VOICES: I found my fantasyland on the ice

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Lecce.

Joannie Rochette, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, Tessa Virtue; I wish I could add my name to the list of figure skaters who made it to the Olympics.

I was only four years old when my feet were laced up into white boots with thin razor sharp blades to stand on. My nose was runny, my hands were numb, but my smile never left.

Figure skating became my life. For years I dedicated every ounce of energy I had to the sport. Waking up at 4 a.m. to make it to practice for 6 a.m., head to school late afterwards, and then back to the arena once that final bell rang.

I remember being dropped off at the arena by my mom and walking in when the facility lights hadn’t even been turned on yet. While my friends were cozied up in bed, I was bracing myself through the winds on the ice, lapping around not even caring for the dreams I was missing out on because this was my fantasyland.

I’ve been to massage therapists, yoga classes and tropical island beaches, but still to this day nothing has made me feel more relieved than the rush of adrenaline as my blades carve the ice as my body flows with the edges.

Skating is the greatest gift I’ve ever received. It made me so much more than just a national champion. It gave me the opportunity to travel all across Canada, coaches who became my role models and a team of sisters to grow up with.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Lecce.

Like any sport, skating wasn’t easy on my body, though I gave it everything I had in me. It beat me up some days. After hours of flinging my body in to the air trying to get revolutions complete and falling time after time, I would walk onto the playgrounds during recess the next day with both knees swollen from bruises. I ended up on a first-name basis with the fracture clinic at the hospital.

Sixteen broken bones, unaligned hips, stitches, two concussions, kidneys pushed up against my ribs and a sore back never kept me away from the rink. I competed with heavy plaster casts on my arms and with blood dripping down my knee from cuts. I’ve sat in a wheelchair at the boards, with a cast from my hip to my toes.

Being an athlete goes beyond just the sport. Through my years confined to a schedule of dry land training, on-ice practice, personal training sessions, and doing homework while eating dinner during my commute back and forth between it all, is why I am the person I am today.

I owe my organizational skills, dedication, confidence, compassion, patience and multi-tasking characteristics to the sport. I have skated individually, with a partner and on a team with 16 other girls. I have done jumps, spins, ice dance and synchronized skating.

Without a doubt, synchronized skating will always be my favourite part of it all. My teammates were always there for each other, spending almost 20 hours a week together, sometimes more. From Grade 4 to second-year university, I skated alongside girls all going through different things in life. Despite it all, we would meet on the ice, to be bonded by arm holds and the timing of our steps to the music, looking like twins with our makeup and dresses.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Lecce.

“One more time” my coaches would say for the 20th time in a row. “Point your toes, watch your shoulders, keep your head up and show me your faces,” became the critical phrases drilled into my brain.

I pushed my legs around the ice, relying on my core strength to keep me from falling as I twizzled, jumped and spun until my head was dizzy. I sweat, bled, cried  and pushed for this sport for 365 days, every year, for 16 years. To others, skating is considered a winter sport, something to do during the holiday season. For me, it was my favourite pair of shoes no matter what the season.

I was young when I knew that I was never going to be an Olympic skater. But I never had any problems with that, and it never made me want to train less or give up on skating. Skating was my life because it gave me something to define myself by.

I was always a shy girl, keeping to myself and only socializing with a small group of friends at school. But somehow I was able to perform in front of hundreds, with cameras filming, and a panel of stern-faced judges analyzing my every move, and actually enjoy the rush of nerves. Nothing was more exciting than locking eyes with my family as I came around the corner of the ice during my performance and seeing them cheer me on.

The ice made me a whole different person full of personality. Skating was there for me when I was in pain and felt like I was going to faint from overdoing it, when I was crying out of frustration on bad skate days, when I perfectly executed an element, and when I won or lost.

I can’t repay my parents for all the sacrifices they made so I could have custom skates, Swarovski-embellished dresses and coaches. I missed out on birthday parties, Halloween trick-or-treating and whatever else other kids did. But I will never regret being a figure skater.

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