On the second weekend of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canadian athletes had hit a major rut.
On Black Saturday, Denny Morrison placed ninth in his signature event, the 1,500 metres in long-track speed skating; short-track speed skaters failed to finish on the podium; bobsledder Lyndon Rush slid down the track on his helmet; and Emily Brydon wiped out hard in the women's super giant slalom.
Enter Kristina Groves, one of the busiest athletes at the Vancouver Games, who competed in five long-track speed skating events. She was bursting her buttons at having already won bronze in the 3,000 metres, a dream race, in her opinion, particularly since she hadn't been expected to find the podium in it. She nailed everything she wanted to do, technically and strategically.
On Canada's darkest weekend, Groves of Ottawa saved the day by winning a silver medal in the 1,500, but Canada's joy at having finally won a medal that weekend was Groves' chagrin. She felt she could have won. "It took me a long time to really appreciate it because I wanted to see myself on the top," she said. "But in the end, it was still an incredible experience and the sound of the crowd cheering me on is something I'll never forget."
Because of her heavy workload, Groves was far removed from the crowds and Olympic excitement, although she was peripherally aware of it. She finally got an inkling of the national fervour when she attended the final men's hockey game and the closing ceremony, and just recently when she showed up for the one-year anniversary of the Games in Vancouver.
"It felt like the Olympics had never ended," she said. "People were out in their Canada gear, yelling in the streets, and screaming, just cheering. It was like the spirit was still alive."
The Olympics, her third, did not change her life. Some sponsors who eagerly jumped on the Groves bandwagon before the Games packed up their gear and left afterward. Some stayed. Groves took three months off after the Olympics, busy with appearances and speaking engagements. She is occasionally recognized in the streets. "Maybe for some people it's changed drastically," she said. "But for me, all the Olympics I've come to, I've come back and no matter what's happened, I've felt pretty much like the exact same person and that's the way I would hope it would be," she said.
Now, in her early 30s, Groves pushed onward, continuing to train for another season, because that's what she'd always done. A little voice told her she should rest.
But there was something missing. Some might call it the post-Olympic blues. The zip and the killer instinct just weren't there. She got on a plane to Europe last fall for World Cup season, feeling as if she didn't want to be there. And as starting guns went off, thoughts and doubts of what she really wanted for herself danced in her head.
All of that came to a sudden conclusion when Groves wiped out in a team pursuit race in Berlin last Nov. 21, resulting in a bad case of whiplash and a concussion from which she is still recovering.
Her life in almost every aspect has been on hold since. She's felt a wave of relief since she stopped working, but also a frustration that she cannot pursue the things she loves. Although she is better than she was three months ago, some problems and symptoms still arise to remind her that she has really hurt herself. The toughest part, she said, is trying to figure out which activities are too much and which are not. She spent a week with her boyfriend in Hawaii. She's spent some time in Ottawa visiting her parents. She's tried some projects around her house in Calgary. She does yoga. She tried cross-country skiing a time or two, but paid for it two or three hours later.
Mostly, she's sedentary, and feeling relaxed about her fate.
She does not know what she will do when she recovers. She has made no decision on her racing career. "When you have a concussion, one of the best things you can do is to limit cognitive stress," she said.
It wasn't her decision to stop competing. The inability to stop on her own terms drives her desire to continue in the sport. But for now, Groves is just focusing on getting better.
"When the time comes, I'll know in my heart what I want to do," she said.