Player's Own Voice

transcript: Player's Own Voice Podcast with Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu

Conversation with Speedskater Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu, who had a dazzling junior debut, ran afoul of an abusive coach, quit skating for four years, and returned to the ice full of renewed love for his sport.

episode published March 17 2022

 

Anastasia:  You could make a movie about Antoine Gelinas Beaulieu's athletic career. He was a precocious kid, crushing junior world championships in both long and short track speedskating. Literally, Nobody does that.

But then overtraining and an abusive coach left Tony physically and mentally injured. He retired at age 20.

Hollywood loves a comeback story...and he has a beauty to tell.

Just before we get there, I do want to add,  that the speedskating Canada of today is a very different organization from the one that Antoine Gélinas Beaulieu endured as a young athleteright..

The leadership learned from those years, and it needs mentioning, their coaching and developing of young athletes is much healthier now.

It's Player's Own Voice.  I'm Anastasia Bucsis

 Anastasia:  Antoine, I had the pleasure of watching you, of course, in Beijing, I was in the mix zone and every time I saw you, you had the biggest smile on your face. So much gratitude. You have a big smile right now. So you know, we're obviously chatting today with a smile. Proof that your story has a very happy ending. But when you were a promising, junior skater, you suffered badly with an abusive coach. Can you share some of that experience with our listeners?

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, of course. Well, it first started when the coach obviously came in the programme. I was at first with a wonderful coach that was there at the Olympics. Stephen Gough, US coach right now of speed skating, short track speed skating. And he was a wonderful coach. He listened to me. And I mean, it was a great first experience.

But when the second coach came in, it was already a structure, a programme, a bit toxic,  Just before Vancouver 2010. The big emphasis was on getting as much medals as we could and it impacted all the structures so that the direction the coaches, everything was going to getting some medals at the Olympics and I was I was a junior like. My main objective wasn't to get at the Olympics, it was just to still progress and have fun and the coach came in and he came right on with a big expectation of us. And I also had big expectation for my last year of Junior. So the previous year, I finished second in the world junior in short track

Anastasia:  which is amazing!

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, yeah, it was. It was an amazing performance. I was, I was. I was loving it also, and I was becoming really good at it, at speed skating. And I did long track as well and I finished third the same year. So my big objective, you know, my ego was big and I really wanted to win at both. So win the junior in short track and long track, which has never been done before. And with that kind of structure, a bit toxic environment, there was some intimidation going on. You know, when you see a little kid come up like this little star, you want to show him how to do it right and you want to you know that the people that were there, kind of took it as a bit of an attack.

I was kind of goofy. I was coming to the training. I was a warming up on a unicycle and I was like kind of going around and just having fun, you know, and people that took it very seriously, I guess took it as an attack on  themself or, I don't know. So it was like I try to make my way in, but it was hard. I've had some experience where partners, training partners really intimidated me, where I needed to leave the environment, and the coach didn't really do any thing. And the coach as well was intimidating me. So saying things like, you know, the girls I trained before were better than you at this or why are you always not? It's kind of repetitive, you know?

So the coach didn't have my back, and for me, it was he was a bully. He was a straight up bully. So the way I acted with bullies before was to prove them wrong. And that's what I tried to do it with this guy. But you never win by trying to prove everybody's wrong. You know you're doing it for someone else, the motivation is not right. So I, even though our programme was very, very intensive, it was almost violent. It was so,  intense. I wanted to prove to everybody that I had my place. So after three months, I had tendonitis and I was overtrained and I was a mess. Like, now my body, I neglected my body and my coaches also neglected my body. And every time I tried to come back to training this year, I was being shut down like, well, why are not in top shape again? And why are you not this and that? And I even had panic attacks, which I thought was an asthma crisis at the time. It kind of was, but it was triggered by a panic attack.

Anastasia:  It was psychosomatic?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Exactly. Yeah.

Anastasia:  Isn't that frustrating, though, I just want to quickly say, you know, you came to training as an 18 year old having fun warming up on a unicycle. It frustrates me to no end when people try and put people in boxes with their ideal preparation. Yeah, because who is to say that that is not ideal preparation? Maybe you needed to get your heart rate up a little bit more. But if you need to have fun and feel relaxed, let the kid ride a unicycle.

