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July 12, 2021
Hometown: Ankara, Turkey
Fun Fact: “I can touch my nose with my tongue.”
Spirit Animal: Dolphin - “…because I love socializing and I believe that I am a really friendly person. I can’t go a day without spending time with the people I enjoy hanging out with.”
Previously a rhythmic gymnast, Irmak first stepped onto the ice at age of 9.
“During my first session on the ice, I fell around 40 times during 40 minutes and I remember my parents playfully making fun of me. But it was as if every time I fell on the ice, I fell in love with skating, thus I quit gymnastics and started skating.”
“I was quite old as a 9-year-old to start figure skating, however, I even surprised myself with how [quickly] I improved; even though it resulted in me losing a couple of friends along the way.”
After only skating for about four years, she began training elements such as the double axel, and participating in international events and camps.
“I remember crashing with another skater during the 6-minute-long warm-up of my first ever international competition which resulted in her getting stitches and me crying my eyes out while skating.”
“During times of struggle like these or [other times when] even my coaches did not believe in me (which resulted in me changing clubs) what kept me going was that I wasn’t doing this sport to beat [other] people at competitions. I was doing it because I loved it and I wanted to.”
Irmak recalls a conversation with her mom in which the thought of quitting the sport made her cry, “ [It] is a memory that always puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it, as even the thought of quitting makes me sad.”
In 2015, she became the Turkish National Champion in the Novice category and in 2017, became the first Turkish figure skater to qualify for the free program at the World Junior Championships during the last decade. This resulted in the quota for Junior Grand Prix (JGP) competitions being increased from 3 to 5 for Turkey.
“It was big news for my country and [was] announced on the news, as well as in newspapers. The Turkish National Olympic Committee also [created a video interview] where I expressed how I practiced and got prepared for the international competitions.”
The Turkish National Figure Skating Champion for 5 consecutive years (2015-2020), Irmak was unable to participate in 2021 due to being in Canada furthering her education. She is one of two ladies on Turkey’s Olympic Figure Skating Team and participated in the World Junior Championships in 2018 and 2019.
In addition to qualifying for the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival and ranking 22nd in 2019, Irmak was the first female Turkish skater to perform a clean triple-triple jump combination at an ISU competition and broke the record for the highest points received by a female Turkish skater at an ISU competition.
“This was also the year where I had to participate in the World Junior Championships with a bleeding heel that had to be rasped which would prevent me from walking for 6 months. The Turkish Federation of Figure Skating cut my treatment in half (I’m not really their favorite), which surprisingly turned out to be great because if they didn’t, I would have never been able to fulfill the requirements for the European Championships.”
Irmak is also a former member of the Golden Roses Synchronized Skating Team. In 2017 they became Turkish Champions which qualified them for the ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships that year.
While currently attending the University of British Columbia, the most qualified coach is about 2 hours away from her campus.
“I am back on track and I have never been this motivated. I am currently working on going to the Olympics with the help of the Nebelhorn Trophy and I have quite a lot of camps ahead of me.”
Irmak is extremely grateful for her coach, Tayfun Anar.
“[He] is always there for me. Without him, I would have never gotten here and no one but him should take credit for how much I have improved.”
“My family is always here for me as well, especially when we have to defend our rights against the federation. I owe my success to my time-management skills, discipline but most importantly my love for figure skating which grows day by day as long as my coach and my family are beside me.”
Irmak currently trains in Ankara, Turkey during the summer and in Vancouver, BC, Canada for the remainder of the year.
Q: Who is someone in your life that inspires you?
“My sister inspires me so much. I have never seen another 14-year-old who is that mature and who spreads kindness as much as she does. She is very understanding, a great confidant, and perfect at communication. It is almost impossible to get in a fight with her as she expresses herself amazingly and quickly finds common ground in every situation. She inspires me to be a kinder and more compassionate person. I can definitely say that she brings out the best in me.”
Q: Who was your skating ‘role-model’ when you were younger?
“I enjoyed watching Ashley Wagner so much!! I always found her style extremely unique and I completely fell in love with her choreography to ‘Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This’. I thought that she was so talented for not only looking elegant while skating to classical music but also for presenting such an entertaining choreography with this type of music as well.”
“Especially during the last two years, I’ve seen the impact of that upbeat, rock-and-roll type of music that Ashley Wagner used in my own choice of choreography songs too!!”
Q: Favourite quote?
“This may be kind of cliché but, “fake it ‘till you make it”. Even though you may not think that you are in [the] best shape or you are not improving as much as you want to, keep having confidence in yourself as if you are achieving every single goal that you have.”
