For the past couple of years, Patrick Chan has done no skating. None. None at all. Nada.
It’s hard to believe that a skater so highly revered by others, with unmatchable edges and speed and flow and power and glide, has put those skates on in recent years only to do a bit of coaching and to play in a beer hockey league in Vancouver where he now lives.
The 10-time Canadian champion, three-time world champion, Olympic silver medalist in the men’s event, gold Olympic medalist in the team and multiple world record-holder, found it imperative to return and take part on Kurt Browning’s farewell Stars On Ice tour across Canada this month.
How lucky are we?
“I think when I finished skating, there was a bit of resentment [within myself],” said Chan, a victim of a sport that didn’t reward his best talents.
“I think we all have a form of trauma and sadness when you leave the sport and your career is finished,” he said during the Kitchener stop of the Stars tour. “I think there was a bit of that. That was a cause of me not obsessing about getting back on the ice. I wasn’t in a big rush.”
Always under pressure and expectations all his years of competing, Chan really didn’t get to enjoy his triumphs. “I still haven’t gone to the gym because I don’t want to go to the gym,” he said. “I have no desire to go. I spent so many years in the gym.”
So he got a new job that had nothing whatsoever to do with skating.
Chan had always intended to switch gears and go into commercial real estate. He signed up for a course at University of British Columbia while he was still skating. He intended to write the exam, but found he wasn’t very good at multi-tasking.
When the pandemic happened, Chan knew he had his chance. He had nothing else to do. Everything was online, so “there were no excuses not to do it,” he reasoned. He studied for three months, took the exam in December of 2020, passed, had a baby (well, wife Liz Putnam did) and got a position with Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis, a Fortune 500 company that is second largest in its field in Canada.
Chan now works in investment properties, like multi-family buildings, land development. Not at all like what he had spent all of his life doing. “That was a big learning curve,” he said. “I’m still learning now, and it’s been almost two years. There was a lot of new things. It was hard at the beginning between the baby and the new job. I was really feeling lost, overwhelmed.”
The baby, Oliver, is now 19 months old, is getting into a routine. Things are getting settled.
Being a new dad is another story. “It’s scary, fun, rewarding,” Chan said. “It completely changes you and your perspective. It makes you reflect on your own childhood a lot. It brings you and your partner much closer.”
Chan had been a guy that really enjoyed his hobbies, and enjoyed doing what he wanted to do. “That was part of my freak-out, like my freedom was gone,” he said. “But I understand that will come back. And I’ll get to do it with him, which is more special. And honestly at this point it’s so fun, now at this point he’s so engaging. So fun to watch. We’ll just sit there in our living room and watch him play or watch him talk.”
It is, Chan said, like looking at a miracle. He and Liz look at each other and marvel: “Wow. We made this.”
He has discovered that you don’t really understand parenthood until you become a parent. His choreographer Lori Nichol once told him that having a child is the greatest miracle of all.
Chan went: “Yeah, yeah, whatever, and when are we doing the program?”
Now he gets it.
Chan knew he was to do the Stars On Ice tour last October/November, so he and Liz made a plan to return. At least, because of the beer hockey league, he didn’t have to start from scratch. They decided they would really start preparing in January. “We gave ourselves a lot of time because we had to come up with programs, and I had to get my jumps back, to get the feeling back,” Chan said.
“It took about a month to think maybe, okay, I’m settled. I feel a little bit of what I used to be.”
He won’t be doing quads, as he did of old. He now plays with double Axel, triple toe loop, triple Salchow, but that’s all he needs. He worked with Elvis Stojko on his double Axel, still shaky in rehearsal in Kitchener. But where better to get tips than from the brilliant cast of Stars On Ice, all skating around him?
He stopped playing in the beer league two weeks before the tour.
Now he focuses on choreography more than ever. He paid attention to it before, but you can see a progression now, that he has matured, he understands his body more, and Liz has helped him with that. “I am more confident in the way I move,” he said. “My passion is in that.”
He does two solos in the show, the first “Wicked Game” by James Vincent McMorrow, an Irish singer/songwriter. This tune was used in the official full-length trailer of the sixth season of the NBO hit series Game of Thrones.
It’s soft guitar, acoustic, with warm tones, an ethereal heavenly thing. Perfect for Chan.
“The world was on fire,” the song goes. “And nobody could save me but you.”
“What a wicked game you play to make me dream of you.” Stunning music. Spellbinding. So is Chan.
He also skates to “I Hear a Symphony” by Cody Fry. It’s a tribute to his son. In the rink, a charming little video of Chan and his son walking toward the beach plays behind him. “It’s life changing,” Chan spoke of his son. “It’s changed our lives completely for the better.”
Changing careers full stop “really jolted me,” Chan said. “Because this is like: this is the real world. Figure skating is not the real world. The world doesn’t revolve around us. It was a really humbling experience, having to start from the beginning, after going through those 20 years of practice in figure skating, now I had to put that time into something else. It was very hard, very difficult.
“I had to acquaint myself with new co-workers, new cast mates, people on my team. Just wrapping my head around it was quite challenging.”
Coming back on tour has rekindled his love for skating. It was just the thing he needed. He skated in the mornings before going to work, and marveled at the contrast of these bits of his life. “It really validated me,” he said. “I really got battered by being in a new environment and a new job, something in which I no expert any longer. “
Being back on the ice, creating programs with his wife, has given him more confidence. It has put things in perspective for him. The tour is helping pay some bills in an expensive city. He had been putting pressure on himself to make millions of dollars in commercial real estate, but those things don’t happen overnight. It could take another five to 10 years before he finds his footing in this challenging new gig.
So for the next week or so, Patrick Chan has become Patrick Chan again. The one we always knew. The unparalleled skater nobody can match, skate blade-wise.