Canadian skater Kaetlyn Osmond fights off doubts in comeback from broken leg
'I was scared to get on the ice,' reigning world silver medallist reflects on recovery
By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Kaetlyn Osmond's comeback began in an empty West Edmonton Mall at 7 a.m.
Knowing she would be terrified when she stepped on the ice, her longtime coach Ravi Walia booked a private session at the cavernous mall's Ice Palace to avoid the curious eyes of shoppers.
"It was early in the recovery and she wasn't doing so well," Walia said.
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Osmond took Walia's arm for her first tentative steps. And the powerful skater who once flew so fearlessly over the ice took a full 30 minutes to circle the rink once.
"It was [emotional]," Walia said. "To think that this person had just been at the Olympics half a year earlier was now at the lowest point physically and I think mentally. She just lost all her confidence, didn't really believe that she could ever come back. It was a difficult time."
First steps were 'terrifying'
The 22-year-old from Marystown, N.L., broke her fibula in her right leg in two places in September 2014 when she swerved to avoid hitting a skater in practice. Her X-rays showed the bone snapped sideways — think of how a rubber boot bends when you try to put your foot in and miss.
Those first steps, Osmond said, were "terrifying."
"I was scared to put my skates on, I was scared to get on the ice, I was scared to be on the ice with other people," said the reigning world silver medallist. "And then there was the fear of competing again, and putting myself in front of a crowd again, in front of judges again. It all scared me in ways that I had never felt toward skating.
"I was never scared of trying new things. I was never scared of falling, or running into someone on the ice, I was so fearless on the ice. And then it all switched so quickly. It definitely was what I thought the end of my career."
Her dad Jeff drove her to practice in the early days of her comeback. Her mom Jackie couldn't bear to see the fear on her daughter's face, so stayed away from the rink for the first three months.
Falling back in love with skating
Walia, meanwhile, played the part of coach and psychologist.
"I was trying to find a strategy to get her to step on the ice, and then the next step get her to fall in love with skating again, and want to come back and train. It was not easy," said the 44-year-old coach.
He'd remind her of better days, when she won back-to-back national titles, and how it felt to be on top. He tapped into her love of performing and convinced her to do an ice show.
"I was just trying to find ways to get her back," said Walia, whose partnership with Osmond stretches back 12 years.
His gentle nudging worked. Osmond clung to Walia's belief in her like she once clutched his arm.
"I think the first year I was back on the ice was fully because I didn't want to disappoint him," she said. "I wanted to keep skating for him. And that kept me going for a year before I could finally figure out why I wanted to skate again."
The injury kept her off the competitive ice for the better part of a year, and required two surgeries, the second to remove the plate and seven screws holding the bone together. Rather than watch the 2015 national championships that she missed, she fled to Mexico that week, leaving her laptop at home.
Osmond's wavering confidence showed up in a few shaky performances, but she finally capped her remarkable comeback with a silver medal at the world championships in Finland where teammate Gabrielle Daleman captured bronze. Together they became the first Canadian women to ever share a world championship podium.
Now the duo have the Olympic podium in sight in Pyeongchang. Joannie Rochette's bronze eight years ago in Vancouver was the last medal at the Winter Games for a Canadian woman.
Daleman, from Newmarket, Ont., won the national championships on her 20th birthday, scoring a Canadian-record 229.78. Osmond uncharacteristically fell twice to finish second with 218.73.
'Stronger' than before
Rather than feel defeated, Osmond said the silver will only bolster her Olympic resolve.
"It's going to give me an extra boost ... to make up for the mistakes that I made [at nationals]," she said.
The Olympic women's event, which begins with the short program Wednesday, was made more intriguing when two-time world champ Evgenia Medvedeva was upstaged by 15-year-old Russian teammate Alina Zagitova at the European championships. Medvedeva is coming back from a fractured foot.
Osmond's fracture, her parents said, made her a more resilient competitor.
"Absolutely," said Jackie. "I think it also made her stronger and more independent to know it was her sport, and not the little girl's sport that we put her in as a family raising her. This time she was an adult. It was her choice and it was her hard work that brought her back. So just a totally different mindset in my opinion."
She'll take that new mindset into Pyeongchang, four years after she finish 13th at the Sochi Games.
"The first [Olympics] was a bit more of a surprise, because we were never expecting 2014," her dad said. "And then now, coming back from the injury, up until worlds last year, we weren't even considering [the Olympics] for this year.
"It's great to see her go back, and now I think she's contending."