By Dan Plouffe
Canada’s most decorated international speed skater of all time will no longer be winning medals for her country after calling it a career this past Wednesday, but according to those in the Ottawa speed skating community, Kristina Groves’ impact on the sport will continue to last for years and years to come.
A big reason for that is because of the career path the Ottawa native followed. Before rising to the national team and eventually winning 18 medals at the world single-distance championships and four at the Olympic Games, Groves was far from a top athlete in her formative years.
“It’s really a remarkable story,” notes Gerry Harrington, a coach at Groves’ hometown Ottawa Pacers club. “There are so many athletes out there that rise with a splash, maybe in their early 20s have a meteoric rise, have a huge impact, and then their career sort of plateaus or isn’t the same.
“Kristina’s is very, very unique in that it was just such a long, steady, unrelenting climb. It says so much about her character more so than a lot of other athletes. It’s less about her natural gifts than just that long-term determination, that commitment to improving, to personal-bests.”
The story of Groves’ gradual rise to one of the world’s best of all time serves as a perfect motivational tool for coaches to share with young aspiring athletes, Harrington explains.
“It is precisely the type of thing that you want to impress upon young athletes,” he says. “Don’t compare yourself to others, it’s not about where you finished today – if you’re really, really committed to your sport, then what you’re committed to becoming, is doing your best.”
Harrington also points to another similar story from the Pacers club to illustrate Groves’ influence. Leo Landry followed the same type of path as Groves – not an overly spectacular youth career, but now he’s also found his way onto the national team.
“I think that’s a testament to the type of lasting impact she’ll have,” Harrington highlights.
Mike Rivet, a long-time Pacers coach, notes that Speed Skating Canada examined how Groves grew into a world champion, and incorporated her experience into its Long Term Athlete Development plan.
“She wasn’t a great young athlete, but she’s had such a full career,” Rivet remarks, emphasizing how amazing it was for an athlete racing at such a high level to achieve two new personal-best times at age 33. “There are statistics that show that people who develop later can be absolutely phenomenal athletes, and Kristina is a prime example of that.”
INSPIRING A GENERATION
Although she didn’t mention specific plans for future involvement at her retirement press conference, Groves said speed skating will always remain a big part of her life. Just as she talked of being inspired to pursue speed skating by Gaetan Boucher, it is almost a certainty that the next generation of champions will tell the same story about Groves.
“I think she was pretty damn close to being the perfect athlete,” says Ottawa native Ivanie Blondin, a national team member who attended Groves’ farewell news conference and found her words “touching and inspiring.” “I definitely look up to her and I think everyone should look up to her if they don’t already.”
Blondin moved to Calgary to train with Canada’s long-track national team at the Olympic oval last summer, which meant she didn’t spend a whole lot of time alongside Groves before her early-season concussion last year.
“I didn’t train with her too long – just a little bit last year – but the things I was able to learn from her were just amazing,” describes Blondin, 21. “She taught me so much in such little time, and kind of led me to follow in her footsteps. And to always believe in yourself.”
MORE TIME FOR CHARITY, SPEAKING & WRITING
Groves’ lasting impact is sure to be felt away from speed skating as well. Groves is a big supporter of humanitarian causes such as Right to Play and Clean Air Champions, and recently hosted a “Bed-In for Sustainability” in Calgary that received praise from Yoko Ono.
Also part of her plans are more public speaking, more volunteering and more writing – which is a major treat as anyone who follows her blog on kristinagroves.ca would know.
“I’m so thankful for her and everything she’s done for the sport, for Speed Skating Canada. I wish her the best in her future,” Blondin says. “With the way she is and what she’s accomplished already, she will keep accomplishing things that regular people can’t do on a daily basis. I believe in her so much and I think everyone does.”
Read related story: Ottawa speed skating community mourns, celebrates retirement of ‘humble’ Groves
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