I had never met Kerry Simpson’s mom, until today when she came up to me after the conclusion of the Canadian Sprint Championships to tell me a story. Kerry Simpson is my teammate, and her mom had just watched her daughter qualify for her first World Sprint Championships and for the World Cup team in the 500m and 1000m. She said, “Kerry would probably kill me for telling you this, but I’m telling you anyways.” In light of that and of what Kerry just accomplished, I’m hopeful she won’t object to my retelling the story.
When Kerry moved to Calgary a few years ago, she was a bright, young talent with a big dream. I don’t remember her coming here specifically, but I do remember quite vividly what it was like when I first moved to Calgary. It was a ‘big deal’. I knew of and looked up to all the national team skaters and thought that they should most definitely know who I was, even though they didn’t.
I was a little fish in a big sea but instead I felt like a big fish just waiting to jump. Of course humility set in not long after and I learned more important things like training hard and racing hard. Interestingly, as I move through the ranks from junior to veteran, I have become somewhat oblivious to most new skaters that make their way to Calgary. It’s not intentional, but it’s hard to keep track of all these new kids! Nevertheless, it was exciting to move here and I imagine it was much the same for Kerry.
One weekend Kerry’s family came from Melville, Saskatchewan to watch a competition. At one point, as I walked by their clan sitting in the stands, Kerry whispered to her mom, “That’s her Mom, that’s Kristina Groves. I want to be just like her.” Mrs. Simpson did some background research on my ‘credentials’ and was satisfied that I was an appropriate role model for her daughter.
To hear that story now, having just witnessed Kerry become one of the top sprinters in the country, I have to smile to myself. I remember what it was like to idolize national team members, wanting to be like them. It’s seems strange to me that I have become that to some skaters, perhaps because I still look up to other skaters on the team and other athletes around the world. But it’s also strange because I don’t always realize just how long I have been here and how far I have come.
Kerry faced a great number of obstacles this weekend, but she overcame all of them and succeeded in spite of them. In her first 500m, after posting her best opening 100m ever, Kerry slipped in the last turn and fell, crashing into the mats with great force. She hurt her ankle and also snapped her neck back giving her mild whiplash.
Because this competition is a team selection meet, skaters are granted a re-skate in the event of a fall. Just minutes before her re-skate, a spring on her skate broke and she skated the race with a malfunctioning clap mechanism. She still posted the 4th fastest time of the day, and her fastest of the season. She regained her strength entirely later in the day when she placed third in the 1000m.
This morning when I saw Kerry, she was limping down the hallway, barely able to walk. Her ankle had swelled overnight and become quite painful. She requested an emergency physio appointment, and when they weren’t sure if they could fit her in she pleaded that she worked as a physio aid and if they could just set up the machine she could administer her own ultrasound. Thankfully she got in and was able to get her ankle taped up.
She was a little apprehensive in her warm-up, but I never heard her complain once. Her 500m today was even better than yesterday, she placed 3rd and skated two-tenths faster. When I asked her how her ankle was during the race she said she didn’t feel a thing and it never even crossed her mind. With another solid race for 3rd place in the second 1000m she secured her spot on the World Sprint Championship team.
Last year at this same competition Kerry came down with a nasty flu bug and wasn’t able to skate well enough to make the team, even though she had the potential. This year she faced more bad luck but was able to deal with the pressure and stress of it all, and made the team. It was inspiring to see her to do so well.
I skated this competition as well, and although not a strong sprinter, I managed to get a personal best in the 500m, very exciting for an all-rounder like me! With no pressure to perform or qualify for any team, my objective was to simply race hard and be supportive of my teammates. Being on the outside looking in was a great opportunity to observe the ingredients required to cook up a good performance.
The more and more time I spend in the world of competitive sport, the more I appreciate what it takes to win. People who win and people who are attempting to win surround me everyday. One can often tell by the way someone talks, the way they walk or move or act; the way they train and skate, whether or not they can win.
In my journey towards the top I am constantly striving to discover for myself what I need to do to win. For some it comes naturally, for others, like me, it takes practice. I need to practice winning as much as I do skating. The closer I get to the top, the more I see what I need to do, and most importantly, how one’s attitude, regardless of talent or fitness, is often the only thing separating a good race from a great one. Most often, those who win are those who race to win, even in the face of adversity.
At the ripe old age of 27, I find myself in this relatively new position of veteran on the team. It is a role that is foreign to me, and one that I’m learning to fill. It’s foreign to me mostly because I still feel like a kid, just trying to skate fast. But I suppose along the way I have learned a few things and skated a few races, and it’s up to me to set a good example.
When I watch Kerry skate, her talent amazes me; she’s so smooth and efficient, something we all strive to be. Sometimes during a workout when she gets tired I do my best to push her hard and encourage her. We each give something and get something in return, learning from each other what the other has inside to win.
I’m not sure who looks up to whom anymore, perhaps instead we share a bond of mutual admiration, but I know that the way I saw Kerry skate this weekend is the way champions are made.