Kaitlin Hawayek recaps her experience at the 2013/14 JGP Final in Fukuoka, Japan.

10Hello again! Its been a week since I returned from Japan and I must say I have a whole new respect for The Walking Dead – being a zombie is hard work! This being my first trip to Asia, I’ll admit, I haven’t quite mastered the art of managing a 14-hour jet lag. Hopefully by the time the holidays roll in, I’ll have risen from the dead and be back to my human-self (cue laughter).

The Grand Prix Final of 2013 was held in Fukuoka, Japan (pronounced Foo-kwo-ka) from December 2-8. Not only was this a competition for the top six junior teams after the Junior Grand Prix season, but it included the top six senior teams after their Grand Prix season as well. Competing on the same ice, and at the same competition as some of the best skaters in the world (including world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir) was one of the most incredibly inspiring moments in my career thus far.

Jean-Luc and I, along with our coach Pasquale [Camerlengo] arrived in Fukuoka on Tuesday night after a long 14-hour travel day from Detroit. It didn’t take us long after making it to the hotel and getting our credentials to find our rooms and fall right to sleep. The next morning, we had some time to spare before our first practice at 3pm. Jean-Luc, my mom and I got up and took a walk around the area adjacent to our hotel. It wasn’t long before we came across a very colorful statue for which I have yet to determine what it was- I’m leaving it up to you, IDC readers, to use your imagination and figure out what this statue could be of (see pictures below). When we got to the rink for practice, the senior pairs were on the ice practicing, and after that, the senior dancers. As we warmed up for our practice, we cheered our training mates Kaitlyn [Weaver] and Andrew [Poje] on and watched as the six top teams in the world did countless patterns of the Finnstep. When it was our turn to skate, some of the senior teams including Virtue and Moir and Pechalat and Bourzat stood by the boards and watched our practice as they cooled down from their own. Although I must admit, it was a little intimidating at first to have the best of the best watching you skate, it was also energizing and motivating and Jean-Luc and I harnessed that energy to put out a great first practice.

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After practice was over, Jean-Luc and I and Kaitlyn and Andrew, along with our coach Pasquale and my mom, took a trip to a local mall to do some shopping at the popular Japanese store known as UniQlo. With the weather getting chilly in Detroit, it was the perfect opportunity to get some warm layers to bundle up in and brave the cold when we got home. It also was the perfect chance to do some Christmas shopping for family and friends back home as the holidays are approaching us quickly! Before leaving, we stopped by a picture-perfect flower display in the mall to take a quick photo together, and to our surprise, we had about 20 Japanese fans come up and join us in the photo (see pictures below).

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Thursday and Friday both were practice days for us again, being the only event not to compete until Saturday. With competition starting Thursday, we made sure to catch some of the senior events and watch the Olympic hopefuls compete (this was the last time we would get to see some of these skaters compete live). Thursday night we came to cheer on the Senior Men in the Short Program, with our training mate Patrick Chan competing, and Friday night we came to cheer on Kaitlyn and Andrew and our fellow Team USA mates Meryl and Charlie in the Senior Short Dance. The events were both completely sold out and the crowd was AMAZING! It is clear to anyone competing in Japan how much the fans love their skating- they are the best fans in the world!

After what seemed like ages, Saturday finally came upon us and it was time for us to compete our short dance. With the senior pairs free skate following our event, we had almost a full crowd that was bustling with energy- they cheered and clapped to the high-energy quickstep music for all of the teams! Thanks to the energy at the rink, we flew through our program and finished with big smiles on our faces- both Jean-Luc and I said afterwards that it was some of the most fun we’ve ever had competing! After we were done competing, we took our seats in the athletes’ section of the stands and watched the senior free dance. It was incredible to witness such a close, intense competition live, with all six teams putting out great performances. If they all skate like that in Sochi, it will be one hard job for the judges to decide who will be on the top of that podium!

Closing out the competition, the junior dancers finished the weekend with the free dance on Sunday morning. I could not be more excited and happy with the performances we put out and cannot thank Japan enough for the amazing crowd support they gave us throughout the event! After the free dance was complete, the gala took place and after all the skaters were back at the hotel, we headed to the closing banquet. All the girls put on their best dresses and the men looked dapper in their suits and we all celebrated the closing of a very successful competition (see photos below).

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Reflecting upon this competition, I can say that it was my favorite competition I have ever had the opportunity to attend. There was an incredible energy at the competition with the Olympics right around the corner and it was an honor to get to witness so many incredible athletes perform, which was for many of them one of the last times. I wish you all the best of luck in Sochi this February! You can be sure, I’ll be watching from Detroit and cheering so loud you can hear me in Russia! And as for Japan, I sure hope I have the chance to come back and compete there again one day, because there is truly no place like it when it is time to compete! ありがとう, Arigato, Thank you!

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Up next for Jean-Luc and I is U.S. Nationals in Boston, only a short three weeks away. Back to training hard and always looking to improve each time we perform. We are looking forward to another great competition to ring in the New Year! Wishing everyone at IDC happy holidays and a great end to a great year!

Kaitlin H.