,” Nicole said. “Each trip was unique with its own memories and the experience is always great.”

Watt is in her final year in high school and carries an average of 98 in all her subjects. “Last year I was the highest in eleventh grade,” she said. “I enjoy all my studies and plan to go to university to study medicine. I’m interested in pediatrics and I’ve had a lot of exposure to rheumatology because of my arthritis so that’s a possibility,” She also ran on the school’s track team before skating took up all her time. Watt also enjoys downhill skiing, diving and other sports. “I love all sports from tennis to water skiing on a recreational level,” she said, “but I don’t want to try the three sports my brothers are involved in – hockey, basketball and golf. They’ve never been my things to do.”

Watt’s goals are realistic, to make the Canadian world team and to improve technically and artistically each season, with a long-range goal of the Olympics in 2006. “One never knows when an injury or illness can end a skating career,” she stated. “I feel I have to focus on each year and after the season is over look to the future.”