• Aly Leia Wein

Meet Harshita Rawtani


(Original header photo courtesy of @gabietab)


Let me set the scene: it's late August. The idyllic upstate New York town of Lake Placid is hosting the second Junior Grand Prix event of the 2019-20 figure skating season. Young skaters from all over the world have flocked to this former Olympic location to compete in singles, pairs, and ice dance. And among them is an Indian figure skater named Harshita Rawtani, who would go on to charm the crowd, the commentator, and everyone else who felt her passion radiate from the frosty 1980 Rink that warm late summer day. In India, it's hard to get the ice time and coaching expertise necessary to succeed in elite figure skating, a sport requiring a hefty financial, emotional, and time-related investment. Back home in India, with the closest ice rink 40 kilometers away, Harshita is only able to figure skate for 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday, with a 2 1/2- to 3-hour commute each way - if you do the math, that amounts to nearly 10 to 12 hours in the car for only 4 hours of training! And those 4 hours are split between the disciplines of ice dance (with Vansh Bhatia) and ladies' singles, both of which Harshita competed in at JGP Lake Placid.


But even though the odds were against her, Harshita the underdog emerged from the competition victorious. And no, I'm not talking about results or points - Harshita's winning attitude helped her gain the encouragement and support of thousands of skating fans worldwide, with everyone in awe of this hardworking girl whose dedication to the sport is second to none. Junior Grand Prix host and commentator Ted Barton was especially vocal with his support of Harshita, praising her efforts during the livestream and even interviewing her afterward.


Harshita is a breath of fresh air in the often suffocating world of competitive figure skating and has been a great reminder to all of us that this sport isn't just about medals earned or quads landed - it's about character, commitment, joy, and so much more. It's about expanding the field to make skating accessible for people from all countries and all walks of life. And it's about paving the road for the next generation. It was such a pleasure interviewing this intrepid young lady. So thank you, Harshita, for showing us what a true winner looks like. Read on to learn all about this Indian dynamo, how roller skating led her to the ice, and how she hopes to put India on the figure skating map.


Harshita competes her short program to Meghan Trainor's "Better When I'm Dancing" at Junior Grand Prix Lake Placid in August 2019.

(Photo courtesy of @gabietab)


QUICK FACTS


Birthday: April 28th, 2006 (13 years old)

Born: Nashik, India

Hometown: Noida, India

Currently: Noida, India


Country Represented: India

Skating Club: Ice Skating Association of India

Discipline: Ladies' Singles, Ice Dance

Partner: Vansh Bhatia

Level: Junior


Training Location: iSKATE @ Ambience Mall in Gurugram, India

Coaches: Anup Yama, JS Shawney

Boots: Edea Overture

Blades: Jackson Ultima Mark IV


QUESTIONS


Q: Even though you only started figure skating in 2016, you've been training and competing in inline and artistic roller skating since you were very young. How did you initially get involved in roller skating, and what inspired you to try out figure skating?

A: When I started going to pre-nursery school at 3 years old, I was full of energy and a very active child in class. During the school's first parent-teacher interaction, my teacher suggested that my parents engage me in sports and dance activities to channel my energy. I started with speed skating on roller skates, but slowly my mind was more into dance and elegant moves - this drove me toward artistic roller skating. Talking about figure skating, skating on ice is as smooth as the flow of water - it's elegant and graceful. And as I love to express myself through dance, that inspired me to start figure skating.


Q: In general, people are not as familiar with artistic roller skating as they are with figure skating. What are the biggest differences, and which do you find more challenging?

A: Artistic roller skating and figure skating are totally different games. Apart from the difference in wheels vs. blades, the surface on which you skate, and different rules, I find artistic roller skating more challenging, as it requires more force, energy, effort, and various techniques to perform elements of a similar nature (to ice skating). Friction between the roller skates' wheels and the skating surface (roller skating rinks in India have stone/concrete surfaces) makes artistic roller skating more challenging.


Since starting figure skating in 2016, Harshita's love for movement and for the ice has grown tenfold. This is just the beginning for her!


Q: Congratulations on competing at your first Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid! Tell us all about that experience - how were you chosen to compete, how did you prepare, were you nervous, did you make friends with the other skaters, etc.?

A: I was selected to compete at the 2019-20 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Lake Placid, USA, based on my performance at previous Indian National Championships - since 2016, I have won 12 Medals at national ice skating competitions.

