File | Figure skating | The best kept secret in Quebec (4 articles)

If you had the assurance that you wouldn’t fail, what would you choose to do?

To this randomly drawn question during a work retreat with her colleagues in 2016, Deanna Stellato-Dudek spontaneously responded: “Win ​​an Olympic gold medal. »

No one reacted around the table. After all, the medical esthetician from Chicago, who had worked for several years in a surgical clinic specializing in skin care, had been one of the best figure skaters in the world in her late teens. Silver medalist in singles at the 1999 World Junior Championships, the one who was to succeed Michelle Kwan retired in 2001, victim of a chronic hip injury.

Sixteen years later, this desire to climb to the top of an Olympic podium was not just an empty word. Now married and aged 33, she was nevertheless surprised to express this wish. She was inhabited by it for two weeks, until she decided to call her mother to bring out her old skates stored in a box in the basement. “Just for fun,” she lied to him. With their solid wood backing, the skates were very heavy, but they still fit her.

Since her early retirement, the Italian-American had kept in impeccable shape by practicing pilates and visiting the fitness center every day. However, she had never put blades on ice, not even on a pond or a neighborhood ice rink.

Without telling her mother or those close to her, she returned to skating sessions at dawn before returning to the clinic for 12-hour shifts. She stuck to this diet for a few months before traveling to Florida to get her former trainer’s opinion: “Tell me honestly, does this idea of ​​a comeback make sense or not? ? »

After a few figures and laps on the ice rink, the coach assured her that she looked like an athlete who had just returned from convalescence for a few months rather than a skater who hadn’t touched the ice for 16 years. The seed was planted.

Feeling unfinished

By pure coincidence (another one), the director of high performance of the American Federation was at the arena that day. Obviously inspired by the small stature of the woman in front of him, the technician suggested that she try her luck as a couple, a totally different discipline that she had never practiced before.

In the company of Nathan Bartholomay, who was looking for a new partner after a 12e place at the Sochi Games in 2014, Stellato-Dudek therefore began a second career on ice.

A few months after training, the pair qualified for the U.S. Championships, finishing just off the podium. The following year, she won bronze, which led to an appearance at the World Championships (17e). After another bronze medal in 2019, Bartholomay announced the end of the collaboration with his partner, wishing, among other things, to treat a knee injury.

After a return as intoxicating as it was improbable, Stellato-Dudek had a feeling of unfinished business. At almost 36 years old, the passion still drove him. After unsuccessful searches, she was ready to do anything to find someone to share her with. Even jumping on the first plane to Montreal to meet a Quebec skater she had never heard of.


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