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, I know, and I just heard, a coach told me that it's very good preparation for balance because your centre of gravity is not in the middle. So it's like it's a perfect warmup for speed skating, you know? And I did it intuitively. So like, it's yeah, when you put people in boxes, you lose a lot of the freedom that can happen with the sport. So I totally agree with what you say.

Anastasia:  So, you know, you mentioned that you had tendonitis after three months, which is a little bit alarming being that you were 18. What else were some of the warning signs that you when something's not quite right here?

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, so well what it was the asthma crisis that I thought was asthma crisis and I was being shut down. My coach told me that I was kind of faking it, because I didn't want to race or because I wasn't in shape, you know? So that was kind of a big, traumatising event.

Anastasia:  Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I mean, you just said you were second in the world for world juniors and you were third for long Track World Junior. Yeah, I've never met anyone to achieve that.

 Antoine Gélinas-BeaulieuYeah, yeah, exactly. And it was that next year and the first competition I was doing the asthma crisis, panic attacks. I was having a lot of anxiety and when I came back from that competition, I was in the depression. You know, I couldn't really come back to training because my coach wasn't supporting me and I thought my body was having something wrong and I never thought of my, mind or my mental health. And we, my parents and I, we tried everything and with the doctor as well at the team we tried, we did so many tests that the hospital we thought it was my lungs, my heart, that we really looked at every single body part except my mental health. So that was kind of the whole process for the year. I tried to come back and I was having shutdowns.

I could train a little bit and then blacking out because it was too hard for my body and it still was psychosomatic, you know, but I was seeing stars, blacking out. I was having panic attacks, asthma crises like it was a hell of a year. And then at the end of the year, Gregor,  a coach here in Quebec City. He told me, Hey, just come, come home and have fun because I really wanted to go to the world Juniors and Canada games at this time was kind of the second choice.

So, Gregor told me, Hey, just come with us and long track, you know, get a break from short track and just have fun and compete in a nice environment. So I was like, Yeah, sure. And then I came to the Canada games and had no symptoms whatsoever. I won five gold medals at those Canada games and I had so much fun. No, blacking out. No asthma  crisis, nothing. And it didn't even ring a bell for me at this time. I was just like, Oh, I'm getting back in shape, you know, I'm getting back into it, so I can go back to short track, back to training with the guys. And so I did that. And then all the problems came back again.

Anastasia:  It's so wild how having struggles with your mental health can look as though you're simply just overtrained.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, and that the acknowledgement wasn't there. People didn't really know what to do with overtraining also, and we knew it was kind of a burnout, but we didn't put a word to it. We didn't say at first it was overtraining. It was after like the whole year that we said, Oh, maybe it's overtraining. You know that I was going through. At first  we just thought it was a health issue, a  physical health issue. So, yeah, so and then I tried coming back with the and …

They did try to do something for me and for all the other guys that had 'tendonitis' as well, because I wasn't the only one. We were five, I think that had the tendonitis because the idea was 700 squats for one training session. It was something just out of this world like it wasn't healthy and what we were going. But at that time, when I came back after that year, they did try to do a kind of protocol going back to training all that the physicians and like the health support that was there. They kind of tried to push forward just rehab, and that's what I did.

But I was not having fun anymore, like I was going to training just to to do rehab and to do all the things that I needed to do to itself. I just lost all the pleasure in it. That year I tried to do competition. But I, lost my passion. So at the end of the year, I chose to stop skating because I had to retire, because the fun wasn't there the passion wasn't there. And it still was a very fresh, traumatic, traumatising event for me, and I decided I needed to take a step back. Yeah.

Anastasia:  And how long did you take a step back for? It was. It was a few years.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, for four years.

Anastasia:  Four years. What? What helped you the most when you took a step back from skating?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Just going into a new environment, you know, when it's like Plato's cave when you like, you only know one reality. Just being aware of that there. was another thing because I always I lived through my teenage years just skating, thinking about skating, just doing skating. Yeah, I was having fun. I was doing other things. But my main goal, my main purpose was skating. You know, I wasn't going out with friends. I wasn't travelling. I wasn't even studying because  at the time, the programme really didn't allow us to to study. I even in my fifth high school year when I was 15 16, they didn't want me to go to school, so I needed to go every two weeks to go to school, try to take some notes and try to do the exams and everything. And then I would go back to training because it was a full time job. We had to go at the Oval at 8 am and we left the Oval at 5pm. So yeah, that was my that was my life from 16 to 20. So, yeah, when I did retire, I needed that time back. So just like having no restriction,  I travelled. I went back to. I worked in bars, I partied, I was having fun with friends and I just took that time that I felt that was lost to me. So that that was that summed up pretty much the four years when I retired. Yeah.

