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Skating her way to nationals

Melinda Lu – 13 years old, 5 feet tall, doesn’t talk much. As reserved as she is at school, you wouldn’t expect her to turn heads on the ice rink as an internationally competing ice skater; but the way she leaps, twirls, and carves across the ice rink makes you think she was born with an ice skating dress in one hand and a pair of skating shoes in the other. Before she even stepped foot into high school, Lu already had a Crystalline Classics event championship under her belt, placed at the Summer Classics and competed internationally in Taiwan. And now that she’s a freshman, she aims even higher and aspires to take her talents to nationals.

“When all skaters start young, they always want to do something big like go to the Olympics or to nationals. I was like that too. I was super excited, but right now I’m trying to take small steps into a larger goal,” Lu said. “I guess my long term goal is the Olympics. Short term would be sectionals, and once I reach there I would change my goal and go to nationals.”

At eight years old, Lu was landing axels, toe flips and spins on the ice rink before she could even work out a basic division problem. She began skating at the Anaheim Ice rink with her twin sister, Alicia Lu, as part of the Glacier Falls Figure Skating Club in 2009. Age proved not to be an obstacle; Lu placed first in two events in the 2013 Crystalline Classics and placed 4th and 2nd in the 2013 and 2012 Summer Classics.

“At the Summer Classics, it was 17 people with four groups each. First, I did a morning practice, and I don’t know, I just got really nervous, because it was the first competition of the year and I was injured a while back before,” Lu said. “I was thinking ‘Complete the new jumps. Complete the new elements, like the jumps, the spins, the footwork, choreography. Pull it in, it doesn’t matter if you fall or land, just do it.’”

Melinda credits her success in part due to the fierce rivalry with her twin Alicia. She couldn’t leave the rink until she mastered every single move Alicia could land — and then some. Outside the two-hour ice skating practices and ballet lessons, which she took to improve her flexibility on the ice, Melinda dedicated her own time to go over moves that her sister couldn’t do.

“I just wanted to beat her [Alicia] whenever I did competitions. During practice, I sometimes would see her land a jump that I don’t do, and I would focus on that jump when I have my own practice time and try to get it before her,” Lu said. “For competitions, I’d always be like ‘ I have to beat her.’”

When practice is over and competition day arrives, Melinda’s greatest obstacle is herself. Although those around her, such as her coach Matthew Stuart, believe in her talents, she lacks confidence in her own abilities.

“I tend to hold back a bit, and my coach tells me not to. Because of the lack of confidence, I hesitate. I stall my timing and I don’t jump that high, which causes my landing chances to decrease. My mentality is just weak,” Lu said.

Her lack of confidence proved especially detrimental to her career when Lu suffered a knee injury in May as a result of hesitating on a jump. The time spent out of action caused her to fall behind from her competitors because she couldn’t complete some of the jumps anymore, and it also created a psychological barrier that caused hesitation on some moves for fear of re-injuring her knee.

“My coach told me I shouldn’t do a half-assed jump, because that would get me injured, and I didn’t really listen to him that time so I did a half jump and I landed on my knee. I was really, really frustrated at myself because it was my fault I was injured,” Lu said. “Going back in, I was super happy. I was happy to get back on the ice, but I was still a little scared because the injury has that trauma to your head, you’re scared to do it again, and get injured in the same spot.”

Now that she’s fully recovered, Melinda plans on competing at the pre-juvenile regional competition, which presents the opportunity for her to advance to nationals, next month in the Ontario Center Ice Arena.

No one expects the quiet, 5-foot-tall 13-year-old from Walnut to make it to nationals. But then again, with a Crystalline Classics championship and two Summer Classics placings under her belt, it would be foolish to rule her out.

“For the Olympics they choose a skater at the top of the nationals on a senior level, so I feel like I have to work harder [at] practice and commit more time. As a skater, I have to work harder on mentality, competition, ignoring the music, doing my jumps during the program with the music, my choreography, and positions,” Lu said. “In a competition, my coach is telling me ‘It doesn’t matter what you get in this competition, because it’s only a step before a bigg[er] one. It doesn’t matter how you do, as long as you give it your all it’s fine.’”

By Bryan Wong, Feature editor

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