By Dan Plouffe
“Touching and inspiring” was the way Ottawa native Ivanie Blondin described Kristina Groves’ farewell words as she officially announced her retirement from speed skating on Wednesday, Sept. 21 in Calgary.
The 21-year-old who moved out west to train at the Olympic oval last year got the chance to be at Groves’ goodbye news conference, although it was almost a moment that was too tough for her to experience as one of her idols called it a career.
“I almost didn’t want to hear it,” Blondin explains. “It was like, ‘Aww man, Kristina…’ – it’s just so hard to let her go.
“Everything she said was so touching and inspiring. For other athletes, it just makes you want to train harder and follow in her footsteps.”
Blondin found out Groves was retiring a couple of days before the official announcement when the three-time Olympian gathered all the athletes at the national team training center and told them the news.
“I was really sad. Our whole team was,” Blondin recounts. “No one said anything – everyone was just, maybe not in shock, but just so sad to see her retiring.
“I think we all saw it coming because we hadn’t seen her around this year yet, really, but her actually coming up to us and setting it in stone made everyone really sad.”
But, as a reflection of the humility and positive nature she carries in her personality, Groves was able to lighten up the moment.
“She said our reaction was completely different than most people,” Blondin smiles. “She said, ‘A lot of people when I told them I was retiring, they said, ‘You’re retiring – finally! ’”
Blondin didn’t get to know Groves super well since she only moved to Calgary a few months before Groves’ concussion in Berlin knocked her out of what turned out to be the final season of her career, but Blondin says it only took a quick moment for her to make an impression.
That was a sentiment shared by many others in the Ottawa sports community.
“She’s a very low-key person, very genuine, very soft-spoken,” describes Gerry Harrington, who coaches at Groves’ childhood Ottawa Pacers club. “At the same time, she’s certainly very comfortable in her own skin. What you see is exactly what you get.”
There were zero signs of the kind of international star Groves was whenever she came home for a visit from Calgary. And the Pacers were always appreciative that their club’s most famous member would always make an effort to drop by whenever she was in town on what was typically a short break from the grind of training.
“When she’s in Ottawa, she comes to the club functions and tries to come down to the year-end banquet,” notes Mike Rivet, a long-time Pacers coach. “And she’s absolutely amazing with the kids. When she gets out there on the ice with the kids, she’s just a bigger kid herself.”
‘THOUGHTFUL, ARTICULATE, AND APPRECIATIVE’
Groves has been recognized as Ottawa’s female athlete of the year five consecutive times. It’s an honour she was never been able to accept in person because the local banquet always took place during the height of her competition season.
But even though the four-time Olympic medalist was busy winning bigger prizes, Ottawa Sports Awards chair Doug Scorrar was impressed that Groves always took time to reflect on the significance of the award either by video or in writing.
“She communicates differently than most other athletes I know,” says Scorrar, explaining that Groves steers away from run-of-the-mill prescribed sentences, and is a talented writer, as evidenced by her intriguing blog posts on kristinagroves.ca. “She’s always acknowledged (the award) and been proud of it. And she’s always been thoughtful, very articulate, and appreciative of the support she’s gotten.”
Scorrar describes Groves’ parents, John and Elsa (who usually picked up the award on their daughter’s behalf), as “down-to-earth” and “proud but humble” people – traits that they certainly passed on to Kristina.
“She doesn’t do this for the recognition, it’s apparent,” Scorrar adds, highlighting that Groves’ unrelenting dedication to the hard work required to be her very best meant she could leave the sporting world satisfied with all she achieved. “It allowed her to retire without regrets. I can’t tell you how rare that is.”
Read related story: Groves’ ‘lasting impact’ to be felt for years‘
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