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8 août 2017

Going around in circles


Text: Catherine Mailloux
Translation: Carl Savard
Photos: Tony Chung (@SHORTTRACKHD)  and Catherine Mailloux

“All you do is go around in circles”, those words came from a classmate as I was delivering a speech about the sport I love, the one I have been practicing all my life: speed skating.

This memory came back to me earlier this year during Easter holidays while I was wandering through my old neighborhood, observing all the things that have changed since I had left, soaking up the memories from the places I use to visit routinely as a kid. When I stopped in front of my old elementary school, the outside look of it was different, the daycare was rebuilt but the souvenir of this presentation I had done years ago was still vibrant. I remembered how hurtful it felt. These words : “All you do is go around in circles” were stuck in my head. At the time, I had no answer for this uncalled for and ignorant remark resonating in the classroom. After all these years, I now have one.  


Speed skating has always been part of my life, but I realise now that what I get from it is different. As a kid, it helped me develop basic skills that will serve me all my life but a big part of my passion for the sport was also linked to the relationships I built with my teammates and coaches. This is true in most sports, but I think my fellow speed skaters would agree that speed skating is a different animal. We would like to help people understand each and every aspect of our sport that is not related to going around in circles on a track marked by fourteen little black blocks. The part that is never shown by the media. Considering our sport is rarely seen on television, there would be a lot to share

For us skaters, the complexity of our sport doesn’t rely on the fact that we are going around in circles, always turning left. To be quite frank, it is the part we never think about. It is the part we learned right away. The part that we never question ourselves about. Turning left in circle is natural for our body, it’s a fact, a necessity. Our mind normally surfs the waves of everything else related to our beloved sport: coordination, strength, anticipation. We think about the details related to pushing, racing, thinking, breathing, sliding, counting and decision making. You will see us smile sometimes during races because of how satisfying it is to feel like you are mastering every aspects not related to going around in circles. We work on defying the law of gravity, to become one with it, while others chose to defy judicial laws.


«The thought occurred to me that if they were not killed by it, it meant pain doesn’t kill¹.» »

Pain is a ferocious beast that we battle daily and the more we challenge it, the more we learn to tame it, to cope with it. The irony of pain is that it can chew you up and spit you out to the point of giving up but it can also take your hand and lead you to those glorious feelings linked to success and fulfillment. For most people, working alongside pain is against nature. It requires time and hard work physically but also psychologically. The line between our physical and psychological reactions is so tin that we are always on the razor’s edge: on one side quitting out of exhaustion on the other, one more repetition, one more push, one more lap. Everytime we succeed, we realise that pain is a beast that does not kill.

If it was only the physical pain. Psychologically, the need to succeed can also be painful. In a sport where results are individual but training is done as a group, comparing yourself with others can become a burden that will undermine your capacity to enjoy your own success. Then, there is also the part where things can go wrong with our equipment, most importantly the blades. Curved at the bottom like a rocking chair and sideways to help us turn the corners, everyone has their own preferences when it comes to settings but the purpose is the same: keeping us in touch with the ice surface, as steady as possible. These adjustments of millimeter precision, allow us to stick to the ice in the classic leaning pose defying gravity at high speed in the corners. The smallest thing can change those important settings without notice: a small bump, the sharpening session, the tension of the blades. You probably won’t be surprise if I tell you that those small changes can modify our feelings on the ice and make us hesitant. Add those imponderable elements to the pressure to perform and it becomes easy to understand how fast one may feel disheartened.

In retrospect, that is the answer I would give my classmate if I could go back in time and redo that presentation. I could go on and on but in short, speed skating is a complex sport, requiring a great discipline, an unshakeable concentration level and a deep understanding of who you are. Just going around in circle is not enough.
__________________ ¹ Free translation / original quote from HARPMAN Jacqueline, Moi qui n’ai pas connu les hommes, Paris, Le livre de Poche, 1995, p.82
Emplacement : Montréal, QC, Canada

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