(This piece was previously published on the Born To Make History: A Yuri!!! on ICE Fan Gathering blog.)
THERE is a mild-mannered effortlessness in the way that Joel Minas carries himself, an elegantly understated sense of poise that seems to belong to a time before this one. Meeting Joel is, at the risk of sounding overly poetic, like watching a sunrise – a warm glow that gradually grows brighter and brighter. He possesses a natural grace that not many can claim, and a natural graciousness that endears him to all who encounter him.
John Samuel Minas, more commonly known as Joel, is all of twenty-four-years-old, but glows with the enthusiasm and excitement of a boy a fraction of his age. His charm and musicality pours out of him as this figure-skater-turned-coach settles in to talk about the sport that he loves so much.
He began skating almost fifteen years ago, in 2002. His first foray into figure skating was a happy accident, a circumstance of convenience when he was nine years old. “My mom, whenever she would go shopping in SM, would leave me in the day care centers inside the mall. I was too naughty when she was going to shop so she would leave me there. And there was this one time, she just tried leaving me at the rink.When she came back, I didn’t want to go. She enrolled me in lessons, I started with the Milo Clinic, and the rest was history.”
His features light up as he remembers his first time on the ice, how easily and naturally he took to the sport at that young age. “It was just natural for me, I guess. I just got the hang of it. The sense of balance was there, I didn’t know where that came from.” He never had a coach assist him during his casual visits to the rink, so the Milo Clinic was his first venture into formal training.
Though he only enrolled in the Milo Clinic in April of 2002, he already entered his first competition by the first week of May in that same year, competing on the pre-alpha level at the age of nine. Later, the same year would bring him to Thailand for his first international competition for the same level.
Prior to figure skating, Joel did not involve himself in many sports; he, however, describes himself as a very active kid. “I used to play a lot outside, I was really active as a kid. I was a little bit hyperactive when I was young, and skating kind of put me in a spot wherein okay, here, just here.”
Joel began his competitive career at the age of 9 in 2002, and continued to compete until 2010, retiring from competition at the junior level at the age of 17. During his competitive career, he was able to compete in several local and international competitions and managed to bag 30 gold medals, 8 silver medals, and 7 bronze medals. He was the 2010 Asian Junior National Champion, and was also a member of the Philippine Figure Skating Team.
His education was the deciding point of his retirement. It came to the point where a compromise between school and skating was not possible, and he’d really have to stop one in order to pursue the other. “It was the reality kicking in, me thinking about my future as a skater. Will I get that far, really? What will be my career after my competitive season? It was the reality kicking in, me thinking long term.”
One of the circumstances that factored into the decision of his retirement was the extremely hectic schedule he had to face as both a student and a skater. “[The Philippines] is not like other countries where the school has its own rink. There are schools in the USA, Korea, and Japan that have skating rinks on campus, so it’s very convenient for them to train. I would wake up at 4:00am, train at SM Mall of Asia from 5:00am to 6:00am, then travel for school in San Beda College, Alabang at 8:00am.”
On this note, Joel mentions the struggle that all competitive figure skaters face when training in the Philippines. “We don’t have facilities to cater to competitive training,” listing harness use, pilates, and gymnastics as some examples of training areas not covered by local rinks. “The rinks here are mainly built for recreational skating, not competitive. [If] you really need to do that, you need to go somewhere else that offers that. It’s very possible, but really difficult, to jump from one area to another just to get the full cycle of training that you need to be competitive.” Those who really want to make it, he says, are therefore forced to train outside the country, where facilities are more accessible.
Did it hurt to stop to stop skating? “Of course it did!” he exclaims in a burst of emotion. “It’s like losing a limb!”
Joel stopped skating competitively, but nothing could keep him off the ice for too long. At 19, about to graduate from college, with few units and the OJT left to do, Joel found the time to begin coaching. He is now a high-level figure skating coach at SM Megamall and SM Mall of Asia, training skaters for competition.
There is an ideal age to start skating, says Joel, but he emphasizes that that only applies for competitive skating. “If you really want to be in the competitive scene, the preferred age for you to start is at around 6 or 7. You really have to start young, and start training competitively young. A lot of skaters start early, then play around for three to four years or so with no rigorous training. Then they figure out that they want to make it big, but then they’re too old.”
A lot of people find themselves concerned about the factor of age. Many people think they are too old or too late for skating, but Joel voices his encouragement. While competitive skating may not be an option for those starting in their late teens or early to mid-20s, Joel does not want those who are interested in the sport to be dissuaded from trying it. He encourages anyone at any age to pick up skating if they wish to do so. “For the record, I have a lot of skating friends that are adult skaters, who are learning all of these really difficult elements for their age. That just amazes me because of their drive to learn. You can pick it up at any age, just keep going. Enroll yourself with a good coach and surround yourself with people who will help you achieve your goals as a skater.”
As a Yuri!!! on ICE fan himself, Joel appreciates how the anime helped people take an interest in the sport that he loves. “It’s a really good feeling that a lot of people want to skate because of it. I get a lot of comments on my YouTube videos saying that they got inspired to skate, or some have quit skating, saw the anime, and got inspired to skate again. That’s really good.”
If anyone wants to skate because of Yuri!!! on ICE, Joel is all for it. “Just do it. Skating is for anyone who has the passion to do it, who really, really wants it. You may not make it to the big leagues or whatever, but it’s just a matter of you and your relationship with the sport. If you like what you’re doing and you love the sport, that wouldn’t matter.”
When asked about why he skates, what makes him skate, Joel glows in response as he attempts to word out the depth of fulfillment the sport gives him. “When I was progressing as a skater, there’s this fulfillment that I couldn’t get from anything else. When you learn a new element or when you add more revolutions to your spins, just a sense of fulfillment that I couldn’t get from anything else. Me, I’m the type of person that gets bored easily when I don’t like what I’m doing. When I do like what I’m doing, I’m really focused, I’m really, really focused. Skating is one of the things I’m really passionate about.”
“The fulfillment that you get from skating is personal,” Joel muses, “And nothing, no one, could take that away from you. That’s your relationship with the sport. What made me fall in love with the sport [was] proving to yourself that you can do it, just by training and wanting to do it. It makes you feel like you can do anything.”