Skater in Residence Blog #2 – Elladj Baldé

I am so happy to be able to share another little bit about myself for the Skater in Residence blog. This time, since we just wrapped up the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships 2020, I thought I would use this opportunity to talk about my last national championships and what I have learned from that experience.

To start, I want to take you guys back to the 2014 Olympic trials in Ottawa. I was ready to take my spot and realize my dream. That being, not only going to the Olympics but going back to Russia where I was born for what would have been my first competition there. I never would have imagined not making the Olympic team, but it happened. The first 3 solidified their spots, I placed 4th. The devastation and sadness I felt were unlike anything I had experienced before in my life. I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest with the feeling that I had just let everyone I knew and loved down. The pain was so intense that for a moment I thought it would be impossible to overcome it. Nonetheless, the fire in my soul grew stronger and more powerful. As I watched all my teammates celebrate and get their Olympic jackets, I thought to myself, ‘’I will never let this happen again’’!

Now that brings me to the 2018 Olympic season, my time to redeem myself and prove to the world that I deserved to be there. To prove that I was good enough. The year started with incredible summer training. My quads were stronger than ever and my 3 axel was flawless. I was finally tapping into my artistry with two programs that I felt described me perfectly as a person. I was ready to attack the season and get my spot at the Olympics. Still with this lingering feeling of needing to prove that I was enough and that I had done enough in my career. Up until that time I had a strong feeling that if I were to quit or not make it, it would make me feel like I didn’t do enough in my career. But this time, this chance to make it to the Olympics was mine to take. Or at least I thought.

As the summer was ending, the real season was about to start. I was about two weeks away from my first international competition of the season, Autumn Classic, when something truly unexpected happened that would change the course of my life. When I stepped on the ice that Monday morning, I remember feeling a little bit off (If you’re an athlete you know what this means). Like any athlete would do, I brushed it off and kept pushing through. Halfway through my session, I started a run-through of my short program to The Sound of Silence – which always, since the first moment I heard it spoke to me in the language of pain, darkness, and suffering. I had no idea that this paradigm would manifest itself physically into my life. About 15 seconds into my routine – just at the moment where the lead singer speaks the words ‘’Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again’’ – I tripped over my toe pick and crashed into the boards with a significant amount of speed.

For a brief moment I thought I was ok but quickly realized I wasn’t. I know very well those symptoms of a concussion as I’ve had suffered 5 in the previous years.

The next few months were brutal. From having to withdraw from 3 international competitions to not being able to train properly or worst of all not being able to just simply sleeping. This went on and on, week after week. A month went by, my symptoms didn’t improve. Another month went by and still not getting better. At that point, I was starting to realize that maybe not only will I not be able to make it to the Olympics but potentially not even have the chance to compete in the trials. This thought was devastating and depressing. My dreams of making the Olympic team were slowly fading and I felt that each day that passed, this dream was getting further and further away from me. I was petrified.

But then, again something truly unexpected happened. As I was slowly giving up on my career and falling deeper into depression, my youngest sister called and said that she saw a good friend of mine today. And that good friend had something to say to me. She then relayed the message and spoke 3 words that changed my life and the rest of my competitive career. LET IT GO.

This hit me like a massive wave. I instantly felt a release. It was like 1000 pounds were taken off of my shoulder and I could finally breathe again. I guess what I’m trying to say is that in letting go, I was going to learn to accept myself and my career. I came to the realization that I had to accept the fact that if my career were to end now, today, it was ok. I had done enough and I was enough.

At that point, I started feeling better and within a few days, I was ready to start training again. But at that moment, I had one month left before Nationals. It was not much time to prepare especially after being off for nearly 3 months. But I trained harder than I ever did.

I arrived at the Olympic trials and I was ready. But this time I was ready to perform and to put on a show. I felt free and in control. And because of that, I had the best performances of my career

I have included a link to one of my last performances as a competitive figure skater. I did not make it to the Olympics but I felt as though I had received the best gift ever. I felt that all of the work I was doing within myself had come to fruition and I was able to execute the performance of my life in a high-pressure competition setting. I was so consumed with joy and pride and I couldn’t have been happier with the way my competitive career ended. This performance was a catalyst to a new mindset about myself. As athletes, we are programmed to strive for only one goal which is to be the Olympic Champion. Through setbacks in my competitive career as well as this fulfilling performance, I started to realize that my purpose was so much bigger than that. I want to connect with people and make them feel something. I want to help make this world a better place through my performances and choreography. I started to feel so excited about the unknown road ahead of my retirement knowing that I was capable of shaping my life exactly how I wanted to.

Thank you all who read my little stories, I wish you all Joy and Love.

Elladj Baldé