Eganville — Former competitive figure skater and Olympic medalist Liz Manley has visited Eganville on several occasions to work with young skaters on how to improve their figure skating skills, but now she is also encouraging young people to pursue their dreams.
“This is the one club I’ve come back to,” she said. “I just want these kids to have that experience. That’s why I tend to stay with the smaller towns. I came from a small town, and I was never exposed to my heroes.”
Over the years she has developed a special relationship with the Eganville Figure Skating Club, traveling to Eganville for clinics several times. Over the years, she has watched several of the Eganville skaters grow up to become adults and encouraged their achievements in the club and in life.
On Sunday, she was at the arena again at the invitation of the club. She spent several hours working with two groups on the ice and then had a good sit-down talk with skaters and their caregivers, talking openly about some of the challenges she faced as a youngster and encouraging the kids to never give up on their dreams.
She told the young skaters if they love something enough, go after it and if they fail, at least they have given it their best shot.
“Every one of you can have a medal in life,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be an Olympic medal.
“Don’t ever let anyone tell you, you are not good enough. Don’t ever let anyone tell you to do something you don’t want to do,” she continued. “I’m not talking about your parents saying you’ve got to go to bed. I’m talking about your friends at school who say you are no good, you are not going to accomplish anything.”
She told the youngsters if they believe in themselves enough, if they have a passion and a love of something, then they have to go after it whether they succeed or fail.
“I could’ve come 20th that night in Calgary and I’d be just as happy today as I am because I went out there and I did it and I did it for me, I did it for my family and I did it when everybody said I couldn’t,” she said of her silver medal win in the 1988 Olympics.
“And that is why today I am a mental health practitioner. That’s why I have written books. That’s why I help people. I am a Life Coach because I have been at rock bottom. Every one of you can have that.”
Ms. Manley was born in Trenton in 1965 and lived there until she was nine when the family moved to Ottawa. After her parents’ divorce in the 1970s, she was raised by her mother, Joan, who invested a lot of time and money in her figure skating career. She won a bronze medal at the 1982 World Junior Championships in Germany and the same year competed in her first senior World Championships in Denmark, finishing 13th.
In the 1982–83 season, she relocated from Ottawa to Lake Placid, New York to receive more intensive training but became depressed and homesick, which resulted in her hair falling out and weight gain. She finished off the podium at the Canadian Championships and briefly dropped out of the sport, but resumed her skating career after Peter and Sonya Dunfield agreed to coach her in Ontario. They worked with her at the Gloucester Skating Club in Orleans.
“I was 16 years old when I went through this,” she said. “Would I have changed anything that’s happened to me? I will tell you I would never change anything that happened to me. Because it taught me the person I am and it taught me that I am a human being and I am deserving and I am grateful.”
Ms. Manley competed at the 1984 Winter Olympics, placing 13th, and the World Championships between 1984 and 1987. At the 1987 Worlds, she was in a position to vie for the world title after compulsory figures and the short program, but a poor result in the long program left her in fourth place overall in the competition.
Entering the 1988 Winter Olympics, few skating know-hows and media analysts considered her to be a contender for an Olympic medal. Battling illness, she nevertheless did well in compulsory figures and the short program. Heading into the long program, she was in third place behind the East German skater Katarina Witt and the American skater Debi Thomas. Witt and Thomas were both favourites for the gold medal, and the media had dubbed their rivalry as the “Battle of the Carmens“, as both women chose to skate to music from the opera Carmen. Witt skated her long program cleanly but conservatively, and Thomas fell apart in her long program. Elizabeth Manley, however, gave the performance of her life, winning the long program and coming within a fraction of a point of beating Witt for the Olympic title. Her come-from-behind silver medal made her a national celebrity. After winning the 1988 World Championships, she retired from amateur skating.
Ms. Manley’s greatest joy comes from visiting small communities like Eganville and sharing her talents with skaters.
“It doesn’t matter if you are from Eganville, Arnprior or from Trenton, have a dream and then go after it,” she encouraged the skaters.
She also gave them advice on how to deal with some of the issues in society they face such as bullying at school.
“If somebody is talking about you, whether it’s good or bad, it means you are worth talking about,” she said. “People don’t waste their time on people who don’t matter, so if you are feeling like somebody isn’t liking you or somebody is being mean to you or whatever, chin up. And if they are talking behind your back that’s water behind you. I went through years of it.”
She said even if they give up skating at some point, don’t give up on their dreams.
“If you want to be a lawyer or a vet, you can go for it,” she remarked. “Most people think failure means I didn’t succeed; I didn’t do it. Failure is an open door. It’s an open door to try something different, to do something new.”
Ms. Manley’s goal was to work for the Ottawa Senators as a Life Coach because she knows from experience athletes bring a lot on the ice that has nothing to do with what they do on the ice.
“I was really hoping they would hook in,” she said of the Senators, noting the Phoenix Coyote has three Life Coaches on staff.
“The Senators wouldn’t budge,” she said. “I was willing to be available to the players 24/7.
“I was really hoping I could get into the NHL to work with those guys because they bring a lot out on the ice,” she added. “And I know that. As a skater I used to bring a lot out on the ice. You can’t succeed in what you are trying to do if you carry a lot.”