Donna Spencer, Canadian Press, September 21, 2011
CALGARY — Kristina Groves resisted the idea she would retire from speedskating until a late August summer camping trip with friends.
While the feeling had slowly been creeping up on her, it was then the Olympic medallist and former world champion realized she was ready to embrace life after speedskating.
“The feeling I had in those races when I really nailed it, was really addicting,” Groves said Wednesday during a news conference. “Because of that, it never really occurred to me I wouldn’t want to do this anymore, but the fact is, that little urge to win that’s been there for so long has just slowly faded away in the last year.
“It’s a hard truth for me to accept it’s faded away, but ultimately my heart is full. There’s nothing else I feel I want to accomplish in this sport.”
The 34-year-old from Ottawa won four Olympic medals — three silver and a bronze — as well as 18 world championship medals. At the 2008 world single distance championships in Japan, Groves won five medals in her five races, including gold in the 3,000 metres.
Teammates and Olympic Oval training partners Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen may have received higher billing than Groves on the national team because they achieved the top step on the Olympic podium in their careers.
But Groves was a major and steady contributor to Canada’s stream of speedskating medals over the last decade. She’s part of a continuum of successful Canadian women in long-track stretching from Susan Auch and Catriona Le May Doan in the 1990s to Christine Nesbitt, the reigning Olympic gold medallist in the 1,000 metres.
Groves is also among the exodus of Canadian athletes from their sports after the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
Fellow retirees since then include lugers Jeff Christie and Regan Lauscher, skeleton racer Jeff Pain, bobsleigh pilot Pierre Lueders, freestyle skier Jenn Heil and hockey players Jennifer Botterill, Carla MacLeod, Becky Kellar and Gina Kingsbury.
Nesbitt became emotional Wednesday when asked how Groves mentored her career. Hughes has returned to competitive cycling. While Klassen is still speedskating, the mantle of leadership on the women’s team is becoming Nesbitt’s.
“She really does embody a lot of incredible things about perseverance and determination,” Nesbitt said. “For me, when I saw her perform in Torino, and that was my first Olympics, I just thought ‘that’s exactly what I want to do.’
“It really inspired me in my career and pushed me and helped me take the next step forward.”
Groves won silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 3,000 at the 2010 Games. The following season, she fell in a November race and suffered a concussion, which put an end to racing for the year.
Groves was emphatic she’s not suffering post-concussion symptoms or they’re the reason why she’s called it a career. Her recovery gave her time to reflect, however, on whether she had the necessary desire to continue.
“After the Olympics in Vancouver, I was totally exhausted and burned out, but as athletes, and the way I am in particular, you know you just push and you think ‘just keep going,”” Groves explained. “I didn’t really listen to that voice that said ‘take a break.’
“When I fell and hurt myself, it gave me the opportunity to actually stop and take a break. It was the first time I stopped to listen to that little voice. Having that concussion really sucked a lot. I really want to be clear that’s not the reason I retired.”
While surfing the internet earlier this year, Groves stumbled upon the quote “From the strain of the doing, into the peace of the done.”
“As soon as I read that I thought ‘that’s where I am. I’ve moved into the peace of the done,’” she said.
Xiuli Wang coached Groves for almost nine years. Her pupil was somewhat of a late bloomer in speedskating as her first World Cup medal didn’t come until her seventh year on the circuit. Groves finished second to Klassen in the 1,500 at the 2006 Olympics and also won silver in the team pursuit.
“I started this sport as a young, skinny awkward kid without a lot of obvious talent, but the one thing I did have was the ability to work really hard,” Groves said. “I had an unbelievable amount of patience as an athlete. It took me so long to get from where I started to where I ended up.”
Groves lives in Calgary with her boyfriend Scott Maw. She’s a prolific blogger at www.kristinagroves.ca and passionate about environmental issues.
Earlier this summer, Groves hosted a “Bed-In for Sustainability” that drew praise from Yoko Ono, the concept’s originator with John Lennon. Groves hosted civic leaders in a bed in a downtown Calgary store to discuss ways to make the city more environmentally sustainable.
She’s also involved in Clean Air Champions, a David Suzuki organization of athletes who advocate improving air quality and reducing climate change.
Groves donated her $5,000 in medal bonus money in 2010 to Right To Play, which improves the lives of impoverished children through sport and play. She plans to continue public speaking and working for those organizations.