Meet the Atenean who represented the Philippines in the 2019 Winter Universiade

May 03, 2019

There’s something exhilarating about gliding gracefully on a cool, smooth skating surface -- something Mikayla ‘Misha” Shalom Fabian (4-AB European Studies) felt the first time she put on a pair of ice skates.
“I fell in love with skating as soon as I tried doing it for the first time. I was 6 years old and it was during a classmate’s party. My parents had a hard time getting me off the ice,” she recalls.
Figure Skating Lessons
Her parents, recognizing their daughter’s interest, immediately signed her up for lessons.  Misha, it seemed, was on her way to becoming the next Yu-na Kim, the bemedalled South Korean who also started to skate at 6 years old. However, fate, or in this case, a medical infection, prevented Misha from doing any Axels.
“I had to stop because I became sickly. I would often get fever, heavy coughs or colds. My pediatrician recommended that I get enough rest.” Not only is figure skating an extreme sport but it is also expensive. Still, the idea of figure skating never dissipated and 4 years later, Misha was reunited with her beloved ice skates.

“I fell in love with skating as soon as I tried doing it for the first time," says Misha.

“My parents asked me what I wanted for my 10th birthday and I told them I wanted to resume skating lessons. They finally obliged and brought me back to the rink,” Misha says.  By 2012, Misha had entered competitive figure skating events, beginning with the Asian Junior Figure Skating Challenge in Hong Kong. Although Misha ranked last in her division, the experience served as “an eye-opener for me to strive and improve my skating skills.” She did more than that.
The road to Winter Universiade
Last March, 20-year old Misha was the lone Filipino athlete to compete in the 29th Winter Universiade held in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.  The competition was a “dream come true,” she says. “I was able to wave the Philippine flag for the very first time in the history of Winter Universiade. To be able to introduce the Philippines— a non-winter country— in the biggest winter multi-sport competition is truly an honor and a privilege.”
Preparing for the competition, however, was no easy feat. “Because we are a tropical country, figure skating,” Misha says, “is a niche sport. Only a few people are into the sport. There is also a lack of facility and good coaches. We train in the rinks located in shopping malls, together with the public patrons of the rink.”
This set-up, she adds, makes it dangerous for both skater and the regulars, especially when a figure skater executes jumps or elements.
Renting out the rink—the only solution to avoid accidents—comes at a steep price: PhP 12,000 per hour.  Despite the odds against her, Misha was determined. As early as 2017, Misha had already laid the groundwork for her journey to the 29th Winter Universiade.
“We wrote to the organizer- the Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) and inquired how to be part of the competition. FISU is an international organization, which organizes sports events for university athletes. We were endorsed to the Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP), the only FISU-accredited sports organization in the Philippines so we sent our application and other eligibility requirements, “shares Misha.
When she did not hear from the organizer, Misha thought her dream had already been crushed: “I already dismissed the possibility of being chosen and concentrated on my thesis work instead.” However, in December, she received the biggest surprise when FESSAP officially informed her that she would represent the country in the 29th Winter Universiade. It marked the first time the Philippines was given a slot since the competition started in 1960.
“I felt a mixture of happiness and fear. It was a dream come true but I only had a little over 2 months to train and master all the required technical elements and come up with the short and free skate programs,” she says.
It was a grueling training but Misha’s passion fueled her determination.
 “I did both off-ice and on-ice workouts in order to prime my body and be competition-ready.”  A senior European Studies major, Misha moved some of her subjects so she could focus on the competition.
“I am thankful that the school and my professors were very supportive especially when I had to take a couple days off for the competition. Not only was I given the blessing to go and compete but they have been very kind to allow me to focus on competing first; they gave me ample time to finish my projects or take the exams,” she says. The Ateneo environment, she adds, “has helped me in my pursuit to be the best version of myself in everything that I do.”
With the solid support of her family, friends and Ateneo, Misha focused on the ice.  After 30 hours and 3 plane rides, Misha and her parents finally arrived in Siberia. It was, to say the least, a moment that would forever be etched in her mind: “I remember feeling excited, happy and nervous as we got off the plane. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience and I was watching myself go through the airport and seeing all the other athletes from other countries arriving at the same time.”

Misha in action at the 29th Winter Universiade.

Although Misha did not win, being in the competition was in itself a reason to celebrate.
Lessons from Siberia
“I was scared, overwhelmed and maybe a little star struck as I was up against the best student-athletes, some of whom are already Olympians and World Championship figure skaters —personalities that I only used to watch and admire on YouTube,” she says. Buoyed by a tenacity to prove her worth, Misha skated her heart out.

Misha gets a hug from  U-Laika, the Winter Universiade 2019 mascot.

“The whole experience reiterated for me what I had learned from figure skating over the years,” she says. “Not everyone has an opportunity to live out their passion so always be grateful. Enjoy each step of the journey and learn to embrace all the experiences —the good and the bad. Learn to be brave to face any challenge and get up no matter how painful and hard the fall has been.” 
Currently, Misha is in therapy at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Clinic for a hip injury she had while training for Winter Universiade. In September, she will finish her remaining academic units at Ateneo.
Misha, who hopes to pursue a career in international relations or performing arts (she played the lead role in Ateneo Blue Repertory’s 2018 staging of the musical Rent) is not worried about life after figure skating.
“What I will miss the most about Ateneo is the people I’ve had the privilege of meeting and have grown to love. I was able to meet so many amazing and inspiring people in the university and while it is sad to see them go, I am very excited for what the future has in store for all of us,” she says. For now, Misha looks forward to a life off-ice.
“I plan to spend as much time as possible with my friends and getting to know as many people as I can before we all go our separate ways. I also plan to take long walks around the campus to take in the scenery.”