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Orem ice skater headed to nationals

By Mark Johnston - Daily Herald - | Jan 7, 2013
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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, takes a moment to gather her emotions after a number of frustrating falls while training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, gets a hug from her little sister Sana before training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, practices a double axel while training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, sprints on a treadmill while monitored by exercise physiologist Dan Fey during speed-and-agility training at Utah Valley Sports Performance Training in Provo Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, center, sits with her sisters Mona, left, and Sana, right, while playing on an iPad at home in Orem Thursday, Dec. 20,. 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, skates while attached to a harness held by her coach Stewart Sturgeon while practicing figure skating jumps at the County Ice Center in Murray Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, laces up her skates before training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, warms up while listening to music before training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, performs a Biellmann spin while training at the Peaks Ice Arena in Provo Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, removes covers from her skates before taking to the ice at the County Ice Center in Murray Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

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Hina Ueno, 12, of Orem, and her sister Mona, top, perform leg lifts during speed-and-agility training at Utah Valley Sports Performance Training in Provo Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2013. MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald

OREM — Like many 12-year-old girls, Hina Ueno enjoys Disney television shows, the color turquoise, playing the piano, “The Hunger Games” and figure skating. Yet she possesses a trait, somewhat rare at her age, that sets her apart from many of her peers.

“I like the word determination,” Ueno said with a smile.

Determination, maybe even to the point of stubbornness as her mother Sato Ueno jokes, has catapulted the young girl from Orem to success in much of what she does, but most obviously in her passion for ice skating.

On Jan. 25, Ueno will compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb., after dedicating 18 to 22 hours a week for two and a half years training for this goal.

Ueno’s level of skill and dedication has come as a surprise to many, including her parents. Both her father, Michi, and mother, Sato, played a variety of sports simply for recreation while living in Japan, and neither can remember being as driven as their daughter during childhood.

“When I was her age I only wanted to play every day,” Michi Ueno said.

Sato Ueno attributes a lot of her daughter’s hard work to a desire for acceptance that Ueno possessed at a young age after moving to the United States from Tokyo. At the age of 4, Ueno struggled to make friends in preschool as she was still learning English.

Ueno’s mother remembers her one day returning from school and saying, “Mommy, I have to be good at something so that people will want to talk to me and respect me,” and since then she’s done just that.

First came gymnastics where, by the age of 5, Ueno was the overall state champion in her level. Then after some family outings ice skating, Ueno was enjoying it enough to attend Learn to Skate classes at the Peaks Ice Arena where her natural talent and gymnastics training took over. Soon she was advancing to private lessons.

Now, only a few years later, Ueno continues to strive for the next level, continuing to train exceptionally hard. Skating six days a week, she spends five of those days training with a professional coach at ice rinks in both the Utah and Salt Lake valleys. Add to that speed and agility training each week at Utah Valley Sports Performance Training, straight-A school work, piano lessons and tumbling lessons, it’s an almost overwhelming workload — yet she excels at all of it.

“You’d definitely have to categorize her as very driven,” head coach Stewart Sturgeon, who classifies Ueno as the exception rather than the rule, said.

Even after working with ice skaters for 30 years, Sturgeon is impressed by Ueno’s progress in such a short time as well as her seriousness and dedication to training.

At times, when skating at such an advanced level in such a challenging, trick-oriented sport, Ueno, like any young girl, can let her emotions get the better of her.

Frustration and tears are commonplace on the ice during practice, but for as many bad days training there are just as many of the opposite when a run-through of a routine goes perfectly, (Ueno’s routine includes a triple salchow and triple toe loop, jumps that, according to Sturgeon, were world level in the 1980s — now being done by a 12-year-old).

“She is serious but she also has a very happy and fun side and that comes out often. And you’re trying as a coach to balance out her strengths and make her not forget that this is fun,” said Sturgeon, who often reminds Ueno that with all the frustration and serious work comes great reward.

Michi and Sato Ueno considered many coaches for their daughter but are happy with Sturgeon’s balanced, non-obsessive approach and the valuable lessons he teaches Ueno that can apply not only on the ice but elsewhere in life.

“If it were only skating we wouldn’t do this, but she can learn so much more from it,” Sato Ueno said.

When frustrations get the best of Ueno during a difficult practice on the ice, her mother offers a reminder — “If you have a bad attitude toward your coach or parents then quit skating, if it makes you a bad person. … But if skating makes you a better person we will do our best to help you.”

And help they have. Training with figure skating and athletic coaches is not cheap and the various ice rinks they frequent are far apart. Sato Ueno spends most of her days shuttling both Hina Ueno and her sister Mona to and from skating practices and training appointments. Meanwhile, Michi Ueno is spending more time grocery shopping and preparing dinners after getting home from work as his wife and daughters return late from training.

Practice on the ice only begins after Ueno and her sister are finished at school. While other top skaters her age are home schooled, allowing them to train five to six hours a day, Ueno’s parents value the importance of the social development public school provides.

“Her skating life will be 10 to 15 years at most, but life goes on. She has to obtain life skills, that way she can have a great personality and learn more than skating techniques,” Sato Ueno said.

Just this month though, all the focus will be on skating technique as Ueno prepares for her biggest competition yet. Having placed second in the Pacific Coast sectionals, Ueno qualified for Nationals, completing another item on her endless list of goals.

“Right now my practice is really, really bad because I think I’m nervous,” Ueno said. But not matter how many falls she takes, bumps and bruises she suffers along the way, it’s all worth the reward.

“Sometimes I think this is too hard, but other times I think that is what makes the accomplishment great,” she said.

Hina Ueno will be competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb., in the short program on Jan. 25 and the long program on Jan. 27. Her progress at the competition can be followed online at http://www.usfsa.org and http://web.icenetwork.com.

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