What I learned about myself when an injury ended my figure skating career

It all started when I was five years old. The first time my blades glided across that perfect, pristine ice. I fell in love — this little bright-eyed and bushy-tailed girl who dreamed of being like the big girls she saw on television. Whenever figure skating came on TV, I would beg my mom to let me stay up a little bit later. After clearing out the furniture in the living room to build my own arena, I mimicked every move while watching the grace and athleticism on the screen in front of me. Those skaters were flying. I wanted to fly.

Little did my parents know this was only the beginning.

As I grew up, my training began to increase and became much more vigorous. The two or three days a week when I was young, quickly became six. The only reason it wasn’t seven days was because I was forced to take a rest day. Every morning before school, I was at the gym and every evening after school I was on the ice. Skating was my life and I loved it. I ate, slept, and breathed skating. It was my world.

Sacrifice comes with any competitive athlete’s career. However, school was always a priority in my household. Nothing came before education, except family. I come from a family of two schoolteachers, so you can imagine how important it was that I not only pass my courses, but excel in them. My parents always said that school comes first, before skating. I always kept my grades up and worked hard in school because I never wanted to jeopardize my training. Plus, when you’re at the gym and rink six days a week you don’t have much time for a social life. It was hard sometimes – missing out on school dances, parties, boyfriends, or trips and hearing all the stories from others at school. But it was worth it; I knew why I was sacrificing that so-called “normal” life of a teenager. I had bigger plans. I dreamed of competing on the National or World stage.

My skating career took me across Canada to train and compete. I won Provincial and Atlantic medals both in singles skating and synchronized skating. The rink became my home it didn’t matter what town I was in. From the eating supper and doing homework in the car, sore muscles, huge bruises and physio appointments to ice baths and mental training – it was all worth it. Somehow, my family and I made it all work. The ice became my escape, my happy place. I was free. I could fly.

I was never the best skater on the ice. But I’d be damned if I wasn’t the hardest worker out there. I was never one to give myself much credit, but I will acknowledge that I had an unbelievable work ethic and a stubborn determination that kept me moving forward. I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people. With the support of my family, coach and friends I was starting to really improve on and off the ice. I was becoming more consistent. All of the off-ice work I had been doing was really showing. I was learning how to control my nerves and how to really get out there and perform. Things were going really great until one day my world came crashing down faster than I could pick up all of the pieces.

As a competitive athlete, you are bound to have injuries. It comes with the territory. Throughout my 13 years of skating I had battled torn tendons, knee, ankle, head, foot, and back injuries. You name it, I’ve injured it. However, I was always able to tolerate the pain and recover with the help of my amazing team of Physiotherapists and Sports Psychologists. But something was different this time. I could feel this knot in the pit of my stomach. I knew something was wrong.

Despite all the injuries I’ve ever had, my feet caused me the most problems. I’ve had bumps and bones sticking out of my feet from a young age. I’ve always had pain but been able to push through it. This time though, I knew I couldn’t. My feet were bruised purple and blue and the sides were swollen. My body was saying “NO” when all I wanted to hear was “YES.”

Countless doctor’s appointments ensued and things weren’t looking too bad. At first, the doctors were saying that I might lose six weeks of training. Okay, six weeks I thought to myself – that’s doable. However, further investigation revealed that the healing process would take much longer and it would involve surgery. The surgery would require cutting off a piece of a bone in my foot. Yikes! I winced at the thought, but at this point I was running out of options so I decided to try the surgery. It was my only chance at skating again. I would have to do one foot at a time. It would be six weeks in a cast and at least another six weeks of rehabilitation before I could even think about skating again. But I did it because it was my only shot at feeling the ice under my blades, at feeling free.

My team of doctors, surgeons and my family decided we would do the first foot and then move on from there to determine the next steps. I waited for months and months for that one phone call that would give me another chance – the phone call with my surgery date. The waiting was agonizing. August 23, the date finally arrived. When the surgeon asked me how I was feeling, I looked him in the eyes and said, “Let’s get it done.” The surgery went well and the doctors said it was successful. I was thrilled and so excited to make my comeback. Once my cast was removed I was itching to get back in the rink but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be an easy road. I was in an incredible amount of pain and, in my mind, the ice was getting further and further away.

