Nguyen says paying for his skating has changed his perspective on skating

LAVAL, Que. — Nam Nguyen has a newfound love for his sport. It partly took paying the bills to find it.

The 20-year-old from Toronto had intended to quit figure skating last season as part of a deal he made with his parents. But after not qualifying for the long program at the world championships in Milan, Nguyen wasn't quite ready to walk away.

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So, he's assumed full financial responsibility for his figure skating, a sport that can come with a steep price tag. And he's found a better sense of balance through doing so.

"In the past I felt like I didn't always have the drive or motivation for anything, unless it was for a big event," Nguyen said. "But now, because I have a plan, it just makes everything easier.

"You're just put into this mode where you're just constantly working, and so you can't think about anything else because you don't really have time to, and I'm starting to get used to that feeling and it's a pretty good feeling, staying on track and not getting distracted with other things."

Nguyen, Keegan Messing and Roman Sadovsky are the Canadians in the men's field at Skate Canada International that begins Friday at Place Bell.

Japan's Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno is the favourite in the field, and should be pushed by South Korean teen Junhwan Chan.

Nguyen has been in and out of the international spotlight since he delighted the audience at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as an 11-year-old, skating in the exhibition gala in suspenders and adorable Harry Potter-sized glasses.

He drew comparisons to Canada's retired three-time world champ Patrick Chan when he won the world junior title in 2014. He was fifth the following year in his world senior debut. But the years since have seen him struggle with a massive growth spurt, and several coaching changes.

Nguyen is now coaching a group of kids six to 14 years old to help pay the bills.

"I think it's cool to be part of the sport through another way, as a coach," he said. "I get to share my knowledge and all that stuff with the younger kids and just see them grow and develop."

He's also gone back to school — he's in his first year of health studies at York University — and said both his busy life and coaching others has given him a better perspective on his skating.

"Before when I had bad stuff going on, I would treat it like it was the biggest thing in the world, and make it a disaster, but now I treat it like it's whatever, and I can do it again the next day and it's no big deal," Nguyen said.

"I guess that's just the perspective you gain from coaching. . . you have to have this unlimited amount of patience, and then that patience translates into my own skating. I think that's what's helping me deal with the mistakes I make in practices and treat it as if it's like no big deal and leave it for next day."

Skating is "super expensive," Nguyen said, but he receives Sport Canada funding on top of his coaching pay.

"I have this whole new appreciation, almost everything in the sport is like my baby, so I'm trying to make sure everything I put into it is with care instead of just half-butting it," he said. "Everything feels really good right now."

Being back at school has been a shock to his system.

"Very rusty. Oh my god. I was so exhausted the first two weeks that I started falling asleep in my lectures," he laughed. "But university is a good experience so far, and everything right now, I think I'm in a good place."

Nguyen was sixth at last week's Skate America, the first stop on the ISU Grand Prix circuit, climbing three spots in the free program.

The women's field is missing the top Canadians. World champion Kaetlyn Osmond is taking the year off, while Gabrielle Daleman is taking a break for mental health reasons. Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva, who moved to Toronto this past off-season to train with Brian Orser, will battle Russian teammate Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who won Skate Canada gold in 2011 when she was just 11.

Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier should challenge world silver medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S. in ice dance.

And Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro will battle world bronze medallists Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France for the pairs title.

Skate Canada is the second stop on the ISU Grand Prix Circuit. Skaters compete in two of the six Grand Prix events, and the top-six overall in each of the four disciplines compete at the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 6-9 in Vancouver.

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