PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - When Gabrielle Daleman underwent surgery to remove a cyst from her abdomen last year, the Canadian figure skater’s Olympic hopes could have disappeared.
But after months of scares and setbacks, the 20-year-old is set to compete at a second Winter Games she considers more significant than ever.
“I had no idea what was going to happen this season,” Daleman told reporters after practicing at the Gangneung Ice Arena, describing her “brutal summer” filled with health issues.
“This Olympics means more to me than anything because I went from not knowing if I’d be able to skate this year to do what I’m doing.”
Daleman, who finished 17th at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, said the recovery time for the surgery she had in May was usually eight months. She took only half of that time off.
In recent months, Daleman, who won bronze at last year’s world championships, has opened up about a plethora of issues she has faced off the ice.
She has a learning disability that causes her trouble with reading and writing, something that led to bullying at an early age.
As a former gymnast, Daleman does not have the stereotypical skating body. Her muscles bulge. Her shoulders are broader than the average skater’s. She is strong. But the pressure of striving for a lithe frame has taken its toll.
Daleman revealed that she has suffered from an eating disorder like the ones that have ended the careers of many female skaters her age.
“Not only athletes but a lot of women and a lot of people do struggle with most of the stuff I was struggling with and I still do on a day-to-day basis,” Daleman said.
“I shouldn’t be ashamed to tell people what I’ve been through and what I’m going through because it’s life and it brought me to where and who I am today.”
Eating disorders have long been an issue in figure skating.
U.S. skater Gracie Gold announced last year she would be missing the Olympics as she was taking a break to treat psychological issues and an eating disorder.
Sochi team gold medallist Yulia Lipnitskaya, 19, retired from the sport after undergoing treatment for anorexia.
The upheaval in Daleman’s life has been matched by a shake-up in her free programme. But the changes, she said, were meant to better reflect her genuine self.
In the midst of the competitive season last autumn, Daleman dropped her long programme with music from the “Gladiator” movie, a risky move so close to the Olympics.
But that programme, she said, just didn’t feel right.
After consulting with her coaches, Daleman decided to revive her long programme from last season, when she skated to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.
To work on freshening up her old free skate, Daleman pulled out of a challenge event going into Canadian national championships and spent a month perfecting her routine.
Her short programme — which she skates to music from “Carmen” — remains untouched.
“I couldn’t be happier with it,” Daleman said of her free skate. “It’s just more playful. It’s more me, me personally. The short is me, I’m sassy. The long is me, I’m playful. It was just what was best for me and what I felt more comfortable.”
Daleman did not set any specific goals post-recovery. In Pyeongchang, she wants to show how far she has come.
“I’m very happy going into this competition and just showing everyone how hard I’ve been working,” Daleman said.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by John O'Brien