It’s been almost a year since we lost Denis Ten, and I feel like I need to write this blog post to remind everyone what a wonderful person he was. I am trying to focus not on the horrible day of his death, but on the 25 years he graced this world with his presence. So I am remembering 25 things I loved about him.
1. He was an ambassador for his country.
Denis was one of the proudest Kazakhs you would ever meet. He always focused on bringing honor and recognition to his country. He even skated his Olympic gala program to “Warriors of Kazakhstan” as a tribute to his homeland.
2. He was a true artist on the ice.
Denis was not only a strong competitor, he was a beautiful skater to watch. He had soft, graceful skating skills and elegant movements. He respected the ice as a place where art is made.
3. He was a fighter.
Denis was not one of those skaters who could throw down flawless performances all season, but he fought for everything he won. He was always determined to overcome anything that stood in his way.
4. He was an inspiration to small fed skaters.
It’s an unfortunate fact that skaters from small countries with less funding for skating tend to get the short end of the stick. Until Denis came along, there were very few Kazakh figure skaters, and nine who reached the level he eventually did. Denis showed that it could be done – that no matter where you come from, you can become a World and Olympic medalist.
5. He was a kind soul.
Ask anyone who knew him, and they will tell you what a sweet, compassionate human Denis was. He was the rare kind of person who would stand up for the little guy, show kindness to everyone, and make sure no one was left behind.
6. He was a visionary.
I wish with all my heart that I could’ve attended one of the Denis Ten and Friends shows in my lifetime. Every year (while also training for his competitive skating season), Denis created a stunning show, almost like a Cirque du Soleil or Broadway production, where legendary skaters would share in the beauty of their sport. No detail was overlooked.
7. He was an optimist.
Plagued by injuries and bad luck, Denis often struggled with consistency in competition. But even after the toughest performances, he always handled things with a smile and a hope that tomorrow would be better.
8. He was a great photographer.
One of Denis’ favorite pastimes was taking beautiful photos of his friends, competitors, and prominent Kazakhs. You can still view his work on his Instagram page https://www.instagram.com/d10world/?hl=en
9. He was a musician.
Denis loved to write and sing songs, and he did it very well. He was never one to brag, but he had a beautiful singing voice and a gentle ear for music. And on the ice, he was a genius at interpreting the music he performed to. I can’t help thinking how many songs flowed in his soul that were never shared with the rest of the world.
10. He was humble.
After the 2014 Olympics, Denis became somewhat of a celebrity in Kazakhstan. But his newfound fame never changed him. “I believe I am exactly the same person than I was before,” he said at the PyeongChang Olympics. “I am still someone who loves the sport, his fans, who is happy about his successes and upset about his failures. We athletes stay the way we are, we are not just growing up, but also growing inside.”
11. He loved being an uncle and dreamed of a family of his own.
Denis often posted heartwarming pictures with his little nieces on Instagram. Looking at him, I couldn’t help wishing he could be my uncle, because he exuded such a joy and love for children. On International Women’s Day in 2017, he tweeted that he would love to have a wife and daughters someday. For me, this was the most heartbreaking, haunting part of his death.
12. He knew the value of life and treasured every day.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Denis did more in 25 years than some of us will do in 100 years. One of my favorite quotes he ever said was, “Life is like a can of Coca-Cola. It’s dark, it’s bubbly, it’s sweet. But in the end, it’s short.” He knew every day was precious, so he lived it to its fullest.
13. He skated because he loved to, and you could feel that love in every performance.
Ever watch a skater and mutter, “His/her heart just isn’t in it.”? You could never say that about Denis. No matter how the performance was going, he put his whole heart into every movement. I can’t think of someone who loved being on the ice more than Denis Ten.
14. He overcame many injuries and foot problems.
Denis was born with unique feet; they did not sit flat, but on a slant which made it hard for him to land his jumps. As someone who wears inserts to correct a slight deformity in my own feet, I always thought it was cool to see him overcome that major challenge. It’s hard enough to land a quad on a standard foot, let alone one that sits on an angle. Not to mention, he had many serious injuries throughout his career, including a major one in the year leading up to the 2018 Olympics. But Denis never let physical limitations stop him from doing what he loved.
15. He understood how to be both soft and strong.
There are few people who know how to be both a fierce competitor and a gentle soul. Denis was the epitome of these two things. He respected his competitors, and never made a competition a personal conflict. Yet he could be an intense force on the ice, and he knew what he had to do to be the best.
16. He tried to improve the world one day at a time.
Denis always wanted to leave his mark on the sport and the world. He was one of the main voices behind the campaign to bring the 2022 Olympics to Kazakhstan, and although the Olympic Committee ultimately voted to hold them in Beijing, Denis truly campaigned his heart out and did everything he could. I think he believed his purpose was to bring a little happiness to the world, and he did just that.
17. His smile could heal the world.
I’m going to share this picture with you because I can’t describe how much goodness there was in his smile.
18. He was one of the most passionate people I ever knew.
From skating to music to national pride, Denis was passionate about everything he did. He inspires me every day to do things with heart, and I hope someday I will know what it feels like to be that driven about everything in life.
19. He was wise beyond his years.
Whenever I read an interview with Denis, I always had to remind myself that he was a very young man and not some wise old philosopher, because he spoke with such an eloquent, quiet wisdom. His very words were beautiful. I have so much admiration for young people who are so educated and wise; we need more people like Denis in our lives.
20. He loved the world and wanted to see it all.
Denis was the kind of person who always made the most of every day. He was truly a Renaissance man; he tried everything because he wanted to learn something new every day. He spent every day trying to leave a good mark on the world, and in the end, his legacy will live on.
21. He was a gracious competitor.
Denis was the kind of person who never had a rude word to say about his rivals. He respected his competitors and used them to motivate himself. He admitted his own weaknesses and fought to improve, rather than focusing on a rival to defeat.
22. He was willing to travel far from home to chase his dream.
When Denis was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan, there were no major training centers in the area to learn figure skating, so he moved to Moscow, Russia as a child to pursue his dream. He later moved to the United States to continue his training.
23. He had a great sense of humor.
When I hear people talk about Denis, the word I hear often is “light”. His very presence in a room was like sunshine. I’ve seen so many photos and videos of him goofing around with other skaters, bringing joy to everyone around him.
24. He won the Olympic bronze medal as a dark horse.
Even with the World silver medal under his belt, Denis was still not a medal favorite in Sochi because of his inconsistency. He was in tenth place after the short program, a long shot for a medal. But he stayed focused, and he delivered a stunning performance when others faltered. Being a champion is not about being the greatest athlete on the roster; it’s about doing the job when it matters most.
25. He was a friend to everyone.
There was a reason why Denis’ skating show was called “Denis Ten and Friends”. He believed “every person has a heart, and that makes them special.” He showed nothing but kindness to every person he met, whether they were his best friends or perfect strangers. In short, he loved people and believed in their capacity for greatness.
I saw Denis skate in person once – 2015 Skate America. It wasn’t his best performance, but he fought for every second, and he filled every note of that music. At the time, I didn’t know that he had only a few more years left. I didn’t know that I would soon be crying on my bed at 4 a.m., going through the blurry pictures my dad took of him, asking God why out of seven billion people, it had to be Denis.
Denis, I always called you an angel when you were here on Earth. I didn’t think you would become an actual angel so soon, but I know you’re watching us from up there, probably with that same easygoing smile you always had. You touched so many hearts when you were alive, and you continue to reach us even now. Thank you, Denis Ten.