Fig­ure skater Gabrielle Dale­man-who just turned 16- on her ini­tial aver­sion to the ice, her ath­lete friends and her hopes for the Olympics. by Ju­dith Muster

Richmond Hill Post - - Life -

To cel­e­brate her 16th birth­day this Jan­uary, Gabrielle Dale­man spent the day in me­dia meet­ings and in­dulged in a sin­gle birth­day cookie. She also cheered from the bleachers as her younger brother fig­ure skated his way to fifth place at na­tion­als, in the novice di­vi­sion. It was not your av­er­age sweet 16 be­cause Dale­man is not your av­er­age teenager.

Just one day be­fore her birth­day, the Toronto na­tive was cho­sen to rep­re­sent Canada at the up­com­ing Sochi Olympics as part of the high-oc­tane Cana­dian Olympic fig­ure skat­ing team. She is the youngest ath­lete of the bunch.

The se­lec­tion was an­nounced af­ter Dale­man skated to sec­ond place at se­nior na­tion­als — a spot she also claimed last year. Need­less to say, it was a dream come true for the fiercely de­voted ath­lete who is able to re­call the pre­cise mo­ment her Olympic hopes crys­tal­lized:

“When I was eight, I was watch­ing Joan­nie Ro­chette at the 2006 Torino Olympics, and I said to my par­ents, ‘ That’s what I want to do when I’m older. I want to go to the Olympics and wear that Canada jacket and rep­re­sent Canada.’ ”

At that time, Dale­man al­ready had years of skat­ing un­der her belt. She first stepped on the ice at age four, in a some­what in­aus­pi­cious de­but for a fu­ture Olympian.

“I did not want to get on that ice,” she re­calls. “I sat and cried.” Yet once she stead­ied her­self and skated, “they couldn’t get me off the ice.”

Shortly there­after, Dale­man launched into a four-times-aweek prac­tice regime that would grow ex­po­nen­tially over the years and yield clear div­i­dends. Nowa­days she trains five hours a day at the Rich­mond Train­ing Cen­tre in Rich­mond Hill.

By the time she was 12, Dale­man was com­pet­ing at the na­tional level as a novice, and her coach sug­gested she move up to ju­niors the fol­low­ing year. His in­tu­ition served Dale­man well: she won ju­nior na­tion­als, prompt­ing her jump to se­niors just one year ago.

Dale­man’s skat­ing abil­i­ties have taken her to plenty of farflung lo­cales, like the Nether­lands, Es­to­nia and Ja­pan, where the young ath­lete got the chance to take a turn on the ice with the big­gest names in Cana­dian skat­ing, in­clud­ing Pa­trick Chan. “She loved it,” says Dale­man’s mother, Rhonda Raby, of the ex­pe­ri­ence. “She was skat­ing with the stars.”

As with any se­ri­ous ath­lete, Dale­man’s suc­cess re­sults from a fine bal­ance of tal­ent and ded­i­ca­tion. The tal­ent is be­yond her con­trol, but Dale­man is con­stantly re­new­ing her com­mit­ment to her sport by tak­ing on ev­ery chal­lenge in her path.

“I like to set my goals higher so I can push my­self more,” she says, de­scrib­ing her ap­proach to train­ing. “We have a lower goal and then a bonus, but I al­ways like reach­ing for the bonus in­stead of the lower goal be­cause it pushes me more.”

This sin­gle-minded zeal sep­a­rates her from most other teenagers, in­clud­ing those at Rich­mond Green Sec­ondary School where Dale­man is in Grade 10. While her peers may be tweet­ing about their lat­est mu­sic video dis­cov­ery, Dale­man’s twit­ter feed is a stream of mo­ti­va­tional quotes and apho­risms, re­minders that “win­ners don’t wait for chances, they take them.”

Dale­man is well aware of the di­vide be­tween her and her class­mates. Al­though she is a fear­less on-ice per­former, she ad­mits that, off ice, she’s ac­tu­ally a bit of an in­tro­vert.

“I like to keep things more to my­self than out­side,” says Dale­man. “Skat­ing is the one place I ex­press my­self. If you ask any­one at my school, I’m re­ally shy, and I don’t re­ally talk to peo­ple I don’t know at all.”

Al­though her high school peers may not know an axel from a Sal­chow, Dale­man’s fig­ure skat­ing friends have been there with her ev­ery step, jump and spin along the way.

“They’re just the best. They’re so sup­port­ive,” Dale­man says. “They help me with my nerves and frus­tra­tion, or if I get, like, wor­ried, they all help me with it.”

Even with the un­wa­ver­ing sup­port of her friends (and of course of her fam­ily — Dale­man’s fa­ther is her off-ice coach and her mother han­dles the me­dia), Dale­man is all on her own once she steps on the ice. At na­tion­als, she han­dled her nerves like a pro.

“Once I heard the crowd, I felt at home,” she says. “So then I was like, ‘OK, let’s show ev­ery­one what I’ve been work­ing on and what I’ve been train­ing my whole life for.’ ”

Now, as she looks ahead to Sochi, with rou­tines chore­ographed by the world-renowned Lori Ni­chol, Dale­man is sim­ply ex­cited to par­tic­i­pate and cheer her team­mates on. “I’ll be happy just watch­ing the com­pe­ti­tion from the fam­ily lounge in the Canada room — that would be great.”

In prepa­ra­tion for her own pro­gram, Dale­man’s rou­tine is a com­bi­na­tion of her nor­mal train­ing rou­tine and a slew of me­dia ap­pear­ances. Amid the ex­cite­ment, she is main­tain­ing her fine-tuned fo­cus on her sport and on the fun­da­men­tal rea­son she skates.

“I just talk to my­self, know­ing that I trust my train­ing, and I tell my­self just to have fun,” Dale­man says. “You worked hard, but if you don’t have fun then there’s no point in do­ing it. I love hav­ing fun skat­ing and it’s what I do.”

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