When people go back to work on January 2nd, you often hear them talk about how exhausted they are from ‘the holidays’. What, with all the visiting, travelling, shopping, eating, drinking, partying, turkey cooking, baking, gift wrapping, making small talk etc., it’s no wonder people get tired. Indeed, ‘tis the season for such things.
Speaking of small talk, I made some just before Christmas with a staff member at the Canadian Sport Centre. I was leaving the rink one day and we got to talking about Christmas, training and racing and he asked me if I would be going home for the holidays. I replied that oh, no, I was not able to go home this year, as I had to prepare for the upcoming Olympic Trials where I hoped to qualify for the Olympics. There would be no time for mistletoe and merriment this year! As I walked away I said, ‘ah well, it’s a small price to pay…’
Even as I said it I could feel my heart sink just a little, feeling as though I had just told a fib. In the days leading up to Christmas, as my brother, boyfriend and various friends all left town to be with family, it began to feel instead like it was in fact a rather big price to pay. I wanted to go home too.
Over the years my relationship with Christmas has evolved. When I was a kid it was definitely all about presents. Thankfully, I don’t care much for the extreme and obsessive shopping extravaganza that befalls us every December anymore. Instead I’ve come to enjoy much more our simple family traditions, namely being together, and doing family things like bickering, skiing in the Gats, wearing silly paper crowns at dinner and listening to ‘The Shepard’ on CBC on Christmas Eve…
So, my heart sank as I lied because this year, as in many years past, I couldn’t partake in all of those things and I felt a little bit blue. Oh, woe is me! I wanted to trim a tree, bake my face off, have a party, go tobogganing, and do nice things for people!
Instead, I found myself, at 9:22am on Christmas morning, running laps around the parking lot of the maintenance entrance at the back of oval, waiting for the lone, kind zamboni driver to come and let us in and prep the ice so we could train. It was a glorious Christmas morning, absolutely clear blue skies, sunshine and fresh snow. I waited back there for quite a while, half laughing to myself about what I was doing, half focused on my upcoming workout. I also realized that perhaps the zamboni guy wasn’t coming until 10am.
My teammate Clara showed up and we called the one person we knew would be there – our blade tech Alex. It was so quiet in the oval, without all the usual bustle of hockey pucks and zambonis and skaters flying by, it seemed kind of surreal. The sun peeped through the windows and cast a golden glow over the whole rink and I thought I’d never seen it look so beautiful in there.
So Christmas came and went. Thanks goodness for skype! And for the kindness of my former ‘Calgary family’ who had me over for a wonderful Christmas dinner. And I did listen to ‘The Shepard’ on CBC on Christmas Eve and got goose bumps at all the same parts as I usually do, so all was not lost.
At Christmastime speed skaters don’t get to do mistletoe and merriment, at least not with absolute freedom, but at the end of it all they are just as exhausted. Every year between Christmas and New Years they descend upon the oval to skate their hearts out to try and qualify for World Cup spots, World Championship spots and this year, Olympic spots.
With Olympic Trials now in full swing, bursting with their usual doses of pure joy, excruciating heartache and drama galore, I can’t help but appreciate that yes, ‘tis the season, but this year in particular, for many, ‘tis the season of something else altogether. Missing Christmas is a big price to pay, but a much larger one is to abandon a dream for something that comes around every year.
We sacrifice those things, and many others, for the sake of something much bigger. An opportunity that for most athletes never comes and for us comes once in a lifetime: the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in our own country; to be a part of the greatest sporting event on earth; to celebrate and share the joy that is sport. Just writing that gives me goose bumps all over.
A small price to pay indeed.