Interview With Sasha Alcoloumbre

Canadian figure skater Sasha Alcoloumbre

I'm going to tell you right off the top that this particular Canada Month interview is just fascinating. Sasha Alcoloumbre's story is really a very interesting one. Let's see... he competed at a national level for years (winning medals at Québec Sectionals, Skate Canada Challenge and Canadian Novice Nationals), was coached by Shawn Sawyer, is an avid student of dance and has even ventured into doing choreography and coaching - all of this while pursuing a university education. I think you'll find in reading this interview that not only is Sasha a hard-working and multi-talented young man but a wonderfully well-spoken person as well. We talked about his recent decision to retire from competitive skating and the highlights of his career, working with Shawn Sawyer, his passion for dance and movement and much, much more. Get ready for a great read:

Q: You've had a lot of success in your competitive career - medals at Québec Sectionals and the Canadian Novice Nationals and have competed on the senior level at Nationals the last three years. What are your proudest moments or most special memories from competition? 

 A: I am lucky to have collected so many wonderful memories from all of the years of competition! It is quite challenging to choose the most outstanding moments, but here are some of the ones I most vividly remember… Competing at my very first Skate Canada Challenge in 2007 (Eastern Challenge as it was then), I skated two great programs at the pre-novice level which earned me a trip to Nationals and a completely unexpected silver medal. I was surprised and extremely happy because I had surpassed my goals and expectations. Winning the short program at Novice Nationals in Calgary the following season, as well as the Bronze medal overall was magical. The best part was performing the short program, and delivering the performance as cleanly and fluidly as I could.  I also skated a surprisingly good free skate at my first Senior Nationals in Moncton in 2012, after having skated so poorly the night before. Performing as I did in the short program allowed me to get rid of my own limiting expectations, and gave way for a memorable four and half minutes on the ice.  Another great moment was getting my short program choreographed by David Wilson (along with other trips to Toronto for touch-ups). The time spent with him on the ice was truly wonderful; he taught me a lot in a very short amount of time. There are evidently so many more great memories from competition, but some of the best moments come from the simple day to day training, getting new programs and outfits, spending time with training mates, along with some great travels for training camps such as in Andorra and Switzerland lead by the wonderful Manon Perron.

Q: You spent two years working with the fabulous Shawn Sawyer. What made him a joy for you to work with? 

A: What I really liked about working with Shawn was his open-minded approach; he encouraged my own sense of creativity and self-expression and allowed me to grow into myself as a performer while still focusing on training. I always loved his skating because of his creativity and innovation, so it was very cool to have his insight on my own skating as well as learn from his experience as an athlete. He is a funny and lively person and it was a pleasure to be coached by him for those two seasons.

Q: You have participated in Quest For Creativity before and obviously have a passion and flair for choreography. Is Quest For Creativity or YAS something you would get involved in again and for that matter, is choreography a world you would like to explore more? 

 A: Yes, I have participated in YAS, but unfortunately only for a short period of time. I underestimated the amount of work it would take and got very busy with school, training, and teaching, so I had to pull out of the competition after only submitting two videos. I think it is a wonderful concept! If I ever have the time, I will definitely try participating again. As for choreography, it is a domain I've been actively exploring over the last few years: creating some of my own competition and show programs, and occasionally choreographing for other skaters. While I was skating, I would dedicate a bit of time here and there (usually at the end of the training day) to moving freely to music that inspired me. This past season, I incorporated it into my training much more regularly because it is the aspect of skating I most enjoy. I continuously explore movement since it is my favorite mode of self-expression, and hope to do so for the rest of my life. I would definitely love to keep choreographing.

Q: This past season was your last competing. How did you reach the difficult decision to retire from "amateur" skating and what will be your next adventure? 