“I tend to be extremely harsh on myself; over the years I have [discovered] that keeping my head up and not letting the negativities impact me, is the best way to prevent self-criticism.”
Q: What is your favorite type of off-ice training?
When it comes to off-ice, Irmak really enjoys core work.
“Even though my abs burn, I know that my upper body is a lot weaker than my legs and that’s what I need to focus on. Knowing that I am able to identify my weaknesses and work towards turning them into strengths always makes mefeel great.”
Q: What is your favourite element?
“My favorite element is Triple Loop because it was the first triple that I’ve ever landed and it is my best one ever since. My least favorite element is Triple Toe + Triple Toe, due to [ankle injuries]. Whenever I practice 3T + 3T too much, I get this really heavy pain on my left ankle. However, I have learned to overcome this by taking some time off whenever it is necessary and knowing my limits.”
Q: Do you do any type of visualization or meditation?
“I haven’t done any meditation, however, whenever I feel like I am losing the consistency of a jump, I start visualizing it before I go to sleep. Usually, when I have problems with my jumps it's not because I have the wrong technique or I am physically doing something incorrectly, but mostly because I have so many question marks in my head, that I end up overthinking it. Visualizing myself doing the jump before I go to sleep helps me prepare for the jump psychologically and [perform] it way better on ice the next day.
Q: Do you have any pre-competition rituals or superstitions?
“My pre-comp routine is pretty basic to be honest; I do my makeup, take a couple of selfies, do my hair, take more selfies, get dressed, take some mirror pictures and finally get on the bus and go to the ice rink.”
“However, I pay a lot of attention to what I eat at breakfast on competition day. I have recognized that if I consume ANY sugar in the morning, I feel very energized while warming up but extremely sleepy as I am about to compete. That’s why I make sure that I include a bunch of protein and some carbohydrates in my breakfast while not eating anything with sugar in it.”
Q: You’re at an event, on the ice, in your starting position, waiting for your music to start... what are you thinking?
“[It] completely depends on how nervous I am feeling that day.”
“For instance, [at one competition] I remember telling myself “It is okay if you can’t get the World Championship points in this competition, you have other ones.” Even though I was fully ready, I got really nervous and instead of thinking [positively] that I will get the points, I thought of the scenario that I didn’t want to face which, unfortunately, reflected [in how well I skated].”
“Since then to prevent another situation like this, I always tell myself that I am going to be fine and not let any intrusive thoughts cross my mind. Sometimes I even concentrate on a point on my hand or on the ice depending on my position so that I gather my focus and stop worrying as well.”
Q: Did you ever endure some type of adversity in your career? How did you overcome it?
“One of the biggest problems that I faced in my figure skating career was balancing my academic life with sports. I can never forget the time where my previous school’s principal asked me to quit figure skating, stating that it wasn’t possible for me to achieve academic success in IBDP (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) as a professional athlete as it is an extremely difficult education system. That’s when I unenrolled and choose to change my school rather than my way of life.”
“As I expected, this turned out to be the right choice because years later, I not only became “the most outstanding IBDP student” at my new school, but also the Turkish National Figure Skating Champion for the fifth time in a row.”
“There are still times where I struggle to find this balance now that I have started university. My major is a pretty competitive one, so what I do to manage my time is make sacrifices. Even though I spend less time with my friends, spare less time for myself, and sometimes feel exhausted; I always keep my goals and more importantly, how I will feel once I achieve those goals in mind.”
“… [Don’t forget what you] are working towards. Instead of feeling down because of all the sacrifices, [remember] the joy and the happiness that accomplishments will bring and how the blood, sweat, and tears will be all worth it.”
Q: Have you learned any life lessons from skating?
“I’ve learned that there will be people who try to bring you down, take advantage of your achievements and demotivate you. I know this is kind of a sad answer but unfortunately, I have had competitions where I didn’t skate my best and didn’t place among the top 5 which resulted in some of my friends not hanging out with me anymore. The opposite would happen when I would skate amazingly and become the Turkish National Figure Skating Champion; I would be surrounded by people.”
“After a long time, I have recognized that some people tend to be around you when you look good, and some of the people closest to you may turn out to be the ones who kick you when you have fallen; this has taught me one of the most important things in life, NEVER leave your motivation in the hands of someone else no matter who they are.”
“Become your own person because being successful may make you recognize all the negative things going [on] around you due to jealousy and anger, and you shouldn’t let yourself be impacted by any of those. Thanks to figure skating, I have learned how to see the positive in social situations like these which I think will be extremely useful whenever I am surrounded by people who don’t want the best for me.”
