Apparently, it’s never too late. You’re never too old. While there’s breath in the body, there is hope. And hang the doubters.
Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps were new faces among a small wave of new faces in the pair event at the at the recent Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. And although they finished sixth, a few spots below what they envisaged, there is no quit in them.
They have lofty goals. Hold onto your hats and toques and mittens. They are taking dead aim at the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Stellato is 36 now, and by 2026, she’ll be 42.
Deschamps, 28, isn’t worried about her age. “Age doesn’t matter for me because we have to do what we have to do,” he said. “The only thing we need to look out for is the recovery part, because the more we get older, the more important it is. We have to be smarter in training.”
Stellato, who skated both singles and pairs for the United States in her long and interrupted career, told her coaches that she doesn’t know if she will have her Canadian citizenship by 2022 in time for the Beijing Olympics.
“But my goal has always been 2026, if my body can last that long,” she said. “But I’m already too old to be doing this, so I can be too old in six years, too. So what’s the difference?
“When I retired, the Turin Olympics in 2006 were the Olympics I was shooting for as a kid. It would be hilarious if I were at the Olympics in Italy 20 years later.”
The United States hasn’t released Stellato yet, so she and Deschamps are unable to compete internationally at this point.
Stellato was a future star as a singles skater for the United States, winning a silver medal at the 2000 junior world championships and gold in the 1999 Junior Grand Prix Final. She retired from competition in 2001 after suffering four different hip injuries, frustratingly serious enough that she actually skated only 24 months in four years.
She took up work as an aesthetician for a plastic surgeon in Chicago. She did this for 16 years, melting into the workaday fabric, until she felt the call of the wild and returned to pair skating in partnership with Nathan Bartholomay. Together they were two-time US bronze pair medalists and competed at the 2018 world championships. The partnership ended in March of this year with Bartholomay’s injury.
But Stellato didn’t feel that she was finished. “I always compare my life now to when I was working,” she said. “I worked at the same place for 16 years. I used to dread Monday mornings. Now I can’t wait for them. There’s such a drastic contrast between them. I call it my former life, my retired life and my re-competitive career.”
So she had to go on the hunt for a new partner. She had moved back to Chicago and was just training by herself. “I called every single coach I’d ever met in my entire life to see if they had anyone available,” she said.
One coach told her that Canadian pair skater Deschamps was looking for a partner, too. So she headed to Montreal for a tryout with Bruno Marcotte, who thought they’d be a good match. Deschamps was Stellato’s first and only tryout.
”It was pretty immediate that we had a good thing,” Stellato said. “We both have a lot of strength and we didn’t have to contain it to be successful.”
Well, sometimes one of them has to remember the power in his body. They started out doing death spirals and pair spins. “Immediately with him, I was shocked by his strength,” Stellato said. “He almost pulled me off my feet in a pair spin because he had so much strength and I just wasn’t used to that.”
It’s not that Bartholomay wasn’t a strong guy, too. He was. “But there’s something about the power that Max has that is different,” Stellato said.
“I remember when I fell on the pair spin and I sat up and said: ‘I need you to be less strong, like a diet version of yourself, Max Light, Zero Power Max. Just calm it down a little because I’m not going to be able to match that.’”
Deschamps has long been skating in the shadows with various partners, some of whom had not skated pairs before, partners with learning curves, so that he couldn’t push ahead. He had finished sixth at the 2017 senior nationals with Sydney Kolodziej, an American – fourth in the free skate – then they finished seventh in 2018. Deschamps went to a couple of Four Continents Championships, never as the top Canadian team.
For a while he even undertook to skate for South Korea, but he and his partner never actually competed. “It didn’t work out,” he said.
Stellato offers him a new opportunity.
“Also I work towards new stuff now,” he said. “I can push myself. It felt pretty good to be able to push it further.” He now can push for more speed, the artistic part, even the technical part. “All of these little details, but it’s made a huge difference with Deanna,” he said.
In that same original tryout, the twosome launched into a double twist. “I overrotated every single one because it was so much larger than my last one,” Stellato said. “So I did a double and a half, almost five times in a row. And every time, he would catch me when I was backward. And he still caught me every time, but I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, if I’m overrotating by that much, this must be much bigger than what I was doing before.’”
When Marcotte moved to Oakville for this season, Stellato and Deschamps could not follow, because Deschamps just could not leave Quebec. They train with Ian Connolly, but also with Josee Picard, former coach of world champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler.
When Stellato crossed the border, she found a world of difference in technique between American and Canadian methods of doing things. “The technique is different on EVERYTHING,” Stellato said. “Even death spirals, throws.”
On twists, she was taught to rotate with her hands crossed on her upper chest. But now she’s learning to rotate with her hands wound much lower around her waist. The positions on death spirals and throws are different, too. The hardest thing for this new pair is getting their side-by-side jumps to become a unit. Her patterns into jumps are straighter. Deschamps’ jump entrances are much more curvy. It’s difficult, Deschamps, said, to make them match because of this.
They do triple Salchows and triple toe loops.
They’ve adapted to each other’s techniques. Now Stellato is going into her jumps with a more curvy approach than before. And he’s copying her takeoffs for jumps. It’s a compromise. Perhaps still not perfected.
At Challenge, Stellato found herself going straight (the computer in her mind was falling back on original info), and that caused her to step forward, while he was still backwards. “I would try to wait for him,” she said. It didn’t go well. Something similar happened at the national championships last week.
At nationals, Stellato just wanted to get off the ice and fell happy, although a third place finish would have given them the warm and fuzzies. To do that, they knew they were going to have to execute. However, Stellato had store a hamstring just before the event, wore a huge bandage on a thigh, and hadn’t done a throw until the week of the event. It also affected her jumps. It proved impossible to overcome.
“When we were at Challenge, we weren’t exactly sure what they [judges] were going to do with us, given the situation – I can’t go anywhere this season,” Stellato said. “We weren’t sure where they were going to place us.”
They won the short program, and if they hadn’t made mistakes in the free, they felt they could have won that, too.
As for Deschamps, he’s had to up his artistic game and it’s in him to do so. “It’s so good,” he said. “I have time to work on it now and I have no choice, because she’s doing it. So I need to match her.”
And Stellato needs to match his speed and power “because he has a lot of it,” she said. “We both push each other for sure.”
Deschamps’ English has improved. And Stellato is working diligently on her French, using the duolingo app. “I’m on day 234 and I feel like I’m non the wiser,” she said. “But I’m trying.”
“She’s getting good,” Deschamps said. “She just has to get past the shy part of saying it.”
There’s still time.