Sarah Vuoppola (part 2): "We should be able to be at the same level or even better"


Sarah Vuoppola last season with her team. (Credits: Ville Levijärvi - 2020) 

A few days ago, you were able to discover the story of Sarah Vuoppola, a young Swedish girl who decided to change her life to join the team of her dreams: the Helsinki Rockettes. Discover now her adventure in this new team, and her way of preparing and maintaining morale in the face of this challenging season!

Start by reading part 1 of Sarah Vuoppola's interview!

Tell us a little more about your experience at Helsinki Rockettes. What is your training like, and is there a big difference with what you have experienced so far in Sweden?

Sarah Vuoppola: In Sweden, our training usually ended at 10:30 p.m. on the ice. At Rockettes, the last practice ends around 7 p.m., which is already a big difference. We also practice in three different rinks, located at most 30 minutes from the city centre.

Also, we have shorter practices at Rockettes; no ice practice lasts longer than two hours. We focus a lot on the details of basic skating. Kaisa always asks us what we have found and learned during the week. It's not just about doing; it's about understanding how you did something, why you did it a certain way, what worked and what didn't. This is how I think it is easier to understand skating, and I always feel like I'm learning something new. Although I have been skating for about 22 years, I entered a whole new world when I arrived in Finland.

I felt that I didn't have much to develop in my previous team because I didn't know how to do it. At Rockettes, I feel like I always have something to learn, even the most basic things.

Kaisa always comes up with new ideas or ways of doing things and that can include the smallest details, like exactly when you should hit the ice to gain the most speed during our cross over. I can say it, I never thought about it before coming here. I was just trying to push as fast as possible, not really realizing what I was doing.

Special feelings
What are the biggest changes between Sweden and Finland? As for example in terms of skating, lifestyle, having to speak Finnish...

First of all, sport in Finland is more popular. The audience at our clubs' Christmas show with Rockettes is almost bigger than that at the qualifying competitions in Sweden.

Also with Team Surprise, we knew that no matter what, we would go to the World Championships every year thanks to her (the 5 best nations can send 2 teams to the World Championships). Whereas in Finland we never know who will get the two places available for the World Championships. The competition is so intense that we know that a small mistake can cost your team the qualification.

In any case, I am very proud to be part of a Finnish team. Rockettes are a great team and getting on the ice in competitions is really a special feeling. My last competition for Boomerang was the World Championships at home in Stockholm. It was so special to me, I never expected to relive such a moment, and yet I was wrong.

The Finnish crowd in Helsinki. (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2019)

Indeed, the following season, the Worlds took place in Helsinki, with Rockettes. All I can say is it was an amazing time skating both of your programs at home. It's the coolest feeling ever. I will never forget that moment.

Obviously, I was nervous. I remember that with Nona, my teammate, we were in our room, sitting on our beds, about 30 minutes before taking the bus to the rink. We would look at each other and start to giggle and wonder, "Oh my god, what did we get into? Why are we doing this?"

Later that evening, when we were out on the ice, I knew exactly why we were doing this. I was so happy to see all those Finnish flags in the crowd, to hear everyone shouting and cheering us on. At that time, I felt all the support from the audience and at the same time, I felt so calm. It was amazing.

Then Finland and Sweden are neighbouring countries, so I didn't find much difference between the two. Apart, of course, the language. Finnish was impossible for me at first! I came home a few times after practices with a headache because I was trying to figure out what everyone was saying. Fortunately for me, many people also speak Swedish in Finland, and thanks to that, I found a job in a Swedish-speaking theatre.

Helsinki Rockettes, on the ice, during the 2019 World Championships. (Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2019)

Do you often have the opportunity to see your family?

I usually go home during our Christmas vacation week and about a month and a half during our summer vacation. Sometimes my parents also come to Finland to watch competitions. Otherwise, we do a lot of Facetime and text messaging. Of course, I get homesick from time to time, but I am very lucky to have found so many friends in Finland. It helps me a lot and makes the situation much easier to live with!

"Never stop developing as athletes"
Let's talk about Covid-19. Has it little or much affected your practices? How are you handling the situation?

After learning that the World Championships were cancelled, the rinks closed and we were not allowed to train together at the beginning. Since we couldn't meet, our coaches made weekly plans for us. We had a schedule with training and exercises to do, Zoom meetings to do off-ice, get to know new skaters, and talk about our days... Just so that the team would feel good even if we were couldn't see each other.

After a while, we finally got the chance to get back on the ice and practice in small groups. We weren't allowed to hold each other so we used elastic ribbons, sticks, etc. It was different, but I think it was also good training. Moreover, skating in smaller groups, we were lucky to have more corrections.

(Credits: Ice Galaxy - 2019)

You are one of the only teams in the World to be able to skate and to hold each other, how are you approaching the situation? How easy is it to continue training to achieve your goals when competitions are cancelled day after day?

I find what is most difficult for us about this situation is that it is constantly changing. You never know what's going to happen next, and that's what makes this season so different from what we're used to. Despite everything we have found a good way to train, we try to see the season as normal as possible so that we never stop developing as an athlete.

We took the time to talk about it: even if the situation is different, we should be able to be at the same level or even better than last year at the same time. We have goals for ourselves and the team, even though we are out of competition this year, there is another season coming after.

We also had mental coaching, where we discussed the different possible situations and how we could handle them. As a team, we just have to adapt to every situation that might arise. I think it's important to manage and discuss how to prepare for every situation, whether it's good or bad.

What are your goals for the skating season but also in your life? 

My dream has always been to get a gold medal at the World Championships. I had more modest goals along the way that I can now tick off my list, and which I am very proud of, but winning a gold medal is always a dream of mine. Otherwise, basically, my goals are to continue to develop myself as a skater.

As a team, we know the situation is constantly changing, and we discussed together how to adapt to any possible situation that might arise. We still want to be a strong team and be at the same level as last season at the same time of the season, if not better.

Do you think you can participate in international competitions this season?

It's really hard to say because again, the situation is changing all the time. We will always do what is best for our team, and we will respect the recommendations given to us. If the situation changes, then maybe. But for now, nothing is certain.

Helsinki Rockettes after winning the bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships.

How to stay positive with Covid-19? 

I think it's important to take it one day at a time. There may not be any competition for the rest of the season, it's hard to know exactly what's going to happen.

What do you think of livestream competitions?

You have to see the situation as it is. A livestreamed competition is really different from normal competitions. On the other hand, if it's better than no competition at all, then I think we just have to make the most of it. I'm a little curious about how this is supposed to work.

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And to conclude: what would you say to skaters who, like you, have the dream to the Helsinki Rockettes?

It sounds really cliché, but follow your dreams and give it a try! I see no reason not to. I had two choices, either I stayed in Sweden doing the same thing I had been doing for many years, or I went to Finland and did what I had always dreamed of. I see no good reason not to follow your dreams. Be brave, go for it and do what you love!

Of course, it's scary at first. I didn't know anyone, I didn't understand anything, I lived alone, and I felt really alone at the beginning before getting to know new people. But I think it's important to have a good attitude; things will get better, you have to stay positive and see it as a new adventure in life.

I'm happier than ever to have joined Rockettes, and I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I hadn't!

Don't miss the first part of the interview with Sarah Vuoppola, the Swedish skater in the Helsinki Rockettes of Finland!