I’m going to the Utah Olympic Oval to watch the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships today. The place I skated my first Winter Olympics as a speed skater. The place I realized a dream initiated when I saw Gaetan Boucher skate for Canada back in 1988 on TV. I was inspired to change that day from disfunction to function as a young person. That image had me captivated and it changed my life.
I started speed skating in my hockey skates. I was a ringette player. A single phone call by my Mom got me an invitation to skate with the best in the province of Manitoba. At the time I thought I was a pretty good skater. The speed skaters put me to shame. Seeing them so fast and smooth solidified my dream of speed skating. There was no other thing I wanted to do but skate.
At the time the Provincial Coach for Manitoba was a man named Peter Williamson. He was larger than life to me. Super intense but always ready to laugh. He inspired me to work hard and commit to the sport. He had us on bikes, on roller skates, on dry land and on the ice working harder than I knew possible at that time in my life. I loved it.
Peter inspired me to become a real athlete. He was my very first coach. I often think back to the many years I had in speed skating and cycling. I think back to those first months in sport. I always come to the conclusion that without Peter, I would not have committed. The rest of my history in sport would never have happened.
When I skated here in Utah at my first Winter Games, I had Peter on my mind. He was in my heart. Soon after I left speed skating to try out cycling back in 1990, I learned the news of the great loss of Peter Williamson. I thought of his wife Lori and his two young boys. I was in Paris, Ontario and had just competed in my first international games as a cyclist, the Pan Am Games, and was so sad that Peter would never know how one of his athletes went on to succeed in sport. I had always vowed to go back to skating and always knew I’d go back to the ice with Peter in my heart. Though he was no longer here I could still make him proud.
In the 2002 Games, I swear he was with me. I felt his intensity and competitive fire in my blood that day and skated a race good enough for bronze. Part of that performance will always belong to my first coach, Peter.
So today, as I get ready to go to the oval to cheer on the Canadian Team, I do so with great pride. Peter and Lori’s son Tyler, now a married young man, will be racing for Canada. He started as a short track skater and has morphed into a fine long tracker. In fact, he’s quickly becoming one of the best in the world.
In 2002 it was full circle for me. I finally realized that dream of skating for Canada at an Olympics. Today I realize that circle goes around and around, and as it spins I get to watch it with a proud smile.