Anastasia:  So how did you come back? And I can't imagine after four years thinking, Oh, I want to go and do all those squats again.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, well, it was a process, a few months process. I first came across, his name was Steve Robillard. He was a short track speed skater, part of the national team. He was a sub for the Olympics at Turin?  I think?  No, before that?  Torino, yeah. 2006. He was a sub there and he kind of… he was an outsider. He always was very creative, very open minded. He brings so much to the sport. And I really loved the guy, and he stopped because kind of the same reason, you know, he didn't want to fit into a box and he felt the environment was very toxic.

So he left the training centre. But he still had a foot in in the sport, he was coaching at Montreal, in the speedskating club, coaching youngsters. And I came across him in the metro station and we chatted a little bit and he was talking to me about this weird technique to be able to skate on snow. And I was like, What? What are you talking about? That intrigues me. So we went to the park and skated on snow for all afternoon and then he offered me a job at coaching and I was kind of tired of working at bars, you know, working night shifts, and having not a very healthy lifestyle. So I go back, I went to coach with him for a few months and I really loved it, just putting my skates back again. I hadn't put my skates back on for four years, so just putting the skates and teaching kids and having fun and doing it another way, Steve Robillard's way, was wonderful and I really loved it. And then through that process, well, I coached some competitions around Quebec, the province of Quebec. So then I started to talk to people, more people and also talk to Gregor, the coach here. And I was offered a small conference about overtraining to talk about my what I've been through, and I really didn't talk about the toxic environment. I really just talked about what overtraining is. It was much later that I kind of discovered that I was part of an abusive relationship in a toxic environment.

But at the time, I was just glad that to talk about overtraining, you know? So then I go back to  call my coach here in Quebec and he always told me the door is always open here. If you want to go back, come back, you come back. So then I call him and I say, Yeah, I'm ready to do the move. So I moved to Quebec in the summer of 2015, and my programme was just doing bike all summer, just zone one bicycle, having fun, going back in a very slowly enjoyable way. And yeah, that first year was really great. I did a workup in Calgary that first year or so.

Anastasia:  Which is kind of unbelievable.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, I was glad I was coming, like kind of coming back to a high level and then the symptoms came back, you know, the asthma crisis. And then I was like, why? Why? What is happening? You know, I'm not overtraining anymore. There is no way I'm overtraining. I'm under trained. So how can this happen again? Because I was always linking those symptoms with with that, the overtraining. So then that's when I started looking deeper into what I what I've been through and trying to….

At first, I was very hesitant. I was like, No, I'm … because when you're an athlete, you have big, you build yourself big walls that you like. Your ego is very strong and hard, and you don't want to let anybody in. So just acknowledging that you may have some mental issues? That was a big step for me. So but when I did, that's when that that's when the health came in, and that's when I started talking more about it. And that's when it snowballed after that. Yeah.

Anastasia:  I can't imagine what must have gone through Gregor's mind when you called him after four years. I would love to have been a fly on the wall. Yeah, Mon français est mauvais, mais. I would have loved to have heard it.

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, what I've heard is that he was yelling in the centre. Just really, really happy to hear that I was coming back because we always had a great relationship and I always loved him and he always loved me as well.

[music]

Anastasia:  May I ask and I ask because it's close to my heart as well. People say that it has really helped them to get over trauma by finding empathy with the biggest villain in their story. And forgiveness is a very tall ask. Where are you with that journey?

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  It is hard because you know,when there's a person that has been abusive to you or you have some traumatising linked to that, you feel very small when you, you, you are in contact with that person. And I've been just in contact once one time since I since I've been through this and that one time he didn't address me. He didn't even look at me. I think he you kind of knew and I mean, in the kind of the forgiveness process,  right now I know that he's in Quebec City.

