VANCOUVER — Gabrielle Daleman spent the summer convaslescing at her family’s cottage in Parry Sound, finding solace in the hours she spent sitting at the water’s edge.
The 19-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., underwent emergency surgery for an abdominal cyst last May. A month out from the Pyeongchang Olympics, she said it was a pivotal moment in her career, and one she’s actually grateful for.
“For one, it definitely saved my life. And two, it made me realize what’s important, what was toxic in my life, what’s not, and it just made me become a better me,” Daleman said.
Daleman and Canadian teammate Kaetlyn Osmond shared a podium at last year’s world championships, with Osmond taking silver and Daleman winning bronze. The two will battle for gold at this week’s Canadian championships, but have all but locked up their spots on Canada’s Olympic team.
On the eve of the event at the University of British Columbia, Daleman spoke at length about her health scare, and her childhood battles with bullying and an eating disorder.
Daleman was dealing with pain from her cyst before the worlds in Finland, and was in and out of the hospital a couple of times during the cross-Canada Stars on Ice Tour before her surgery in mid-May. She then headed to the family cottage for three months, where she read, did yoga, and generally got lost in her own thoughts.
“I shut social media down, I completely handed in my phone … I just stared at the water and became (at ease) with myself,” she said. “I’m very grateful for all the highs and lows I went through, because it has taught me so much leading up to this year, and the Olympics, and how to handle anything.”
Daleman was just 15, and shy with the media, when she earned a spot on the Sochi Olympic team, finishing 17th in Russia. Her confidence has grown along with her skating, and the past few months have seen her open up about her off-ice struggles, including speaking out in a video about bullying.
“I’m just more mature, I’m more confident, not only in my skating but in myself,” Daleman said. “And that’s what I’ve struggled with in the past is self-love and self-confidence, and speaking out about bullying, about my eating disorders, my mental health, has really helped me grow, and that’s what actually made me more confident in my skating, and in myself.”
According to Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre, female athletes in aesthetic sports — figure skating, dance, gymnastics — were found to be at the highest risk for eating disorders.
American Gracie Gold and Russia’s Yulia Lipnitskaya, who captured gold at the Sochi Olympics at just 15, have opened up lately about her battles with anorexia.
“There would be points when people would call me too muscular, too fat, so there would be times when I wouldn’t eat, or when I did eat I wrote down the calories and then I would burn that off, and then burn double it. But it’s life,” said Daleman, a former gymnast.
Daleman, who was also teased for a learning disability that’s similar to dyslexia, said the bullying started in Grade 1 and lasted until the Sochi Olympics.
“And my eating disorder started in Grade 5 or 6 and it didn’t end until after the Olympics,” she said.
“I have broader shoulders than most figure skaters. I have muscles, I have bigger legs, and so it was ‘You’re not pretty enough, you’re not graceful enough.’ It was just a whole list of stuff, why I shouldn’t be a skater, they told me I shouldn’t continue skating because my dreams are just dreams, they would never be a reality.”
She proved her doubters wrong at last year’s world championships in Finland.
“Still to this day I can’t watch that (bullying) video, I had actually people who messaged me who said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,’ I’ve had people come up to me and say they have spoken out because of that video and that’s really touching, because no one should go through it, it’s awful,” Daleman said. ”At worlds it really opened my eyes to how all my hard work has paid off and just leading up to this Olympics, with injury, with surgery, with constantly going step by step on this roller coaster has been truly amazing, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Daleman and Osmond could reach the medal podium in Pyeongchang, and will be key contributors in the team event, in which Canada won silver in Sochi.
The Canadian championships begin Friday with the short programs.