A: Retiring from the competitive world was indeed a very difficult decision, but luckily it happened gradually. By the end of last spring, I had lost the motivation that had sustained me throughout my career thus far; I started to think seriously about my future before committing to another full season of training and eventually decided that it was time to move on with my life. I ended up teaching most of the summer alongside my longtime choreographer and coach, Suzanne Luis, who had started her own skating school. Seeing the students train hard and progress over the summer reminded me of all the wonderful moments and motivation I had as a young boy being taught by Suzanne. I was additionally very inspired while pursuing advanced training as an Essentrics (dynamic stretching and strengthening) instructor with the founder of the technique, Miranda Esmonde-White. She is an inspiring woman and has had a hugely positive influence on my physical training and health. By the end of the summer, I found more joy than ever before in being on the ice and decided to start training again for one last trip to Nationals, this time with very different goals in mind and with Suzanne as my coach. I focused less on the competition and more on the day to day training, which I thoroughly appreciated. I challenged myself in many new ways and learned a lot in the process. I am now teaching a lot of Essentrics, as well as teaching and occasionally choreographing on the ice. I'm hoping to finish up my undergraduate degree in the next year, and look forward to keep pursuing all of my passions in the coming years.

Canadian figure skater Sasha Alcoloumbre

Q: What has been the most difficult or heartbreaking moment that you've had to face as a figure skater and how did you rise above it? 

A: The most difficult period in my career was being seriously injured. In the summer of 2009, I sprained my ankle on a really bad fall in training, and damaged many stabilizing ligaments. My ankle was a disaster, and extremely weak. It was my landing leg (which is also the take-off leg for the loop, flip and lutz jumps), so getting back to the ice was challenging physically and emotionally. I re-injured it a few times in the same year, which added to the trauma, but with good recovery time I slowly got stronger. The following spring, after a rocky season, I regained confidence in my strength and started landing triple loops, flips and lutzs, which I couldn’t successfully land before the injury. That is also around the same time I started doing Essentrics with Miranda, which helped regain full range of motion and power in my ankle, as well as in the rest of my body.

Q: What is the last book you read? 

A: Dostoyevsky’s "Notes from Underground" is the last book I read, but I've been sporadically reading some of David Sedaris' wonderful essays.

Q: You're pursuing an education in the Liberal Arts. If you never had taken that first step on the ice and could have pursued any other passion in life with 100% of your time and energy, what would it have been?  

A: I love the Liberal Arts, but it is not something I want to pursue professionally. It is rather a great way to expand my knowledge, challenge my thoughts, improve my writing, and better understand the world.  If I had never skated, I would have loved to be a professional ballet dancer! I love that ballet challenges every single muscle in the body and I believe it is an extremely pure form of movement. I would have loved to be part of some great company, such as the New York City Ballet or the American Ballet Theatre. What a dream it would be to dance on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why? 

A: Oh that’s a hard one! I'll give you three of my favorite skaters because there are many more that are worth being mentioned (such as Joannie Rochette, Stephane Lambiel)... Michelle Kwan, because she would skate from her heart every time she would perform, because she is so down to earth and genuine, and because she maintained her level of competition for so many years. Daisuke Takahashi, to me, is the epitome of a figure skater. He is extremely versatile, always has a great presence on the ice, and is brilliantly agile. Carolina Kostner because of her endless and elegant lines, her effortless jumps, and fluidity. She moves like a dancer... I’m sold.

Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you? 

A:  Most people don’t know that I took ballet and contemporary dance classes during the 2011/2012 season at l'École Supérieure de Ballet du Quebec, a great ballet school in Montreal lead by Anik Bissonnette. I had started taking classes with Samuel Abramian (a ballet master and Bolshoi graduate) in order to improve my jumps. I eventually decided to do their summer intensive as I was simultaneously preparing for the season. I danced more in the summer, and skated more once the season started, but I kept going to a few classes until the end of year show in which I participated... all of this while taking a few classes in university and teaching. I guess the REAL thing people don't know about me is that I always make room for more things in my schedule than I should. I LOVE being busy and productive!

Q: What do you love most about figure skating? 

A: The feeling of utter freedom when I’m on the ice; there is absolutely nothing like it. I always feel untouchable, just like a bird in the wild.

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