Randy Starkman, The Toronto Star, February 6, 2010
Finally, there was money on the table for Kristina Groves.
As bountiful as the medals have been in her speed-skating career, the sponsorship offers have been just as scarce.
So when a company came forward in this Olympic season wanting to buy one of the logo spots on the chest of her racing suit, it was a pretty big opportunity for an athlete who's never cashed in on her success.
But the thing is Groves had been wearing the logo of the humanitarian group Right To Play in that space for four years for free.
The sponsor offered to make a donation as compensation, but when Groves spoke to Right To Play founder Johann Olav Koss he told her it wasn't possible to put a price on what that logo meant in terms of visibility for a charity that brings sport and play programs to kids in the most desperate parts of the world.
That left Groves, an athlete ambassador for Right To Play who travelled to Rwanda in the summer of 2007, with a decision to make.
"I just felt weird about it because I've been wearing it all these years because I believe in what they're doing and I was doing it to help any way I could," she said. "If when all of a sudden the first company that comes along and says, `If we give you x amount of dollars, can we have that suit spot?' that doesn't really say a lot about what I'm doing that for.
"So in the end I just said, `You know what, this spot's not for sale.'"
Not for Sale. That's Kristina Groves. The genuine article. She skates because she loves it, because she wants to see how much she can extract from all the sweat and toil.
Her Olympic dream was sparked as an 11-year-old trying to win a spot in a lottery for the 1988 Calgary Games torch relay. Watching Canadian legend Gaetan Boucher race during those Olympics convinced her she wanted to be a speed skater.
Never considered a future star, she ground it out bit by bit to become a world champion, gritting her teeth when people said they didn't believe she was a speed skater because her legs weren't big enough.
But a big heart is what gives Groves wings, on and off the ice.
She's involved in a number of causes – Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, a group of athletes who deliver an environmental message at schools, and was part of the Climate Project Canada where she got to spend a day with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and David Suzuki.
Groves is a contender for five medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics, a feat she achieved two years ago at the world championships and a very tall order. She isn't one to focus on medals, keeping hers in bins in the basement of the Calgary home she shares with long-time boyfriend Scott Maw, a physiologist with the speed-skating team.
The 33-year-old from Ottawa has skated her entire career in the shadows of more heralded teammates, but that suits her perfectly. She gets uncomfortable when people put her on a pedestal.
"She's the kind of person who if you meet her, you would not know how good she is," said teammate and friend Clara Hughes. "She's really humble."
She usually doesn't even tell people what she does when meeting them for the first time, preferring to say she's a student.
"I like to share the joy I have for it," said Groves. "I guess it makes me uncomfortable to talk to someone when they're gushing. It ends up being this one-way conversation where you never learn anything about the other person. I look at what other people do for a living on a daily basis and I find what they do amazing, like doctors and teachers and nurses and moms."
There is definitely a lighter side to Groves. She was a big fan of the television show Curb Your Enthusiasm for a while and really likes How I Met Your Mother. These shows are watched online as she doesn't own a TV. Her guilty pleasure may well be So You Think You Can Dance.
"It's kind of cheesy, but I'm just so amazed how well people can dance," she said. "I wish I could dance better than I do. I'm not so good with curves and rhythm and stuff like that. I do the same motion over and over.
"Sometimes Scott's really into reggae and he's dancing around the house and I'll try to join in and he's like, `You're not on the right beat.' And I'm like, `What do you mean?' He kind of teases me – with good reason."
One suspects that, as has been the case with speed skating, Groves could master some pretty slick dance moves if she put her mind to it. That's the key message she likes to deliver on school visits: You don't have to be a natural to enjoy or excel at something.
"You know what I really like to share with kids is that if you're not really good as a youngster, it doesn't really matter," said Groves. "I wasn't very good for a really long time and I just really loved speed skating and I wanted to try and get better and I was inspired by the Olympics.
"I look back, I used to think I was really good but I wasn't. That's okay. Everyone has a different path. Some people are really good when they're young. Some people aren't. If you like it and you want to keep doing it, just do it."
And so she does.