Feb 10, 2014

Faith keeps Canadian speedskater grounded, calm on ice




WORLD

By Evan Boudreau
Catholic News Service

TORONTO (CNS) -- Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg has big skates to fill at her first Winter Olympics, but the Catholic Canadian who will take to the ice in the 500-meter speedskating race has faith to keep her calm.

Wotherspoon-Gregg, 33, will make her inaugural Olympic appearance as a competitor in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 11. But it isn't the first time she's been to the games. In 1998, she traveled to Nagano, Japan, to watch her older brother, Canadian speedskating legend Jeremy Wotherspoon, capture a silver medal in the 500 meters. That's when the Olympic bug bit the Red Deer, Alberta, native, who still skates out of Calgary.

"When my brother went to the Olympics in 1998 and I went and watched him, that is when I kind of thought, 'Oh, for sure I'll be going,'" she said.

Although Wotherspoon-Gregg's Olympic dream became "more real" after those games, her journey did not get any easier.

"I've had kind of a longer journey with achieving this goal because the last two Olympic trials I wasn't really healthy," said Wotherspoon-Gregg. "In 2006 I was sick so I wasn't really competing at a competitive level, not competitive enough to make the team, and in 2010 I pulled my hip flexor really bad."

She said she did not think she would still be skating in 2014, but when she was 25 she took a year off.

"I did some reflecting and figured out what I needed as an athlete and I was really motivated when I came back, and I've been improving ever since," she told the Canadian national weekly The Catholic Register.

In an interview with the Toronto-based paper, she also reflected on her strong faith, which she credits to her parents, her friends and her Catholic education.

"I always had an amazing support system from my teachers, especially in high school," she said. "There were a lot of teachers who really supported me and my sports. I questioned everything, but people really kept me on a good path.

"The biggest thing for me is having that faith," said Wotherspoon-Gregg. "It just helps knowing that there is always someone with you and watching you. For me that is just a huge thing, and it can also be very comforting in sport."

In June, Wotherspoon-Gregg married Jamie Gregg, who also competed in Sochi. Both his parents are former Olympians.

And while Wotherspoon-Gregg's journey to the Olympics has taken some time, her story reflects her personality, said Lee Caine, who taught her Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame High School in Red Deer.

"She hasn't risen to the top as fast as other athletes might, but she has persevered," said Caine, now a guidance counselor at the school. "She's Jeremy's younger sister, and I assume that that hasn't been easy; when you hear the Wotherspoon name you make reference to Jeremy. Danielle has had maybe a more difficult path to pave for herself, and she has done an amazing job doing that.

"Tenacity and perseverance, that kind of sums up what she is like," Caine added.

Wotherspoon-Gregg said what keeps her going is the same thing that keeps her calm on the oval: "just having blind faith ... For me, I just know that at the end of the day, whatever the outcome, I am still at peace, and I think that faith gives you that peace."