My speed skating memories haunt me.
Although I have achieved more than the majority of athletes — most with far more talent than I had — I will eternally feel as though I have overpromised and underdelivered in my career. My heart vacillates between bittersweet nostalgia and gratitude as I struggle to define the real meaning of victory. In a sport that is defined by tangible results and races won by thousandths of a second, how do you measure the metaphysical lessons learned from a 24-year career?
My resume includes two Olympic Games, six world championships, and a lifetime’s worth of World Cups — but in comparison to my famous athletic friends, my sporting accomplishments are meagre. I have never won an Olympic medal or a world title. I have tried my hardest and fallen short of a goal, and yet through that longing and pursuit, I have been granted an inalienable clarity on the meaning of life.
I am now faced with untangling the mess of having rock-solid self-belief contrasted with mediocre results. How am I to forgive myself for “what could have been?” I wish I had an answer; I can only offer my ability to be vulnerable and honest.
There were times when my career was tracking in the direction of being the next “great” Canadian sprinter. However, both physical injury and struggles with my mental health derailed that trajectory. I qualified for Vancouver 2010 as a dark horse; a 20-year-old who didn’t know much about life and who could have stood to gain 20 pounds.
I was naïve, and when I realized that the label of being “an Olympian” wasn’t going to cure the internal turmoil I was wrestling with regarding my sexual orientation and the crippling loneliness and shame that accompanied living in the closet, I became riddled with anxiety.
'Eroding mental health'
Feeling as though I was hiding my true self, I attached all of my self-worth to my results — further eroding my mental health and my love for sport. My focus shifted from enjoying the process to being solely transfixed by the outcome. Regardless of my placing or time, I would cross the finish line hating myself; knowing full well that the work I had put in, the hours of training, the time at the oval, skating around in a circle was never going to be enough to cure my cancerous lack of self-love.
When I had a good race, my smile didn’t touch my eyes; when I skated poorly, I would rather have been dead. I was looking for external rewards to cure my soul. It was the loneliest feeling in the world. It took years to live outside of the closet. It was an all-encompassing process, and although I am ashamed to admit how much I struggled to live an authentic life, to disregard that internal conflict would be a disservice to anyone struggling to come out. I know it’s 2018, but it is still an arduous process to find the courage to be true to yourself — if you don’t think it is, you need to educate yourself on the statistics regarding LGBTQ youth and suicide rates. For years I flirted with the idea of ending it all.
After years of paralyzing, internalized homophobia, I came out to my parents; my mother replied with tears: “We’re here to love, not judge.” It is — and will always be — the most eloquent thing I have ever heard. I am the humble product of two supportive parents who never pushed me to do anything that I didn’t want to do. Win or lose, they were always there. Ross and Anita Bucsis are two human beings who truly understand that cheering on the efforts of good people always makes the world a better place.
I have independent and confident women like Clara Hughes, Cindy Klassen, and Kristina Groves to guide me through stormy waters. I am blessed to have the Caroline Ouellettes, the Patrick Chans, the Mark Tewksburys, and the Brian Burkes of the world — people who have pulled me aside, hugged me hard, and reaffirmed that “small, bigoted minds never succeed.” All of these people came into my life because of sport.
'Learned how to succeed'
When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be Catriona Le May Doan. I failed in reaching that goal.
I didn’t end up winning three Olympic medals, and I have never had Steve Armitage so eloquently catapult my name into Canadian Olympic lore.
But I am truly grateful that I was given the privilege to try, and grateful that I was given the privilege to fail. Through failing, I learned how to succeed.
“Olympism” is not inherent in winning a medal, but in showing the strength and tenacity of the human spirit. Where I once saw sport as something that alienated and disconnected me during my struggles of self-acceptance, I now see it for what it can be: a catalyst to repair the frailty of the human spirit.
Sport shows us that our similarities far outweigh our differences, and teaches us that it’s the people in life that make it work, not the things.
Speed skating has opened up a world of opportunities for me that far surpass the cold cement walls of the Calgary Olympic Oval. It was my ultimate vehicle for self-exploration and self-love. Speed skating is the love of my life, and has introduced me to every significant relationship I have had. I would be nothing without it.
I now realize that it was never about the races or results. It was about the values that those races and results taught me. The fickleness of sport teaches you that integrity is everything, and that the strongest thing you can do is live your values in the face of uncertainty.
And now — after the party is over — I’m granted the opportunity to reflect back on a career that “could have been.” It is daunting, and I do not have all the answers as to how my past will shape my future. Change is exhausting, but it is also electrifying. It offers unheralded opportunities; and through all this, I am not alone. I have friends who are in fact walking next to me, looking for the after party.
(Large photo by Tanya Casole-Gouveia/CBC Sports; Middle large photo submitted by Shaats Fotos)
10 quick answers from Anastasia Bucsis
Q: The best book you've ever read?
A: Open by Andre Agassi.
Q: Must-listen Podcast?
A: Ladies Locker Room by Tessa Bonhomme.
Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called?
A: Just a simple Catholic girl with a guilty conscience.
Q: What word or phrase do you overuse?
A: "12/10,"; "No drama,"; "I'm not trying to be a dink."
Q: What is a skill you wish you had?
A: To sing.
Q: What's something no one would guess about you?
A: I hate playing board games.
Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite?
A: Cher, Jennifer Lawrence, Bette Midler, Meryl Streep, Adele, and Jennifer Aniston ... and I'm sure we'd get into the wine so I don't know how influential this dinner party would be.
Q: What makes you cry, every time?
A: Soldiers returning home to family.
Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
A: To educate myself on investing and the stock market.