He was coaching, after because he was kicked out of speed skating Canada and then he went to coach for Italy. And what I've heard, he's been kicked out of Italy as well. So I mean, I don't want revenge. I don't want … I just don't want him in a position of power again. On the matter of forgiveness. I really forgive him for what he's done to me because, what I feel like is he that he didn't know any better and he was also in an environment that was very toxic. It's a culture. Like when there's things that happens like this, it's not just the coach. We don't, we don't. There's not just one scapegoat. There's a lot of people involved in those, those environments. So I mean, yeah, I'm just glad that he's not in a position of power again. Yeah.

Anastasia:  You have been so eloquent about the importance of inspiring kids to take up this silly little sport of skating around. Yeah, and so many, you know, athletes say that,' oh yeah, to inspire the next generation' but you truly live it like you're not just saying it.  Where does that come from?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Well, it comes from my own experience. I was inspired when I was young and it helped me go through this crazy sport. I was a very active kid when I was young and I, I was going around trying to view sport and but nothing really stuck with me until I watched 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. And that's really when I knew that this was my sport and it brings me so much joy, so much struggle, but also life lessons, you know?

So if I can just bring in…. also a lot of people helped me through what I did. There was some bad times through my trajectory. So there was a lot of like bad times, but there was there were also so many people helping me. So if I can spark that or if I can help spark that in kids eyes and that they can just follow through passion and a goal, that they would mean the world for me, for sure. Yeah.

Anastasia:  So you say so many life lessons? I have to brag because you essentially write your programme by yourself, correct?

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  It's… right now. It's a process. It's a communication process. We do it all by ourselves. But Gregor is a big believer in letting the athlete kind of guide where he wants to go.

Anastasia:  So that's amazing.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  I know it is.

Anastasia:  And yeah, you've sorry, you've said his name. Gregor Jelinek, of course, is one of the national team coaches for speed skating long track who you take under. Yeah, but it's such a physiological sport. I mean, nothing is left to chance. It's like, OK, I know that I have to push this many what's on the bike. I know I have to do this many squats. I know that my heart rate has to be 147 and not 151 at this point in the race, like, how do you trust yourself to write that?

 

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  It's hard at first because when like when I first struggled going back to skating after my retirement, at one point I lost confidence in Gregor and all the coaches. I lost confidence in all my supporting staff, and I was just: I'll do it by myself. And that's when the ego came back and I wanted to protect, and I didn't want to feel vulnerable again with the with those people. And I did some things that were very right for me, and I did some things that were very wrong for me as well.

 

Anastasia:  what were the wrong things?

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  wrong things? Doing way too much in general. Like the rest, the part is very is very important in any sport. It's that that's where you make the gains, you know, so. But when you don't ….

Anastasia:  You need to hang out with me!  Hang out with me. I was a 500 metre skater. I'll make sure you get enough rest!

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, I was just, during that time I would just wake up and then that was I would be like, OK, next, next morning, I'll go to Montreal. So I'll do 300 kilometres to go and 300 kilometres by to go back. And that would be my training for the  week, you know? So it was, there was just way too much. And but like I learnt during the process to trust the people around me more trust Gregor, trust the coaches,. And it was also kind of therapeutic for me because I, yeah, I had the traumatising events when I was younger and I didn't trust all the supporting staff anymore.

So, yeah, right now it's more of a conversation. So when I like he, when he does the programme, he propose it to me and I looked at it like, Oh yeah, that would be good. But I feel like this day, you know, I could do something a little bit different. What do you think about this?  oh yeah, that's a good idea. Like it's a very conversational kind of thing. And he does the same with all his well, not all of his skaters because he has a lot of skaters and he couldn't do that with everybody, you know, have 50 different programmes. That would be crazy, but like he does that with Laurent as well, and he does that with the skaters that he knows, that know themselves well. He does that and he told me once, like, you know, you're the captain of your own ship, I just helped you navigate it. Yeah. So yeah,

Anastasia:  I love that,'cause I think so many athletes, you know, they do lose the fact that they are the captain of their ship, of their life. When we think, Oh, we have to follow the programme to a tee or, you know, if we don't do this, it's never going to work out, whereas sometimes putting people in boxes or having stipulations that aren't coming from within?  Now I'm not saying you can skip every single programme, I'm not saying that at all, but. It must feed something inside of you to your hunger, your motivation to know that you really do have that agency.

