By Hiro Yoshida
Despite being limited by illness and injury, Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx ended her season on a high note in Japan.
Hendrickx had a phenomenal start to her season in September 2018 at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany where she nabbed a full set of new personal bests on her way to the bronze medal. It was her first podium finish at an ISU Challenger Series event.
Due to her ninth place at the 2018 World Championships in Milan, Italy, Hendrickx was assigned Grand Prix events in America and Finland. She travelled to Everett, Washington State for Skate America in October 2018, but had to withdraw following the short programme due to illness.
Two weeks later she had recovered and competed at the Grand Prix in Helsinki, Finland where she took third in the short and fourth in the free skating to place fifth overall. However, injury woes continued to dog her.
“After the Grand Prix in Finland, I had a back injury and I had to rest for three months,” Hendrickx said.
The gravity of the injury meant that she missed out on participating at the European Championships in Minsk, Belarus in January. It was a frustrating time for her as she knew at her very best she would have been in contention for a medal.
“It was hard for me to watch because I had a chance for a top five or maybe a medal,” she recalled. “I wanted to be there so badly, but I did everything I could. I had inflammation in my back two times. It was a shame I could not compete.”
That was almost the end of her season as the World Championships in Saitama, Japan were approaching quickly. Hendrickx only resumed on-ice training one month before the start of the competition.
“One week before Worlds I could spin again. Spinning was the major issue because the flexibility in my back wasn’t good.”
The final decision to appear at Worlds was made just days before her departure from Belgium as there was still uncertainty about whether she would be able to skate.
“We booked the flight one week before we left,” Hendrickx said. “I didn’t do many competitions, so I had a little more budget left over. I wanted to compete so badly.”
There were other changes that Hendrickx had to deal with during the season. Her older brother Jorik did not compete this season, although she could still draw on him as a source of support.
“He told me before the short just to enjoy and he was already so proud that I am able to stand here and perform.”
“Loena was injured a lot, but I always gave her the advice to listen to her body,” Jorik said. “We tried to figure things out. I’m also involved in her team now. I assist her coach Carine Herrygers who was my coach for a very long time, so I work together with her now.
Circumstances also prevented the siblings from crossing paths at competitions for the entire season.
“I was supposed to see her at Europeans for the first time live not competing myself, but that didn’t happen,” Jorik added. “At competitions I was in my own zone, in my bubble so then it was even more stressful, but now when I am at home I try to relax and just let it happen because she’s prepared. We’ve done the work at home and we can just wish she will perform and deliver there.”
Hendrickx acquitted herself well at the World Championships considering the amount of time she had been side-lined and came 13th in the short and 11th in the free to finish in 12th overall.
“Of course, it’s not my best I know, but after being injured I never expected this,” Hendrickx said after the free. “Training this morning was very bad so my confidence was a bit gone. Then I did a triple-triple and my confidence came back.
“In terms of my condition, I was not ready at all. I think you could see that at the end I was a bit slower than normal.”
Hendrickx now sets her sights on the upcoming year ahead. Her first job will be working with her choreographer Adam Solya on a new free during the off-season.
“I will keep the short, but the free I still don’t know which music or which kind of style.”
With the way the past year has gone for her, she is not taking anything for granted about what next season holds or what she wants to achieve.
“We will see. I will work hard.”