I practice figure skating two hours on weekends at the ice rink, and for Junior Grand Prix preparation, I took extra ice sessions and classes. I got coaching by attending figure skating training camps (3 to 5 days long) organized by the Ice Skating Association of India, with the help of local coaches and coaches from abroad. In May 2019, I went for two weeks to an international figure skating training camp in Kranevo, Bulgaria, and in August 2019, I attended the ISU Ice Dance Development Seminar for one week in Seoul, South Korea.


Left: Harshita is with Ayako Higashino, Maurizio Margaglio, and Marius Turmanovska at the ISU Ice Dance Development Seminar in Seoul, South Korea, this past August.

Right: Harshita on the ice at her home rink, iSKATE.

(Photo courtesy of iSKATE)


It was a wonderful, amazing, and inspiring experience to compete at my first JGP in Lake Placid. It was my first international competition and an opportunity to watch live performances of some of the best skaters and interact with them. When I saw the Lake Placid rink for the first time, I was in shock, as the rink I practice on is quite small compared to a standard international skating rink. I was definitely nervous, and my heart was palpitating with both fear and excitement! But after the practice session, I adjusted to the rink size and overcame my fears and was confident.


At JGP, I met other skaters and made many friends. I met Andrea Montesinos Cantu from Mexico and came to know about her journey of skating. I was glad to meet and interact with Alysa Liu and my favorite skater, Anastasia Tarakanova. It was a great learning experience, and I totally loved and enjoyed it. It was an eye-opener for me!


Left: Harshita in ice dance practice at JGP Lake Placid with partner Vansh Bhatia. (Photo courtesy of @gabietab)

Center: Harshita with her figure skating idol Anastasia Tarakanova Right: Harshita with ISU technical controller David Molina

Q: After all your programs, #JGPFigure host Ted Barton was especially kind and encouraging, which led to skating fans worldwide falling in love with you and your pure passion and commitment for the sport! What was it like receiving all that support from the skating community?

A: I was overwhelmed with all the encouragement, love, and support I have gotten from Sir Ted Barton and the skating community during my events at JGP Lake Placid. It has motivated and inspired me to learn more, improve, and do my best. I love to watch JGP events live and learn from YouTube videos. I always wished to meet Ted Barton, who always encourages skaters with his kind words and support.


My dream came true at Lake Placid, and my eyes were filled with tears when I met Ted Barton, when he spoke after all my programs and took my interview! I would like to thank Ted Barton and all the fans who supported and constantly motivated me during the performance.


Harshita with one of her biggest supporters, Ted Barton, at JGP Lake Placid.


Q: In your interview with Ted, you mentioned that you "skate to express, not to impress," which is such a wonderful motto. Can you elaborate on that and tell us what it is about skating that you love so much?

A: Thank you so much for asking me to elaborate on my motto, "I skate to express, not to impress." Everyone in the world is different and has different skills. I try to incorporate emotions and rhythm with the complex elements of figure skating. I have learned in different seminars that rhythm and artistic expression are integral parts of figure skating. I love dance and music, so I try to express myself through emotions in the technical program.


Ted Barton interviews Harshita at Junior Grand Prix Lake Placid in August 2019.

(Video courtesy of ISU Junior Grand Prix)


Q: I find it so impressive that you've competed in all disciplines - singles, pairs, dance, and even synchro - in both artistic roller skating and figure skating. Which discipline do you enjoy the most, and what have been your favorite and least favorite parts of each discipline?

A: I enjoy skating singles the most. In singles, my favorite part is the axel. I love doing axel jumps. It's like I can do it as many times and improvise it. In pairs, I love lifts, which are quite interesting and fun to do. In ice dance, I love dance and do whatever role you give to me. The difficult part in ice dance or pairs skating is to adjust according to my partner. Synchronized skating is always fun and requires team synergy to perform as a group, and there is nothing that I do not like about it!


Harshita and partner Vansh Bhatia take a bow after performing their Maroon 5/Beauty & The Beast rhythm dance.

(Photo courtesy of @gabietab)


Q: Coming from a country that is not known for figure skating - and that also only has a few ice rinks - what challenges have you faced as you progress in your figure skating career, and what do you think should be done to expand the sport in India?

