When Olympic heartbreak struck for the third time this past summer, Perdita Felicien took a break. She played dodgeball, she ate doughnuts, she did yoga. Anything but run around a track.
“A lot of the stuff that I couldn’t eat and couldn’t do, I gave myself full permission to go ahead and do,” Felicien said. “You kind of live in this very rigid structure of: don’t do this, don’t do that. So it’s kind of nice.
“I might go skydiving. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
The 32-year-old world champion from Pickering, Ont., was gunning for Olympic redemption this past summer, but failed to qualify for the London-bound team after false-starting in the final at the trials.
That race was the latest in an unbelievable string of Olympic bad luck for the world champion, who crashed in the 2004 Athens final and didn’t race four years later in Beijing due to a foot injury.
Felicien, who was at a Toronto elementary school Thursday morning to help launch the mascot contest for the 2015 Pan American Games, is back training and plans to compete one more season at least. She hasn’t entirely ruled out making a run for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
But first, she needed to take a breather.
“I didn’t want to go to the track, I didn’t want to be at the track, I didn’t want to see a track,” Felicien said. “I think with all athletes, whether you make the Olympics or you compete at the Olympics, there’s a kind of four-year decompression — and for me it was a much longer ride with the drama of not making it.”
She played team sports she hadn’t dared to before for fear of injury. She stayed up late. She ate badly.
“I literally stayed up until 2, 3 in the morning some days. Guilt free. It was nice to be a normal person,” Felicien said.
“Part of if is that I’ve been so manic about it, I’m one of the most dedicated people you’ll ever see in track, but I said ‘Just give yourself a break, don’t be so hard on yourself, just get a taste of the good life, the real life . . what it’s like.’ It’s been 15 years of go go go. . . It’s nice to go day by day, if I want to eat this, I’m going to eat it, if I don’t want to I don’t.”
What exactly did she eat?
“I don’t know if I should put it out there for people to read,” Felicien said laughing. “Literally, Krispy Kreme is my favourite place. The one in Mississauga, they know me by name. Bigger portions. If something is leafy and green, I probably won’t touch it.”
Felicien, looking lean and fit Thursday morning as she spoke to a class of kids about the Toronto Pan Am Games, has moved back to Toronto to train after spending the past year living in Calgary.
“It’s been nice being home with my family, my nieces and nephews actually know my name, the newer ones, and that’s been nice,” she said. “I just had a conversation with my mom, it was her birthday yesterday, and she said: It’s so good having you at home.”
Felicien would like to act as an ambassador for the Pan Am Games — if she’s not competing at them — and Thursday, she donned an apron and painted with a class of children as part of the launch for the Mascot Creation Challenge.
She called the Pan Ams a testing ground for athletes, and said her silver-medal performance at the 2003 Games in the Dominican Republic was key to her capturing gold at the world championships later that summer in Paris.
“It’s not super big that you get overwhelmed and overwrought with it, but it’s big enough that you know I’m here to make my mark,” she said of Pan Ams.
Felicien admitted there’s a temptation to compete until 2015, and run her final race at home.
“How amazing would that be?” she said. “But then if you went to 2015, you have to go to 2016, and I’ve already said ‘No, I’m through, I’m done, it’s over.“’
Then again, it may not be over.
“Truth is, in six months I might get up and say, you know what, I do want to go four years,” she said. “But I’m giving myself the liberty to go through whatever transition I want to go through, and if you’ve been doing something for more than half your life, there is a natural transition. This is just what mine is looking like right now.
“You sign up for this life, and at the end of the day yeah it’s sad, it sucks, but life is still really good, and I really don’t complain, and if I can help the next generation and get involved with things like this, it just makes me feel like I’m doing something. I don’t want to walk away from sport and be bitter, upset about it, or whatever and go home and that’s it. I want to give back as much as I can.”