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, exactly. And then there is also like, there's positives and there is negatives about everything. You know, it's very reassuring to have a very well-structured programme because you know that if if it doesn't go your way, you kind of know where to point, you know: I did exactly this programme. So and this doesn't work. So maybe we try to tweak this or to that. But like for me, it works so much better to be able to have a little bit more freedom in my training, in my lifestyle as well. It doesn't work for everybody, for sure, but it does work for me and what I appreciate, and I'm very glad and also grateful is that my coach respects that and he go along with it. So.

Anastasia:  What gives you the most fulfilment from sport?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Just training, getting better every day. That's what I really love when I finished first finished, when I finished my race at the Olympics at the end of the Olympics, I was having a big smile, just thinking about all the things that I could improve. Because, you know, when you're competing, it's you're putting yourself out there and you, you know, you know, very well your strength and your weaknesses. Like you measure yourself against all of the other people like you physically can see how much distance you need to get to the first position, you know. So, so for me, I kind of think for me, it's a creative process up to this point. And I was just thinking about all the tweaks I could do to my training and all the things I could do for the future. And I am so much motivated by that, you know. Doing competition for too long, it brings me down at some point. I like to get back to to my own stuff, to training. And so. So yeah, I think that's the best way. And it's  small things. You know, it's going back to the ice for the first time of the season, feeling the wind, the cold, the cold air, feeling your weight transfer from one skate to the other, controlling the element, controlling the environment, getting all the sensations in your place. All those little things bring me bring me so much joy. So I think that's what fulfil me the most in speedskating and in sport.

Anastasia:  Well, the Beijing Olympics for about 15 minutes ago. So I don't I don't pretend that you'll have all the answers or I don't assume that you have all the answers. But what's next? I mean, you did kind of hint, you said. I'm excited for Italy. So what? What does from now until your race in Italy look like? What are you going to work on?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, like I won't. I getting to thirty-three, in four years. I'm 29 now.

Anastasia:  that's a good number.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  It's a lucky number. But like I, I need to be truthful about my own with myself. There is a lot of young skaters that are getting stronger and thank God it will bring me to my A-game for the next season and the next few seasons. But yeah, I've just tried to keep bettering myself every day, every year, for sure. I want to go back to Italy and be even more competitive.

For Beijing, my life, and prior to Beijing, my only goal was to get to the Olympics. And I did, and I'm very glad I did. And for the next one, for sure, I want to get a medal. I want to go out there and prove to myself that I can. I can take that journey and try to try to better myself or so and specialise, maybe a bit more. I did way too much.

Anastasia:  You skated what the five hundred?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah,

Anastasia:  The thousand?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah,

Anastasia:  The 1500M

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  yeah

Anastasia:  the mass start?

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, the mass start as well. So yeah,

Anastasia: So like you were saying, jack of all trades.

Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Almost, Yeah, yeah, exactly. So I I think I would need to have a few, a few more well, maybe less cards and maybe better cards in my hand. So for that, mass start is the way to go. For me, it's the race I enjoy the most and I feel like I have a good intuition for that race. So for sure, I'm going to concentrate on that race and to do so, I need to go back to 5ks so longer, longer distances.  So five hundred, one thousand metre, maybe once in a while, but it won't be in my programme so much. It will be much more 1500, 5k, and then the mass start for the spotlight. Yeah, 

Anastasia:  Yuck! Fifteen hundred and five K, it's like, Oh I don't envy you that, but I will be very happy when I see you in Italy doing big things. So it has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you, my friend, and thank you so much for sharing your story. I just I admire and respect you so much.

 Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu:  Yeah, thank you so much for letting me tell my story. Yeah.

Anastasia:  Thanks, Tony. Peace.

[music]

I make no secret of my love of Speed Skating,  and this was a difficult story for me to hear.  It is necessary though, because what happened to Tony is not unique to his sport, and when we share these stories, we can help people who have had similar experiences, and perhaps help prevent this type of abuse from recurring.'

Antoine was in Quebec City  I recorded my end from home in Toronto.

Players Own Voice podcast is a cbc sports production.  We're available on CBC Listen and everywhere else you get your podcasts.

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My handle is Anastasure .

Olivia Pasquarelli edits our audio.

Adam Blinov wrote our theme music.

David Giddens is our producer.

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