“I know that as long as I keep my head up and stay hopeful, everything will be just fine. After all, what determines our mood and how we feel is not the actions that go on around us but rather what we think of them.”
Q: What is your ultimate goal with skating?
“To have fun and love what I am doing. Of course I aim for certain scores and [qualifying] for certain competitions, but [this also] increases how much joy I get from this sport. I always focus on my own performance and whether I am happy with it. I would only cut ties with figure skating if I stopped loving it, and I don’t believe that will ever happen.”
Q: What do you love most about skating?
“I love how it has made me a more open-minded and international person. After seeing all those skaters from different countries, cultures and races, I feel like I have finally gotten out of the bubble I was living in Turkey and had a chance to experience diversity. I completely fell in love with the environments of each international competition that I have been to and I am extremely grateful for that.”
“Being open to differences, whether it’s a difference of mindset or a difference of culture, has helped me meet so many amazing people. This quality has made me who I am today, a figure skater who has widened her horizon but also a university student who was able to move to a different continent all by herself at the age of 18 without any nervousness or fear.”
Q: What is your favourite memory from skating?
“My greatest achievement where tears of happiness ran down my face was the World Junior Championships in 2017. However, the cause of my happiness wasn’t ranking among the top 22 in the world or becoming the only Turkish skater who got qualified for the free program during the last decade. It was rather the little girls from the audience who threw letters on the ice as I was bowing down after my choreography.”
“After I took off my skates and started reading them, I couldn’t help but tear up when I read the words, “I love your performance. I pray that you will be more success in future. I’m rooting for you from Japan. Sincerely, Miki”.”
“While reading this letter, I realized that success isn't just about what you accomplish in your life, but also about whether you raise positive emotions in others with those accomplishments. I also learned to see the bright side of every challenge I face and to set my own goals even though certain factors try to limit me.”
“I still keep all the letters I’ve received to this day, and I get emotional every time I come across them while cleaning my room.”
Q: Any advice for young and aspiring skaters?
“Always focus on yourself and make sure that your biggest opponent is you. Never try to achieve a score just because another skater has achieved it, but instead, try to achieve it because you haven’t already. Human attention is limited, so focusing on others may distract you from working on yourself.”
In 2020 Irmak graduated from Bilkent University in with a ranking of 1st place among the International Baccalaureate Programme cohort of her school. She was then accepted into the University of British Columbia where she also received the Outstanding International Student Scholarship. She is currently a second-year Computer Science student pursuing a Bachelor of Science.
“One of my biggest goals in life is to be a successful computer scientist who has an impact on the society that she lives [in] as much as possible.”
Primarily focusing on Artificial Intelligence, and maybe even the use of Machine Learning in Criminal Psychology, she believes that we can save time and effort by incorporating AI into our lives.
“Nothing would make me happier than being able to contribute to my community’s safety with the use of technology.”
Mostly participating in events organized by Canadian Universities, Irmak has also been competing in international Mathematics Competitions for the last 2 years.
Outside of skating, she loves playing volleyball, skateboarding, coding, and singing in her car while no one is around.
“I love cruising around my university’s campus with my skateboard and it becomes even more fun when I have a couple of friends around to skate with. We take our skateboards, discover streets that we haven't visited before, take small ice cream breaks and enjoy the weather. It is one of my favorite activities to do. I believe that if figure skating didn’t exist, I would’ve probably become a professional skateboarder instead.”
Irmak is also a huge fan of tattoos. “I only have 3 (and one of them is about figure skating!!), but I enjoy seeing tattoo artists work so much. I feel like it is an underrated form of art.”
“I also used to play the piano and I even graduated from the 6th Grade of
London College of Music Examinations.” Even though she no longer plays, Irmak still enjoys listening to classical music.
“One of my college roommates plays the piano so I can hear it live quite often!”
In the future Irmak hopes to visit Italy someday. “I know that I would extremely enjoy the canals of Venice, the stores of Milan and the beautiful landmarks of Rome.”
Lastly, What does it mean to you to have a #ChampionshipMindset?
“#ChampionshipMindset is making sure that the only person you have to beat is yourself. It is not focusing on other competitors, not making a number your biggest enemy, and not getting hung up on rankings. If you beat your previous score in every single competition that you attend, reaching every single score or ranking you go for is already a given.”
“#ChampionshipMindset is being able to do a sport for yourself and your happiness, and being your own source own motivation. Even though you may not be a champion right this second, [it] is what will make you one as long as you are patient and committed. [A] #ChampionshipMindset is what will bring you happiness on your journey to success.”