Eventually, after only the first surgery, I attempted to get back on the ice. At this point, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but I still had a burning desire to skate. I started training but still with incredible pain and thought to myself, “I can’t do this anymore. My body is not working how I need it to.”

Although, the surgery was successful on paper, it wasn’t on the ice. I was still in a lot of pain and, again, what little of my world I was able to rebuild completely shattered. Before the surgery I was only in pain on the ice, but after the surgery I was in pain both on and off the ice. It was worse than before. Around this same time I was having debilitating headaches that had resulted from undiagnosed concussion. Things just kept getting worse. But I kept telling myself that the surgery was my only chance at skating again — and it was. It just sucks because it didn’t work.

I began to think of my life without skating and it scared me. I gave up so much for this sport and this was what I received in return… a career-ending injury. When someone would ask me the question, “Who are you?” I would always respond with, “I’m a figure skater.” It scared me when I realized that this could no longer be my answer. Who am I?

I didn’t know.

When I was on the ice, I felt fully alive as if I didn’t have a worry in the world. The rink was my outlet. I could always turn to the ice when I was sad, happy, frustrated or mad and somehow always find peace. To be truthfully honest, I knew my figure skating career would soon come to an end regardless, because I was moving on into a new chapter of my life. However, I thought I would always finish my competitive career on my own terms and perhaps that’s what hurts the most. I never got to say I was done because injuries took that away from me. I never had closure. I never thought I would ever feel whole or complete again, and I didn’t for a while. I suddenly had so much free time I didn’t know what to do… I was lost in every sense of the word.

It has almost been two years since my surgery. I still have foot pain in my day-to-day life and the doctors say that may never change. I don’t think I’ve every forgiven myself for the way my career ended, but I’m still working on that. I’ve been avoiding the rink for a while because my heart still aches for all of the things I didn’t accomplish. Figure skating was 13 years of my life — 13 years that were filled with triumph, defeat, sportsmanship, blood, sweat, and tears. They were 13 years that shaped the individual I am today and have given me memories that I will cherish forever. For that, my heart feels a little less broken.

During these extremely difficult years of my life, I learned a lot. I learned that when you think you’re past your breaking point and can’t handle anymore — you can. I found strength that I didn’t even know I had. I also learned that it’s okay to reach out. I went through an extremely stressful couple of years and I know that you don’t have to do it alone. My parents were phenomenal, my coach was amazing, and I worked with a Sports Psychology professional. It is so important to surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Most importantly, I learned that life will go on and you will be okay.

I’ll tell you a secret. I have felt fully alive again in a way I never thought possible. I found a new stage and this time it’s in the theatre. My soul has found a new passion – acting. Whether I’m on the stage or on set, I feel free. Every fiber of my body is beginning to come alive again. I’m now going into my second year of university and about to start a three year Acting Conservatory Program. My acting and writing has given me freedom. I have taken all of the lessons I’ve learned during my competitive career and am slowly rebuilding that ever shattering world around me.

Moving forward after a competitive athletic career comes with many challenges. I’m slowly finding meaning again and realizing that I do have a future beyond the boards and competitive figure skating. As I close that chapter of my life, I look back with gratitude as I finally begin to give myself credit for what I did accomplish. I have no regrets because I know that I did everything right. I ate right, never skipped a workout, kept my grades up and gave my all every time I was on the ice. Career-ending injuries can happen at what seems to be the worst time, but I promise you that eventually you will find something that fills you back up again. Figure skating will always have a special place in my heart but it does not define me. This wild, beautiful world has so much more to offer each and every individual. As athletes, we’re required to have a competitive edge, an incredible work ethic and a crazy determination. These skills don’t simply help you on the ice they help you in this whirlwind of a game we like to call life.

(Image via Shutterstock.fi)

Lindsey Ross is a 19 year old, small town, country girl from Nova Scotia with an old soul. She’s a Canadian actress, writer, humanitarian, athlete, beach addict, world traveller in the making, food enthusiast and lover of quotes.

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