A dream worth fighting for

Justin Lopez shares her story and her struggles in becoming a professional ice skater

<i>Disney on Ice</i>.

Disney on Ice.

PHOTOs COURTESY OF feld entertainment

See Lopez perform with Disney on Ice: Follow Your Heart when it comes to the Golden 1 Center February 15-19.

Justine Lopez is a bit like Pocahontas, the first character she portrayed with Disney on Ice. When she has a goal, her determination makes her unstoppable. She’s loyal to her family, but values her independence. And she’s not afraid to break a rule or two in order to follow her heart.

Lopez, a 29-year-old ice skater who grew up in Natomas, trained with Jayne Meyer Throckmorton at the Capital City Figure Skating Club. Her 10-year career with Disney on Ice has taken her around the globe and, this week, brings her back to her hometown to perform at the Golden 1 Center.

How did you decide you wanted to skate?

I was really young, and I watched the winter Olympics in ’94 and there was something about watching the athleticism of it that really motivated me. … Sacramento is so small. I’ve been skating for 20-plus years at this point right now, and back then there weren’t any skating rinks in our area—Skate Town wasn’t available yet—so I tried looking in the yellow pages by myself. … We managed to find one, Iceland off of Del Paso Boulevard. And I told my mom all the information. … I had written down when the group sessions were, how much the costs were, and what days they were, and so basically I showed it to her, and I said this is what I want to do.

Were you training for the Olympics?

My intentions were to be as good as someone that could go to the Olympics, go to nationals. I really loved skating, like I would ditch school and go to the rink. I actually got caught, unfortunately. I skipped school one day, I was caught on the Sacramento Bee the next day after I had ditched school for the opening of the skating rink and I had called in sick. I trained and I had to go through a setback where I had two surgeries, which kind of brought us a little downhill, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to compete.

Justine Lopez brings some Disney magic to her hometown.

Tell me about the surgeries.

I found out after an X-ray that I had a really severe case of scoliosis. It was to the point where it was puncturing my spine. I needed to be put into the body brace and things like that for about a year, a year and a half to see how it progressed. I was originally told that I was going to have surgery when I was 14 or 15, and unfortunately my spine didn’t improve. … At that point, I was 10 years old, I wanted to fix it. I wanted to skate, and the choice for me to do was surgery. So I went ahead and did it, and lucky enough I came out of it. I had another surgery after to finish it up, but my spine had improved about 75 percent. I was also advised that I wasn’t going to be skating again, but I kept following my heart and I was really determined. This is something that’s great about this show is … the qualities that our princesses have, I relate to. Our show features female and princess empowerment. … Mulan [represents courage]. I think about the courage that I had to say yes, I’m going to have surgery. I was very ambitious to come back and skate, and I think this show really relates to me.

Who do you play in the show?

I’m a female ensemble in the ice show, and what’s really great about it is I get to be a part of just about every number in the show, so it’s never just one. But for sure you’ll be able to pick me out as the cheerleader when we open up the show with Riley and the emotions from Inside Out. And you’ll be able to spot me as a citizen that, we take the audience to Arendelle with Elsa and Ana and Olaf and Kristof [from Frozen].

How have Disney princesses changed?

Disney has been really with the diversity in the princesses that have come up recently. For example, we show Mulan and our Tiana in our production, and they have great qualities about female empowerment, and how single-handedly they can make something happen for themselves instead of relying on a prince to help make things happen. What’s really great also about our show is that we have a modern-age story about Rapunzel and how she’s trying to find herself. … Our show gets to encompass how strong females are, and our princesses can showcase that as well.

If you could be any Disney character, who would you be?

I have a very soft spot for Moana, and I think that’s because I’m a Pacific Islander and she has some of the same qualities as I where, I have a job and I have a place in my family. I try very hard to uphold those traditions but also show them that I’m strong and I’m an individual and I’m growing up and need to do what I need to do and do what I love.