They say dynamite comes in small packages and you only have to watch eight-year-old Tanika van As gliding on her skates to know this is true.
This pint-sized girl from Cape Town is breaking barriers one ice rink at a time. She recently won the gold medal at the National Figure Skating Championship in the juvenile competitive section, which took place at Forest Hill City in Centurion.
Tamika was the youngest competitor in her age group.
“I felt really nervous, and I thought I was going to come last, but I still believed in myself,” a shy Tamika tells YOU from her Bonteheuwel home. “I felt happy and proud of myself.”
Her parents, Tarren (37) and Graham (53), are just as elated as their daughter.
“The other children were a bit stronger when I saw them practising,” says stay-at-home mom Tarren. “It was super-exciting because this was her first nationals so obviously, I was excited because she was the youngest.
“I don’t think she fully understood what it was to win gold, but I was excited.”
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Tamika’s journey started when she was five years old. The youngster and her mom went to Grandwest Casino and Entertainment World to support Graham, who is a table tennis coach, at the 2016 World Junior Table Tennis Championships.
When Tamika and her mom walked past the rink, she was instantly drawn to the ice.
“When she saw it, she fell in love. We thought she’s just going to hang around on the mini rink but it started to become her passion,” Tarren says.
A month later, Tamika, who dreams of being a figure-skating coach one day, joined the Black Panthers Ice Skating Club, where she is the youngest of 36 solo skaters.
When she took part in the club championships shortly after, she won the competition.
“That’s when the coach approached us and said she saw potential in Tamika,” Tarren recalls proudly.
Since then, the Grade 3 learner, who also plays table tennis, has dedicated most of her time to the rink. She now wakes up at 5am to practice for 30 minutes on four days of the week.
“It’s really tiring but I have to do it because it’s my favourite sport,” says Tamika, who is now also preparing for her Western Province Table Tennis trials.
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But the journey hasn’t been smooth sailing for Tamika and her parents.
The youngster's passion has taken a financial toll from the family, Tarren says. Her lessons cost R250 for half an hour, which often proves a challenge as Graham, who owns a school uniform business, is the sole provider of the family.
“When business isn’t good, she can’t go,” Tarren says. “Our income isn’t so good, so we need to downscale on lessons which means she has less time to practise.”
The family are now looking for a sponsor.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made it easier – it almost prevented Tamika from going to the national championships.
“She couldn’t really go last year because of the pandemic and financial reasons but this year, her coach begged her to come back to take part in the nationals,” Tarren says.
“Graham wasn’t with us because the fees were expensive and we had to fly, so it was only Tamika and me.”
Despite the challenges, Tamika, who hopes to go to the Olympics one day, is excited about her skating future. The young girl is now diligently preparing for the Cape Inter-provincial championships in October.
“She’s that go-getter girl. She just wants to win, she wants to compete, she wants to be the best,” her mom says.