The Canadian Championships are just around the corner, and they are creating an excitement and buzz in the skating community, just as they do every season. Canadians is always a special event. It’s the one opportunity for everyone in Canadian Skating to be reunited in one place and the friendly atmosphere provides a setting for history to be made. Canadians is the pinnacle of the season for most skaters, it’s where you plan to peak, to preform personal best skates and to try to quality for National Teams, Four Continents Teams and World Teams. I remember when I was a young skater, Canadians was so stressful, I didn’t know what was going to happen after the competition was over. Would my season continue? Would I finally make the National Team/or the podium? Would it be time to rethink my skating career? Could I skate my best at the most important time of the season? Canadians used to drive me crazy, but now with all my experience and wisdom, I feel grateful and excited for the Canadian Championships. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be competing at this competition for the 17th time this year! 9th time in senior! (I do realize that this makes me sound extremely old).
I’ll never forget my first Canadians experience. Back in 1999, my sister qualified to compete at the Canadian Championships in novice ladies. We were both competing at the Central Divisional Championships in Brandon, Manitoba, which back in 1999 served as the qualifying event for Canadians. The top 4 novice ladies would advance to this competition that we weren’t really familiar with, called the Canadian Championships. It was going to be held in Ottawa that year. My sister and I were competing against the best novice ladies from Manitoba, Western Ontario and Northern Ontario. I finished in 10th place, far from qualifying for the Canadian Championships, but my sister finished in 4th! It was really exciting and all of a sudden, we were learning all about the Canadian Championships. My sister’s coach had never even been to a National competition, so it was new to all of us. My mom says that Nancy (my sisters coach) told her that the entire family should go to Ottawa and watch the Canadians because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we’d probably never be back at such a major event (HA! If only we knew ….)
I remember all the excitement around that week in Ottawa for the Canadians. I met Emanual Sandhu in the lobby, and I watched my sister compete with Canada’s best! Although she finished at the bottom of the group, I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it was that she was 16th in the entire country! This seemed like something so huge to me. While my mom and my sister wanted to go out and shop after the competition, I dragged my dad to watch every single junior and senior event. And I’m not kidding, EVERY SINGLE ONE. I remember details of the skaters at that competition like it happened yesterday. And then every event ended with a medal ceremony being done on a podium that was shaped like a maple leaf. I looked at my dad and I told him “One day I will stand on that maple leaf podium”. I was mesmerized. To top off my experience, the Canadian Skating Federation used to organize a mix and match function after the competition was over, where skaters could do pairs try outs. People always told me that I was tiny and I should try pairs skating, so my coach advised me to go to this function. Unfortunately, my coach wasn’t at the competition so I had to go to this event by myself. And I was terrified. I stood by the boards and I was scared to go ask any of the boys to skate with me. From time to time, I would step away and do a double axel then rush back to the boards and wait timidly. Louis Stong was running the event and he came to the boards to yell at me that I better start moving and asking boys to skate with me! Looking back on it, it was a terrible experience, and I never ended up skating pairs until many years later, but it makes for a good story!
I finally got the chance to stand on that maple leaf podium 5 years later in Saskatoon when I won the Junior Ladies title. It was as great as I imagined it to be. I enjoyed that moment and then began imagining great things. Standing on that podium at the senior level and qualifying for the World Team. My Canadians experiences started to get rough after that. I struggled with nerves and unrealistic expectations when I entered the senior level, finishing 10th in 2004, 7th in ladies and 8th in pairs in 2005 (After finishing 3rd in the ladies’ short program and 4th in the pairs short).
I went into the 2006 Canadian Championships with an outside chance at the Olympic team in the ladies’ event, after Cynthia Phaneuf withdrew from Canadians. A single lutz in the short program took me completely out of contention. I finished 4th in the ladies’ event that year, and 6th in the pairs event. In 2007 I chose to stop skating pairs and focus entirely on singles, but struggled again at Canadians and finished in 5th place. It seemed like I would never be one of the “special” ones that advanced to qualify for the World or Olympic Team and I started to reassess my skating and questioned moving on with my life and continuing my studies.