A: The main challenge that I have faced in my figure skating career is the availability of international-sized ice rinks and expert coaches. There is one small ice skating rink 40 kilometers away from where I live, so I have to travel 2 1/2 to 3 hours to and fro for practicing 2 hours on weekends. There is one international rink in Dehradun, which was made for Southeast Asian hockey competition in 2012, but the rink is not operational. India has natural ice skating rinks - one is in Gulmarg, where participated in the 12th National Ice Skating Championship in 2016 and won my first national gold medal. Another historical natural ice skating rink is in Shimla. But the availability of natural ice skating rinks is very limited and cannot be used for daily practice.


For training and developing professional skaters for international-level competition, India needs artificial ice skating rinks easily accessible to aspiring skaters and also the professional coaches who can train aspiring skaters who have the potential to make the country proud in ice skating. Our Ice Skating Association of India is making efforts with the government to provide basic infrastructure to put India on the ice skating world map. As a young skater, I hope that my country will be part of international ice skating.


Harshita performs her spunky Meghan Trainor short program.

(Video courtesy of ISU Junior Grand Prix)

Q: Can you take us through a typical week in the life of Harshita Rawtani, from school (where you're one of the top five students in your grade) to skating and everything in between?

A: Monday to Friday, I study at Amity International School in Noida. My daily routine on weekdays is - I get up 6 AM in the morning and get ready for school. After breakfast, my mom or dad drops me at the school bus stop. School is from 8:30 AM to 2:00 PM. I come from school by 2:45 PM and have lunch, do my homework, and study. From 5 to 7 PM on weekdays, I practice roller skating at Noida Stadium, which is 4 kilometers from my house. On Mondays and Thursdays, I practice roller skating for only an hour and then go for dance classes (at DanceWorx Studio), where I learn jazz and ballet. After coming back home, I finish my remaining homework and studies. From 8:30 to 9:30 PM, I watch television, read books, and have dinner with my parents. I read books for half an hour before I go to bed.

On weekends, I get up in the morning and go for ice skating practice (driving three hours each way). I work out for an hour off the ice (stretches, skipping, jumps, holding positions, running, etc.) and then practice on the ice for 2 hours. After returning home, I spend time with my parents and play with friends. Once every two to three months, I go and watch a Bollywood or animated movie with my parents.


Q: What are your skating goals for this season, and what are your long-term dreams in the sport? Would you ever want to coach and open a skating school when you're older?

A: My skating goals for this season are to practice and land my double axel, double jumps, and improve my flexibility. My long-term dreams and goals are to improve upon my skating skills, improve my scores, represent my country at more international competitions and Junior Grand Prixs, and participate in the Winter Olympic Games. When I grow older, I would love to coach and/or open a skating school and pass on all my skating knowledge and skills to tiny tots. I would definitely do my best efforts to make a career and also promote the sport of figure skating.


Harshita performs her Celine Dion free skate to an adoring crowd.

(Video courtesy of ISU Junior Grand Prix)


LIGHTNING ROUND


Best compliment you've ever received?

When the audience at JGP Lake Placid applauded for my performances.


Favorite thing you've learned about in school?

Art and sculpture.


If you could have three wishes granted, what would they be?

I would wish for my parents to live a long life, I would wish to meet Daniel Radcliff and Emma Watson, and I would wish to own all brands of cars.


Last movie you watched?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


If you could go back and relive one day in your life, what day would it be and why?

I would like to relive the day I was born so that I could feel the happiness my parents had with their eyes drenched with happy tears. I would relive that day for everyone’s love for me.


Harshita and her mom Kirti in New York - left in Lake Placid, right in New York City at the Statue of Liberty

(Left photo courtesy of @sylviaunseen)


If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

White sauce pasta with garlic bread, prepared by mom.


Best gift you've ever received?

When my parents took me to Hong Kong Disneyland after working hard!


Most beautiful place you've ever visited?

Lake Placid, New York, USA, and Kranevo, Bulgaria.


What is one thing at the top of your bucket list?

Although my bucket list changes as time passes, right at the top is to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida.


Quote to live by?

"I would rather lose myself in my passion, rather than losing my passion."


Harshita performs her free skate to Celine Dion's "I'm Alive."

(Photo courtesy of @gabietab)


KEEP UP WITH HARSHITA


Instagram: @harshita_rawtani

Twitter: @harshitarawtani


Catch Harshita later this month competing at the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy International, which is held concurrently with the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy Challenger Series competition in Dongguan, China.


All other photos and videos courtesy of Harshita Rawtani