Skater Mariah Bell Opens Up: Making It to the Olympics, the End of Her Engagement and More

"I think I'm just going to really enjoy the Games and that'll allow me to be where I am, be present," Bell tells PEOPLE. "It's like you've made it, that's the ultimate goal"

At 25, Mariah Bell is the oldest female national champion in almost a century. And so what?

Bell — who is close friends with American Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen and is being coached by Olympic medalist Adam Rippon, both of whom were in the arena for her final skate on Thursday morning (Eastern) — says now is her moment. Success is still hers to define.

In a recent interview with PEOPLE before leaving for the Beijing Winter Olympics, Bell looked back at her journey of recent years: finally being named to Team USA and finding victories even as the U.S. women struggle for the podium, what she's learned and what she's gone through (including a breakup). "I like to be realistic with myself," she says.

One moment she was getting ready to relish? The end of her free skate, to k.d. lang's cover of "Hallelujah."

"The music is kind of building and usually, hopefully, if all goes well, the crowd's very excited too. So it's a really special moment," Bell told PEOPLE. "And I'm really looking forward to having that feeling at the Olympic Games."

Below, she talks about mindfulness, her close ties in the skating community and more.

Age is just a number

"In life, I'm very young, but in skating, I'm old. And I think it's super fun because I don't feel old in the slightest. I'm 10 years older than most of the people I'm competing against, but I don't feel that way. I feel I'm just getting into my prime and I just want to be an example for other athletes, skaters in particular, that there's no limit.

"There can be this sort of stigma or a culture around skating where you have to do it when you're young and that's just not the case. And if you want to be dedicated and take care of your body and your mind, you can do it for as long as you want."

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Skater Mariah Bell competes in the Beijing Winter Olympics. getty

Where the U.S. ladies rank internationally

"The Russian ladies are phenomenal, but they are not flawless. And there's a competition, European Championships, where my short program score would've had me in third. And that's against those top three Russians that are going to the Olympics. Nobody knows what's going to happen. Ice is slippery. All of the girls that are going, everybody's going to be in top form, top shape, but that's what's so exciting — anything can happen.

"You go to the Olympics to be on the podium, to get a medal. And that's so true. And the U.S. is really strong and it's going to be hard in the ladies, but it's not impossible."

'Be present'

"I'm working a lot on, honestly, truly, mindfulness. I do some meditation every once in a while, because it gets to be a lot. But the biggest thing really is just when I'm enjoying something, be in the moment and I think I'm just going to really enjoy the Games and that'll allow me to be where I am, be present. It's like you've made it, that's the ultimate goal."

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Skater Mariah Bell competes in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Nikolay Muratkin/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Family support

"I know that [my family back home] they're doing a watch party. Where my sister lives with her boyfriend is very near where my parents live and my grandparents live right there. And then we have other family members that are in very close states. So I think they're all going to be together to watch, which would be super fun, but we're also always FaceTiming."

Working with Rippon and her friendship with Chen

"Rafael [Arutyunyan], my head coach, is incredible. I can't say enough about what he's done for my skating and everything, but he's really hard to work with. He's very tough in a great way. But being 25, he's like, 'You're an adult, I can't hold your hand. If I tell you a correction once I'm not going to repeat myself, I don't have time. I have all these other skaters that I'm working with.' And I really respect him for treating me that way, but I also have never been treated that way.

"He's like, 'If you want somebody to hold your hand, call Adam. He'll come in, he'll work with you. He'll be somebody.' And I was like, 'Okay, fine.' And I got off the ice and I called Adam.

"It's just the perfect pair for me because they get along so well and Adam's also very hard on me, but in a really great way as well.

"Adam is really only working with me. And so it's just perfect because he's somebody who is a little bit more kind of hands-on with my everyday training and this overall season planning and Rafael oversees everything, everything that we do, everything that I do and they have such a great relationship. So I just feel really lucky because there's nobody else in the world that has that pairing and it wouldn't work for everybody, but it works so well for me.

"[Chen is] really, truly one of my best friends in the world. I've known him for so long. When we started training together, we started to talk more and we have the exact same sense of humor. We're both huge dorks and we just get along really well and also with the people that we train with, so we just have a really great community. But it's so cool to go to the Olympics with him. I've seen him have so much success over the last couple years. To be there myself and competing too, we get to support each other. It's so cool. I'm so excited."

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From left: Mariah Bell and Nathan Chen. nathan chen/ instagram

Moving on from engagement to French skater Romain Ponsart

"When I look back on my whole, the last four years or five years, he was a part of that obviously. And so moving to California, I moved with him in 2016 and we were training together and then living together and fast forward three years later, we're engaged and I have this incredible [skate at] nationals and I'm engaged and I had this amazing nationals and I'm just feeling like I'm on top of the world. Everything's going really great.

"And then last year was tough. Last year I didn't have a great nationals. I was not on the world team. And I thought I'm just really going to be motivated and work for my goal. I have this one year left and then sort of right in the middle of the summer, it just, I was hit with the end of this relationship I never saw coming.

"It was really hard. It was really sad. I really had to work through it. It's hard when you're just not expecting something. Obviously, being engaged it's really tough and it's something that a lot of people go through and do get through it. It's really tough in the moment, but I definitely believe that that was something because I was broken, I didn't skate for a while. I didn't know what I was going to do. And I decided I was so close to this ultimate goal that nothing was going to effect. I was capable and I had all the support that I needed. But I'm even more proud now looking back.

"There were some things that I had to work through to get to this moment and it makes this moment that much sweeter. And so I'm so fortunate for the family that I leaned on and my support system. And I got a dog — I have this German shepherd [named Nala] and we are just living our best life. I'm doing really, really well, obviously now. I'm really excited. Everything that I've worked so hard for is here. And I can just share it with her too. She's 9 months and she's the sassiest thing I've ever met in my life. But I love her."

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Mariah Bell. Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Team USA

Excited for the pomp and circumstance

"It's like everybody talks about, being in the Olympic Village and walking in the Opening Ceremony. I think it's all the stuff, honestly, because I've been to competitions. I've been on ice, I've skated in front of people. Sort of know what to expect when it comes to that. It'll be a sheet of ice. I'm going to do my programs. I'm so excited.

"But it's all the other things. I've never been in Olympic Village. I've never been to an event so early, I'll be there two weeks before I compete, which is also really exciting. I'll just be able to be in the Olympic spirit and be around everyone and be around my teammates. I think just the experience is what I'm most excited for. It's being there, being in the atmosphere, it's the Olympic Games. I still say, and it doesn't seem real. But I'm just, I'm so excited."

To learn more about Team USA, visit Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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