Pairs with Craig Buntin
Luckily for me, fate interfered with these plans and I got a phone call from Craig Buntin. I thought this was my one last chance to medal at the Canadian Championships and qualify for that elusive World and Olympic Team, so I jumped on the opportunity. We worked hard and improved quickly and in 2008 I enjoyed one of my favourite Canadian Championships!
I was finally back on that maple leaf podium, this time with a bronze medal. I will never forget my excitement of making my first World Team and the thrill of crying tears of joy and not tears of disappointment at a Canadian Championships. I was able to stand on that maple leaf podium the following 2 years, with a silver in 2009 and a bronze in 2010. Although winning the bronze in 2010 was disappointing because we didn’t make the Olympic team, I remember taking a moment when I stood on that podium to remember my 13-year-old self only dreaming of this moment. And I decided to cherish it, because it was still, literally, a dream come true.
Continuing with Eric Radford
Just when I thought my string of Canadian Championship experiences were over, I was back in 2011, now skating with Eric Radford. And that’s when my string of spectacular Canadians experiences began. In 2011 the pairs field was wide open on Canada, after many teams retired or decided to part ways. Eric and I were still only beginning, but we knew we had a chance to qualify for the World Team right away. After the short program we were sitting in 4th place and we felt the heat from all the teams pushing for 2 spots on the World Team. It was the first time that Eric and I as a team had to compete under such a high pressure situation and we were terrified. We were ready for the moment, but could we trust ourselves with all the nerves and stress?
That was the end result. The best long program we could do. All we had left to do was sit and wait, and watch things unfold, with no control at all. At the end of the day, we pulled up to 2nd and qualified for the World Team. It was such a thrilling experience and it was truly the first big step towards a fruitful career to come.
In 2012 we didn’t want another silver medal, we wanted to become Canadian Champions. It once seemed like only a far off dream, to become the best in your country. But we were hopeful and we knew what we needed to do in order to get that gold medal. We needed to preform a clean short and a clean long program under the pressure of the Canadian Championships. When I entered the rink for the long program, the first person I saw was one of my good friends Amelie Lacoste celebrating backstage. She had won her first National Title! Amelie and I had similar careers until that point. We were novice and junior champions in 2003, and we followed eachother up the ranking towards senior together, usually finishing back–to-back in the results. I had a flash in that moment that I saw Amelie, I told myself, “This is a sign. You are going to skate great tonight and you are going to have a moment just like this”. And boy, did I ever. Eric and I once again delivered our best performance possible in a very high pressure situation, and we claimed our first Canadian Title. I felt like I was living a dream. Was it really happening? After all these years of dreaming about this moment, I had almost given up hope that it would ever happen. It was better then I ever imagined it would be and it remains the highlight of my skating career.
Then there was 2013 …. It was the very first time Eric and I ever had to defend a title of any kind. Our season had been great, but so had Kirsten and Dylan’s and Eric and I knew that they would be nipping at our heels. This would not be an easy competition and the stress was building. In the short program we were separated by less then 1 point. It would all come down to the long program. Kirsten and Dylan skated first and as much as Eric and I tried to hide backstage and focus on ourselves, the energy was building in that rink and the crowd was getting louder and louder throughout their performance. We knew they were nailing it, and when we passed through the big black curtains to enter the ice, the crowd was on it’s feet roaring and Kris Wirtz (Their coach) was jumping up and down right beside us, screaming and pumping his fist. Eric and I looked at each other, completely terrified. We took the time to reassure each other that we could still deliver a great performance, and silver was not a failure as long as we did the best we could.
