A synchronized figure skater exceeded all expectations when she brought home the gold in the 2017 Zagreb Snowflakes Trophy in Croatia. This was Aliyah Shaikh's first international tournament, but she is no stranger to challenges and competitions. Working her way up to Junior level through strength conditioning, early morning practices and weekend training, she shows us that with determination, support, and dedication—anything is possible.
Her journey began at five years old when she started training, and knew this would be her sport. “Before I can even remember, I’ve been skating. Starting in group classes, performing in shows, allowed me to mature and gain confidence as a young kid.” There are many aspects of figure skating she enjoys, saying, “The creative costumes and sparkling lights was something I would never give up. Being in the spotlight, showing off, that was my type of life. There was always something to work on.” Aliyah also really enjoyed the team aspect of figure skating, saying that these are experiences she will cherish for a lifetime.
Aliyah consistently works to keep a balance between her practice, school and social life. But she is not the only one who has sacrificed to succeed in this sport. From early morning practices to late night competitions, her parents are always there to support and encourage her. Figure skating is a huge financial commitment, say her parents, Akbar Shaikh and Viktoria Koutergina, as "The time on ice is expensive. Aliyah had up to three instructors teaching, and she had to be on ice twice a day, seven days a week." As parents of a busy 15 year old, they "focused on three things, her secular and religious education and skating. We don’t remember any family gathering where we stayed late.”
"When the national anthem started playing and the flag was being raised, I felt strong emotions of pride and respect," recalls Aliyah. She adds, "As the medal was being placed around my neck, I felt a surge of honor to represent my Ismaili community, and perhaps as one of the only Muslim girls on Team USA.” Her parents were thrilled too, saying, “To inspire her we would remind her that Mawlana Hazar Imam skied in the Olympics, and once Aliyah and her team secured gold, it was like dream come true, an achievement for all of us as a community.”
Aliyah hopes to inspire the Ismaili youth to step out of their comfort zones. She says “with dedication and an open mind, you can go anywhere. It isn’t about winning but the feeling you get. I want to inspire our community to learn about the sport.” Teaching Midwest Ismaili youth to skate, Aliyah is doing just that. But competitive skating is not for the faint-hearted; her tip to anyone considering it—“bring a tissue box–you’ll need it.”