Gabby Daleman, world bronze medalist, never seems to catch a break.
She has always had to make her own breaks. And she rides a roller coaster through the rest.
You’d think this season that she would have been able to bask in her achievements in Helsinki. But no.
At Cup of China, she suffered from a kidney infection. At Skate America, she was working through a viral infection that stuffed her up. She called it cardio training, always looking on the bright side.
Now, coming into the National Skating Championships, she has been suffering from pneumonia and strep throat. In her first words after a long-program practice, Daleman rasped: “It’s getting there.” With Daleman, it’s always something.
But she’s cheerful, having gone back to her long program from last year, “Rhapsody in Blue,” setting aside her powerful “Gladiator” routine.
But her problems have been far more deep-seated and life draining than a few dark respiratory systems and routines. She’s come through hell to be here.
As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, she’s endured bullying, eating disorders, and very serious health problems.
The bullying started from the time she was in grade one. She has a learning disability. It’s not dyslexia, but although she’s very clever in mathematics, she has troubles reading and writing. She was bullied for this. She was bullied when the school gave her extra time to write tests. She was bullied because she had a muscular body. She was a gymnast when she was young, so her shoulders were broader than you’d normally seen on a figure skater. She’d be bullied for this, her detractors saying that she wasn’t pretty enough, or too fat, and her dreams of becoming a figure skater would die an embarrassing death.
This continued until she made it to the Olympics in Sochi, the youngest member of Canada’s Olympic team at age 16. Say, 10 years. No surprise that her confidence and self-worth took a beating.
Along with all of the bullying came an eating disorder, which started while she was in grade five. She believed the chatter. It’s hard not to. If Daleman did eat, she’d write down the calories. And she’d try to burn off twice as many as she ate. “But it’s life,” she said. It’s an outward shrug. Not really a shrug inside. She talked about it all in a CBC video before the world championships last year. She still can’t watch it.
Since it aired, however, she’s had folk sending her messages: “Oh I didn’t know!” And others have felt compelled to speak about the issue, perhaps their own issues, empowered by Daleman’s message.
“That video is really touching for me because no one should go through it,” she said. “It’s awful. Still, to this day, I cry over it.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Daleman had to endure the growth of a cyst in her abdominal area. To say it’s painful is just an understatement. Some time ago, BEFORE the Helsinki world championship, Daleman first felt the effects of it just while getting up off a couch at home. The pain was excruciating.
She ended up getting an E-coli infection from it, too, that doctors didn’t immediately spot. Disastrous.
She felt better for two months, then it struck again during the Stars On Ice tour last spring. She says she “started feeling kind of weird” around the stop in Toronto. She shrugged it off, as skaters do.
By the time she got to Calgary, she ended up visiting the hospital-doing the show –going to hospital that she finally relented. She went home, hoping it would get better the next week. It didn’t. Doctors told her she needed surgery.
The surgery was serious business. Her abdomen was full of fluid, so ultrasound blocked their view of the problem. She didn’t know how perilous her condition was until she saw the ultrasound photos later.
She quit everything for three months. Unplugged herself from the world. Handed in her phone. Shut off social media. Stopped skating. She went to her family’s cottage in Parry Sound. Went for a swim. Ate. Found herself mesmerized by the gleaming waters. She practiced visualization, something she has found very useful.
Her family and friends have helped her pick up the pieces since. She came back and has been lifted – for a long time – by the work of Toronto sports psychologist Judy Goss. Daleman is happy to be here.
So on Thursday, Daleman hit practice ice for the first time here. You wouldn’t know she had strep throat or anything else. She was a bullet. She and choreographer Lori Nichol had edited the moves and transitions to fit her goals. The music made them seem easier.
And that triple toe loop –triple toe loop? It seemed as if the Thunderbird Arena wasn’t big enough for it. Or her. This is Gabby Daleman motoring forward, again.