As Kirsten and Dylan’s marks were announced, there was also an announcement saying that their score was a new Canadian record (It was also higher then anything Eric and I had ever scored before). And almost instantly, our names were announced and we had to get into our starting position. I literally felt like I was going to die. That my legs were glued to the ice and when I wanted to jump, they would probably stay stuck to the ice. We opened our program with a slightly problematic triple twist. I kind of got spooked in the air and didn’t finish my rotation properly. I remember Eric catching me and we gave such an intense stare into each other’s eyes. He nodded and I think I even told him “It’s fine”. From that point until the end, it felt like I was in a dream. We were in the zone. Focused on intensely on the task at hand. All of a sudden our final throw was done successfully and Eric had lifted me into the final lift of our program and I knew we had done the best we could. An overwhelming flood of emotions were pouring out of me by that point. The nerves, the terror, the stress, it was all eliminated and that I was left feeling was pride. We didn’t even care if we had won the gold medal or not, because we felt like winners already. To go out on the ice in that moment was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done in our careers, and the pride we felt in ourselves was unbelievable. When we got off the ice I asked our coach, Bruno Marcotte, “Will it be enough to win?” and he responded to me with a blank look on his face, “I really don’t know”.
I am attaching both videos for you to watch, back-to-back, because it is actually an incredible 15 minutes of Canadian pairs skating. Kudos to all of us for delivering in the moment and creating such an exhilarating moment for the Canadian audience.
Canadians in 2014 was special for a different reason then winning or defending a title, it was special because it was the qualification for the Olympics in Sochi. All the skaters felt the pressure to try to qualify a spot to represent Canada at the Olympics and it was a heartbreaking event for some of my training mates and friends, and I hated having to witness that part of the competition. As I was pacing backstage waiting for my turn to skate, Natasha Purich and Mervin Tran had just finished skating and coming to the realization that they would be finishing the competition in 4th place, one spot shy of the Olympic team. I couldn’t help but break my focus to go and console them in their moment of suffering. I knew first hand what that felt like, and it’s not fun. Eric and I won our 3rd Canadian title in Ottawa in 2014 in another tight battle with Kirsten and Dylan. Once again Kirsten and Dylan set a new Canadian record and we had to go on the ice after them and be better then our best. It was one of our better “Alice” programs. Sadly, we just couldn’t preform this program in competition throughout the season as well as we did at home in practices.
By the 2015 Canadian Championships our epic battles with Kirsten and Dylan came to an end, but Eric and I always put pressure on ourselves to preform our best and we pulled out another great performance in Kingston that year. We loved skating this Muse program and the level of consistency we found with this program was unbelievable. It was our first time ever scoring 150 points and it was a beautiful moment to enjoy with Canada once again.
Last seasons Canadian Championships was special in a different way. We didn’t have an amazing performance, like in years past. We struggled in the short program and we struggled in the free skate, just like we had throughout the earlier part of the season. When I re-watch the 2016 Canadians performances, especially after watching 2011-2016 in a row, I see a heaviness and sadness to our skating. We weren’t confident, and we weren’t comfortable and it really shows. I’m so grateful for this though, because after coming home from Canadians last season, we made a complete 360. We opened up about how we were feeling lost and unmotivated. Confused. Full of expectations. And we decided to make a change so we’d be happier at the World Championships. Everything we experience can teach us a beautiful lesson if we take the time to really listen.
Looking Forward to 2017
This week we will embark on another Canadians experience. The pairs field is deep in Canada, with so much young talent all ready and hungry for their moment on the National stage. Eric and I will compete for our 6th Canadian title this week, which will be a new Canadian record. It’s unbelievable to imagine that we’ve already won 5 Canadian titles. I am so grateful to have these beautiful memories associated with the Canadian Championships. I’ll always remember my 13-year-old self watching this competition with wide eyes filled with crazy hopes and dreams, in the very rink I’ll be skating in this week. I could never have imagined where my skating would take me. I only have a few more opportunities to experience this maple leaf podium in my career and I plan to cherish each one of them with joy, passion and pride.