Every two years we sit in front of our television glued to the Olympic Games. We feel the athlete’s heartbeat and get high from their adrenaline rush. We feel their frustration and pain, rejoice in their glory and feel inspired by their greatness. Every single athlete competing at the Olympics embodies greatness. You don’t reach the pinnacle of sport without it.
These athletes make it look easy, they stand tall at the starting line, always looking confident and prepared. I laughed as I prepared to watch the men’s 100 metre race with my heart pounding from my living room as the men stood at their starting blocks looking completely in control. I laughed because I’m sure they don’t feel as calm as they look. I know how they feel. Their mind is buzzing as they are trying to remind themselves of all their key points while trying to make themselves feel in control, even as the World is spinning around them. I find it interesting now to watch these Olympics from my television, after experiencing the Olympics in real life just over two years ago.
The energy at your field of play during the Olympics is like nothing you’ll ever experience anywhere else. My field of play is an ice surface in a large arena. And that arena in Sochi as I competed at the Olympics was buzzing. I was competing at the Olympics in Russia, in one of the most famous and traditional sports in Russian history, Pairs Figure Skating. I stepped on the ice for my 6-minute warm-up in the team competition to the roar of chanting “RUSS-IA, RUSS-IA”. And it didn’t end for 6 minutes. I felt like I stepped onto the ice in the middle of a hockey game. Just to compare, figure skating crowds are usually very modest and respectful, cheering, clapping and encouraging every skater, no matter where they are from.
It was probably the most terrifying 6 minutes of my life. I didn’t know what to think, where to look or what to do. I was so distracted and lost that I felt helpless. Luckily, we skated second, so we had time to get off the ice and regroup before preforming, and we used all the mental toughness we could muster to bring ourselves back to where we needed to be in order to deliver our best performance. And best performance we did. It was like we were living in another World for two and a half minutes, as the energy of the Olympics swept us away in the moment. As we finished our performance at centre ice on top of the Olympic rings, I knew I had just lived my dream coming true. Literally. Our silver medal from the team competition was icing on the cake!
I grew up in a sports loving family and I remember learning about and studying the Olympics since a very young age. We did projects at school every time the Olympics took place and I studied the athletes that I saw on television. I remember learning about Donovan Bailey at school and all the kids trying to run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds. I used to play basketball in my driveway and pretend it was the Olympics. That’s right. Basketball. I didn’t care which sport I was playing, I dreamt and envisioned the Olympics with them all. If I ran a race with my friends, in my head, it was my Olympic race. I guess you can say I had an obsession with the Olympics.
I even wrote letters to my pen pals and told them that I was going to go to the Olympics. My (always supportive) mother actually asked me to stop telling them this, that it sounded silly. In 1994 I remember my baby-sitter calling my sister and I inside to watch Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding skate at the Olympics. My baby-sitter rarely let us in the house, we always had to be playing outside, so this was a big deal! Then came Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan in Nagano in 1998! Such an incredible competition with two amazing performers both at the peak of their careers. That was the moment. THE moment that changed my life. My daydreams about the Olympics became a real thing in that moment. I wanted to live what Tara lived. Preforming the skate of her life, on the biggest stage of all. I wanted to feel excited and proud, just as Tara did.
One of my most memorable Olympic moments from the Sochi Olympics took place after my events finished. We hadn’t skated our best in the free skate and finished in 7th place. I was having a difficult time enjoying the Olympics from that point on. I saw all my friends and teammates having the time of their lives and feeling so proud of their accomplishments on the ice. Then one day I was sitting in the cafeteria with some American athletes, and I found myself asking them how their Olympics had been. One of them was giddy with excitement and he told me it was great and that he had a personal best. He was a speed skater, and I was expecting him to tell me about all the medals he had won, but instead he surprised me. He had finished well outside of the medal picture in his races, but had posted personal best times. He was so proud of his efforts and satisfied with his placement. That’s when it hit me. I wasn’t frustrated because I had finished in 7th place. That wasn’t it at all. I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t owned my Olympic experience. I didn’t leave the Olympic ice believing that I had done my best and that was eating away at my soul.
My teammates, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch finished 5th in the pairs competition, but you would think they had won gold. They skated their best under the pressure of the Olympic Games and they were so incredibly proud of their efforts. I found myself jealous that I couldn’t be proud of my own effort. I felt regret and disappointment, and I just wanted to go do it all over again, and focus on feeling proud, instead of winning medals. I promised myself in that moment that I would never feel like this again. That I would give it everything I had from this point forward, so I could always leave the ice feeling proud of my efforts, regardless of placement.
As I watched Rio unfold, I felt inspired by so many stories, so many athletes. The New Zealand runner who collided with the American runner, then helped her up and encouraged her to finish the race. The Steeplechase runner whose shoe came off when she fell mid race. She struggled to get it back on comfortably, so she took it off and ran to the finish line barefoot! How about Usain Bolt? He runs so fast, he had time to smile at the cameras 20 metres before the finish line! And Penny Oleksiak, the Canadian swimmer, who seems to have come from nowhere to win 4 medals, including one gold, in Rio. She thinks her life will go back to normal when she gets home and starts another year of high school. I don’t think so.
Then there was the incredible Adam van Koeverden. He didn’t qualify for the final in his kayak race, but he touched my soul with this beautiful article he shared with CBC (Read it here!) Adam is a wise, mature and experienced athlete, who has managed to stay level-headed throughout a fruitful career of Olympic sport. I hope when it’s time to preform for the last time in competition and its time to hang up my skates, that I can look back on my career with even half of the insight and perception that Adam has been able to do about his.
There is inspiration everywhere, but every two years, the World gets to taste a special type of inspiration. The amazing stories of these special Olympians from Rio 2016 were almost overshadowed by political controversies and performance enhancing drug scandals, but I hope you saw past all of this. I hope you found magic in these Olympics in Rio, in the stories of these incredible individuals, who have fought against the odds to preform on the Olympic stage. The Refugee team in Rio? They didn’t win any medals, but they are probably the biggest heroes of these Games. They will return home and inspire thousands of children in war-driven villages, cities and countries to believe in the possibility of having a dream and working hard to turn it into a reality.
I have one more chance to live my Olympic dream in Pyeongchang, Korea, a year and a half from now. before I go back to being an Olympic fan from my living room. My dream for Korea is to feel pride and fulfillment, and take inspiration from others experiences and use it to inspire more individuals to believe that anything truly is possible.