Maddison Pearman skates in the 500m at the long track speed skating Canadian Championships at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta on October 18, 2019. (Photo: Dave Holland/CSI Calgary)

After a long and winding road, Maddison Pearman is back on the international stage

Like all of us, she had doubts.

Like all of us, she needed to show progress.

The questions would always come about how she was doing, are you winning and then inevitably, will we see you at the Olympics?

Sometimes frustratingly, that was the only measure of success people noticed. The incremental time increases, the progress in the gym or in practice, meant little in the grand scheme of success. She wanted the Olympics as bad as the people asking the questions. She knew they meant it out of love and support, but it was hard.

Maddison Pearman is five years removed from competing internationally. That was at the World Junior Championships in 2015 and her promising career was on an upward trajectory, with the Olympics not far from view.

“I’ve been down in Calgary for six years now and I’ve been making progress. It’s definitely been a bit slower than others or obviously how I wanted. You want to come down, be on the national team and make world cups right away,” she said in a phone interview from Calgary.

“I’m only 23, so a lot of people aren’t skating their best until they are 27 or 28. I know I still have a lot of time, but it has been a struggle these last couple of years, of skating better but not really having those opportunities. They’re not sending as many people to world cups in the past, due to less sponsors and money and stuff. You don’t get that international experience that I would have got if I was on the team 10 years ago.”

It hasn’t all panned out the way she dreamed, and although she never gave up and never stopped having fun, she’s finally finding peace in the process.

A new coach last year, a renewed spirit inspired by a strong team environment, has helped bottle up some of that doubt.

“The team environment is huge and I think we really bonded a lot more this year. It’s just such a good environment, we all want to do better, we all want to push each other to be better. I think that’s one of the things, I’m happy to be there,” she said.

“I made a big improvement with nutrition this year, that helped me lose some weight and get stronger. That’s helped a lot with my racing. I think the mental game is a big thing for me. I worry a lot about what others think, comparing myself and looking at the outcome and not the process.”

That peace on the mental side has also helped her finally earn something tangible– something she’s been yearning for, even if it’s not the Olympics.

The 23-year-old Ponoka native, who will celebrate her 24th birthday later this month, will finally get her chance to compete for Canada in 2020.

Earlier in January at the Canada Cup 2, she earned a position to compete internationally at the ISU Four Continents Speed Skating Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the end of the month. That will help calm the nerves of competing against the best, before a big opportunity in February.

“There’s always going to be pressure and expectations there. But it will be nice, I have lower expectations, just going and racing and seeing where I end up. Hopefully being able to make top 10… top 10 would be great if anything top five,” said Pearman, who raced to a pair of personal bests at the Canada Cup race.

That other chance is the one she’s really got circled on the calendar.

That is the ISU World Cup at her home track, the Calgary Olympic Oval, from Feb. 7-8. She will have friends, family and anyone who’s thought about her skating career, tuned into that event. More pressure, maybe? But also validation for all those years of hard work.

“I know that everyone is proud of me no matter what I do, just being on the national team and skating and making Canada Cup’s is great– I really wanted to prove, maybe to myself as well that what I’ve been doing for the past 20 years is finally starting to pay off. And like, yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” she said.

“It’s so nice to have the support, it will obviously be nerve-racking knowing they’re all going to be there watching… it’s never like everyone or everyone is going to be asking about it. It does put a little more pressure. It’s a good pressure. I’m optimistic and people are going to be proud no matter what. If I just focus on the positives of that then it’s not as nerve-wracking.”

Regardless of how it goes in the next few weeks, Perman can feel accomplished, proud of her progress. Next season, it’s World Cup rosters or bust for Pearman, all in the name of wearing the red and white in Beijing, in 2022.

“I’m very happy about that and three years out of the Olympics, it’s a positive that I’m not skating my absolute best now but I have two more years to keep working towards and hopefully in 2022 I’m at my optimal skating and that’s what matters the most,” she said.

“If during the Olympics, I’m ready to go and making the team there, that’s what my goal is… Ultimately, I want to make the Olympics in 2022.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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