N├│ra Hoffmann: "We've gone through really tough times"┬á
By Titanilla Bőd
Photos © 2010 Absolute Skating
She had a terrible injury in March which put her skating career in jeopardy. However, two and a half months later she was back on the ice, although still feeling dizzy during the spins. Nóra Hoffmann has proved her incredible fighting spirit and after finishing in the top ten at the recent Europeans she hopes for the same result at the Olympics.
Last year you had to withdraw from the Europeans because your partner, Maxim Zavozin, got ill. You couldn’t compete at Worlds either because you were injured. How did it feel to be back on the ice again in a major competition?
We are proud that we managed to come back because we’ve gone through really tough times. We weren’t stressed before the compulsory dance, and because we were in the first group with just two other couples, it really felt like a smaller international competition. We performed our best tango in the season so we were satisfied.
Wasn’t it embarrassing to skate so early because you didn’t have an ISU ranking?
The only problem was that the judges couldn’t compare us with our closest rivals, but the atmosphere was really relaxed during practices and also in the locker room. In our warm-up group there was an Austrian and a Greek couple and we felt that they looked up to us, they admired our skating. When you share the ice with your closest rivals, everyone cares only about themselves, but now we were all relaxed, chatted together and had great fun.
Your original dance is a traditional Hungarian czardas. Was it an easy decision that you wouldn’t try anything exotic, but stick to the national music?
We wanted to do something Hungarian and czard as is the most well known Hungarian dance, so it was a quick decision. And because of my injury we didn’t have much time to create this program. We asked Krisztina Regőczy, a former Hungarian world champion in ice dancing, for advice because nobody knows more about the czard as on the ice than her.
Do you like this original dance?
We prefer a more easy-going style and for Max it was hard to learn the postures and the poses, which are almost stiff. And mentally this is our hardest program because we fell performing it during the Olympic qualification and ever since then we’ve been a bit anxious about this dance.
Your free dance is something rather unusual: hip-hop. Can you tell us something more about it?
Nikolai Morozov had the idea last year when we worked with him. We kept it because we never had the chance to perform it in a major competition and also because of the lack of time. It would have been a bigger boom last year, because then it was absolutely unexpected and new. We changed the whole slow part and portions of the fast part as well, but we still feel that the judges take this as a “last year’s dance”. I know teams shouldn’t keep their dances for more than a seasons but in our case we really had no choice.
You were injured in March and the news about your accident was horrifying. Can you describe what happened?
I was doing backwards crossovers, slipped and sat on the ice. But the gate was open and I fell into it, hit my head, lost consciousness and my ear was bleeding. I also cracked my skull and suffered three hemorrhages on my brain. I was immediately taken to the hospital and the doctors observed the hemorrhages because if they had increased, they would have had to open my skull. Luckily that didn’t happen but I still had to spend a long time in the hospital. I was given morphine to ease the pain and after that I immediately wanted to skate! The next day I refused the morphine saying: I’m going to Worlds and morphine is classified as doping... Even after one day I had withdrawal symptoms; I was cold, I vomited... And because of the bleeding I didn’t hear on my left ear for three months. The skull was cracked exactly where the middle ear is so I also had problems with my balance. I had to learn to walk a straight line, I couldn’t stand on one leg and my head was constantly spinning.
How long did this last?
I felt dizzy for four months. I was already back on the ice but I felt dizzy every time I moved my head.
Who helped you to overcome these hard times?
I was injured in the US and only Max was there with me. He slept at the hospital for the first day and took care of me. A few days later my boyfriend also came and we traveled back to Hungary together. At home I started on oxygen therapy. We were in an oxygen tent and it helped me a lot to reactivate my brain cells. This therapy brought me back to a normal life. Until then I was just sleeping or staring at nothing. In the oxygen tent my vitality returned and not so much later I even dared to go back on the ice.
How long did it take before you were back on the ice?
My injury happened on March 4th and in the second half of May I was already skating, although I was really, really careful. Then I visited Max in Moscow and we tried to skate together. After two more weeks of rest we started practicing for real. At first without spins and lifts because even the slightest move of my head made me feel dizzy.
Weren’t you afraid that this injury might end your skating career?
Of course I was! I could hardly walk after the accident. When I fell, besides hitting my head, a nerve was torn in my sciatic muscle and it was unbelievably painful. It took half a year to get this muscle back in its previous shape. But I have to practice, just like I had to practice talking. After my injury they did a test: they said ten words and I had to repeat them. Do you know how many words I remembered out of ten? Only two... When I listened to them I had the feeling it’s going to be all right, but when I had to repeat the words I simply couldn’t remember them. I still have problems with memorizing numbers. If I hear a telephone number, even in my native language, I have to think about it and somehow “translate” what the numbers mean. I also lost my sense of “left” and “right”. But I know I have to practice everything. In high school you have to practice how to be able to focus on a Math exam for four hours. This was somewhat similar; I just had to start everything from the very beginning.
What about the steps on the ice and the choreography?
Luckily I remember those. Years of practice does the trick, I’m so used to skating that it’s easy for me to learn steps, I’m just doing my job. I don’t feel any pain now, although I’m sensitive to weather changes. But there is one positive thing about my accident: I haven’t had any migraine headaches since then! And I have learnt that being healthy is the most important thing in the world.
You had to think about what’s truly valuable in your life, right?
Absolutely. I saw young people, young athletes in the hospital – laying in a coma, paralyzed... If I weren’t so lucky, I could have ended up like them... I could have completely lost control over the left side of my body... That’s why I simply can’t worry about things like forgetting the CD with our free dance music at home, or that we don’t catch the plane. It’s wonderful that we can be here, we can do what we love, we could compete at the Europeans and we can go to the Olympics.
You earned your Olympic spot in September at the qualifier competition, but the president of Hungary signed Max’s citizenship application only a week prior to the Europeans.
We were so relieved when we heard it. We weren’t sure until the last moment that we really can go to Vancouver.
Did Max also have to pass the citizenship exam?
No, because we asked for an exception. The Hungarian language is very difficult and although Max can speak some Hungarian and he does okay when talking to me or to my parents, he panics if he is asked questions by a journalist or somebody “official”. And then he forgets all the Hungarian words... So he just had to say the oath.
Which language do you use at practice sessions?
Mostly English but Max is learning Hungarian and I’m learning Russian. I understand quite a lot of Russian, but I don’t really dare to speak it yet.
What are your goals for the Olympics?
We’d love to place in the top ten which is not impossible if we are really good. And we want to enjoy the Olympics because who knows if we’ll ever get the chance again! For me it will be the second Olympics, for Max only the first. After the Olympics some teams might retire so maybe we will have some surprise result at Worlds in Turin.