As a champion figure skater, Maisy Ma is no stranger to the limelight. For most of her teenage years, she spent her free time in the rink training with world-class coaches and representing her hometown, Hong Kong, at international competitions. However, after suffering an injury that prevented her from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Ma refused to let her fire die out. Going on to explore and dominate other ventures, Ma worked on projects such as starting her own clothing line, breaking into the entertainment field and finishing her education. We caught up with Maisy to chat about her journey and public image and the secrets behind her uncrushable go-getter spirit.
How did you get your start in figure skating?
I was born in Hong Kong, but because of my dad and his job we moved to Beijing when I was very young. There was a rink near my house which I’d pass every single day, and I asked my mom if I could do it. At the time, my feet were too small for the skates, so it wasn’t until my third birthday when I could finally skate. That was when I got the attention of the coaches. Most of the time, you can kind of just tell when a kid is talented, and I had that with skating. From a young age, whenever I tried to learn certain jumps, it just came to me easily, and that’s when you realize “Oh, maybe this is my sport.”
So I started skating in more competitive events within China, I was silver in China when I was 10 or 11. Then when I turned 13, I was able to compete internationally. So my mom and I moved to the US so that I could train in a more professional setting. That was huge for me because when you medal on an international stage, it’s really a kick in your ass. Like you’re pretty much there, you’re on the Olympic track.
What was it like balancing your blossoming skating career with your normal teenage life, and how did this experience shape you as a person?
Well, since I started skating very young, I always had to balance my life and skating career. I think the toughest few years were when I first went to the US. I’d wake up at like 5 or 6 a.m., go to school for the first half of the day, then I’d go skating, then back to school and then skating again, and gym and physical therapy until like 9 p.m. When I’d get home, I’d do my homework and go straight to bed … and I’d do this every day. That meant that I never got to sit down at the dinner table to eat, I always ate in the car. I also didn’t really go hang out with my friends because I’d go to competitions around the world every other week. So it’s definitely a sacrifice because I never had the typical experience of growing up. But most people don’t get the experience of medaling at an international competition, so I think it was worth it.
Growing up this way also made me a very strong minded person, and skating has definitely taught me a lot – like when you fall down you have to keep going. There’s always going to be a lot of obstacles in your life, and I’m a very time concerned person. I have to be doing something all the time. I consistently have to live by a goal, so I guess that this mindset just makes me a better student and better person overall.
So are you still skating now? When/why did you stop skating competitively, and what did you do after?
2018 was supposed to be the Olympics. I was supposed to be competing, but I got severely injured right before. It was obviously really sad that I missed it, and honestly I was in a very depressed state. But at the end of the day, life happens. To knock myself back on track, I went straight to college. Like I said earlier, you have to live by a goal, so I thought to myself “Am I just gonna be like a normal college student?” I knew that I wanted more than that, so I set another goal: to graduate in two years. I went to college a semester late. But in the end, I left three semesters early.
I was supposed to be back in Boston for my Masters right now, but obviously COVID really screwed up my plans. These things are kind of random, but also connected if you think about it. The whole point of me graduating early was so that I could use those extra two years to pursue what I want in life because I really didn’t want a traditional 9 to 5 job. It’s not for me. I feel like my life is more than that.
Instead, I started working on a Hollywood movie that’s based in Hong Kong, and I helped with a lot of the production work. Being part of this international crew really gave me a lot of insight into the industry because I’m really interested in entertainment – I might even want to act one day. I also coach figure skating on the side and started my own clothing line in the summer called Classics Clothing.
Can you tell us more about Classics Clothing? What was it like starting this project?
I banded together with a few friends from Boston to take on this project, and we created this company together. Our philosophy behind the design is to create a blend between classic and modern imagery to reflect the changes and growth we see in society. For example, one of our more featured designs is of Cupid, the angel of love, holding a gun to kind of reinvent the image.
Classics Clothing is a passion project that I’ve wanted to do these past few years because I wanted to create something in streetwear that targeted people my age at the time (so around late teens to early twenties). When I first went to college, I saw people spending loads of money on clothes – like US$2,000 on a T-shirt, and I was like, “Why?” I realized that it was because they were passionate about fashion, which I thought was really interesting. So I wanted to start a project related to that myself.
Starting this project was really fun because I got involved in really different roles. I had to work with factories to make sure we got our stuff shipped during COVID, which was obviously a struggle. I’m also part of the creative process, marketing and all that, as well as the founder. So I do a lot of the creative work like photo shoot ideas, how we’re going to brand our company and everything. My image on social media is [as a] very good girl and cute, so I wanted to twist it a little and show a different side to me. I think it’s a fun project honestly. I’m not trying to make big money off it. Everyone wants to be the next Supreme, everyone wants to be the next Off-White, but yeah, we’ll see.
How would you describe your public image and does this influence the choices you make in developing your career?
Mostly, the image you see on social media is pretty close to who I am. But obviously, at certain times when you see certain ads, they try to represent me in a certain way. As a figure skater, for example, people expect me to be super elegant. I think my image online is very healthy and at times innocent. A lot of my followers are my skating fans so they’d want to see me on the path of an athlete; healthy, determined and clean, so I try to keep to that track. But I’m very thankful because that doesn’t limit me to just one image. I did an ad for Calvin Klein which is a sporty, underwear brand, and I did an ad for Swarovski, a super girly jewelry brand, so I still get to show those different sides of my personality.
In terms of choices I make, I try to keep my image healthy and positive. So, for example, I don’t do anything that’s too overexposed or that involves nudity because that’s just not who I am. Having a public following can be rough sometimes because you feel like people judge you, and you can’t please everyone. Especially nowadays, when people use social media to talk about all sorts of issues, there’s a certain amount of pressure because people actually care. But this is also a good thing because it keeps me on the right track in life and reminds me to reflect on the stuff that I should or shouldn’t be doing. Overall though, it’s not too difficult to balance. If you’re genuinely happy in life and stay on track, then there’s nothing that people can really say about you.
What would you say is the key to your success and active lifestyle? Do you have any advice for others who want to pursue new projects?
I’m a very driven person. If I want something, then I know for a fact that I’ll get it for sure. I will find my way no matter what. It might take a long time or a short time, but I will do pretty much anything to get it. That can be meeting different people, reaching out to people in certain industries or finding other ways to get there. What you do looks different depending on the goal, but you just have to strive towards that.
In this day and age, living in 2020 in this economy, there’s really nothing that’s as impossible as we used to think. If you have a dream, you can chase it, obviously if it’s not that out of the blue. I’ve also learned that it’s about patience, because I don’t really live in the moment, usually. If you talk to me a lot, you’d know that I’m always talking about the next thing. But living in the moment is actually really important because it can honestly kill you sometimes if you keep chasing for things like I do. I’ve slowly started to learn how to live in the present, and I think that it’s something we often neglect because we live in Hong Kong in 2020. Everyone is super active and just going for the next big thing, but we have to remember to take the time to just be present.
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